Government Intervention: Racism and the Moon

Here is why I don't believe government intervention is enough to solve the global climate crisis: racism and the moon.

Assuming public school didn't fail me, slavery was abolished in 1865. One hundred fifty years, another amendment, and more court cases than black senators later, we elected our first black president.

But if you turned on your computer at some point during the last election, you may remember some pretty horrific slurs being thrown around. "I'm afraid if he wins, the Blacks will take over!" spoke a woman at a Palin rally.

As it turns out, there's a disconnect between the way the government says we should live and the way we actually do. Legislation and affirmative action, despite being useful and necessary, have been unable to change what people think and feel.

In response to my post "Green Guilt" someone suggested The Bridge at the Edge of the World by James Gustave Speth. In the book, Speth promotes consciousness and political measures above capitalistic ones, calling for, "a profound change in social values, culture, and worldview."

The suggestion seems to be that all we need to fix the climate crisis is to transform the way America feels about the problem. But uprooting the status quo is an enormous undertaking. Unfathomably big. "Profound."

After hundreds of years, we haven't even been able to reconcile our racial divides and that's a task requiring nothing more of us than acknowledging black and white Americans were created equally.

(It's worth noting the state of California is having trouble even getting over the "separate but equal" hump.)

Now, on the precipice of this great global disaster, we're going to try to persuade people to completely throw out everything they've absorbed and take up a brand new world view. Not only that, but take up a world view requiring a lot more effort.

We're going to try to convince a nation where over 50 percent of people are fat (overweight) to walk to work. And there's a lot of -- apparently hungry -- people who will also want to know why groceries are now twice as expensive, their prices no longer artificially set.

Plus, a large portion of these people don't believe there even is a global climate crisis. Sure, the dissenting information they got might have been from some nutbags with ulterior motives. That doesn't make their confusion any less real or their votes any less counted.

These are the people who aren't going to be taking steps toward environmental protection unless its handed to them. But it does happen.

Waste from CD packaging and pollution from trips to record stores has been dramatically reduced with the advent of the iTunes store. It wasn't because people wanted to become sustainable or even because Apple was trying to save the world -- it was just a better way of doing things.

Which brings us to the moon.

When we managed to get up there it took a budget that would be absurd to anyone not in a bragging-rights contest with the Soviet Union.

In 2005, NASA -- my favorite government punching bag -- announced it has plans to return to the moon. Why on Earth we're going back not withstanding, they have set the date for 2020.

Google, however, thought it could be done better. In 2007, in association with the X PRIZE foundation, they announced a contest which would award $20 million to any team which put a man and rover onto the moon before 2012.

If you're keeping score, that's a fraction of the budget and one-third the time. It has yet to be seen if the task is completed, but if previous X PRIZES are any indication it has a strong chance. There are arenas in which competition drives innovation and we have to be cognizant of them.

Hundreds of venture capitalists are chomping at the bit because they realize energy prices will be at a premium. Solar and wind investments are up dramatically not out of goodness, but because there are people who see how renewable energy will make them more money in the long run.

The trouble with grants and tax credits, in addition to timeliness, is a pretty poor track record. These things are quite often tailored to suit specific industries and even specific businesses. Sure, Ford might eventually churn out an electric car, propped up with our money, but it might be better spent on Tesla Motors.

Our two needs in this fight are social change and new technologies. When the goal is sweeping social change, government intervention has been mostly a stopgap. When the goal is technological progress and invention, government programs have been bloated and slow.

It's not my desire to sit here and take potshots at the government. Do I believe governing agencies should be continually improving and upping requirements in order to keep us safe and healthy? Absolutely. Should they downplay our culture of excess and materialism? Of course.

But this is about saving the world and a couple hundred years is just a little too slow. Hey maybe China wants to compete to see who can be greener...

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