Year 4, Month 7, Day 17: The Rain Continued For An Hour

Krugthulu, in the Times:

It’s always important to remember that what ails the U.S. economy right now isn’t lack of productive capacity, but lack of demand. The housing bust, the overhang of household debt and ill-timed cuts in public spending have created a situation in which nobody wants to spend; and because your spending is my income and my spending is your income, this leads to a depressed economy over all.

How would forcing the power industry to clean up its act worsen this situation? It wouldn’t, because neither costs nor lack of capacity are constraining the economy right now.

And, as I’ve already suggested, environmental action could actually have a positive effect. Suppose that electric utilities, in order to meet the new rules, decide to close some existing power plants and invest in new, lower-emission capacity. Well, that’s an increase in spending, and more spending is exactly what our economy needs.

O.K., it’s still not clear whether any of this will happen. Some of the people I talk to are cynical about the new climate initiative, believing that the president won’t actually follow through. All I can say is, I hope they’re wrong.

Near the end of his speech, the president urged his audience to: “Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.” Normally, one would be tempted to dismiss this as the sound of someone waving away the need for hard choices. But, in this case, it was simple good sense: We really can invest in new energy sources, divest from old sources, and actually make the economy stronger. So let’s do it.

“Stronger” should not mean “bigger.” June 29:

As accumulating atmospheric CO2 triggers extreme weather events everywhere on Earth, it underlines a simple, inescapable truth: we live on a finite planet with finite resources. Whether it’s food for the multiplying masses, energy for our industries, or just a safe place to put our waste, there is no dispute: we’re running out.

President Obama’s recent invocation of “economic growth” indicates how hard it is to abandon the delusion that our species can expand indefinitely without paying a terrible price. A healthy baby’s weight may double in a few months, but an adult doing likewise would be very sick indeed. Our species is no longer an evolutionary infant, and we can no longer base our lives on continuous expansion, for there is nowhere left to expand to.

We can have sustainability, or we can have growth, but trying to have both will inevitably lead to tragedy: having neither.

Warren Senders