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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Ecological Economy?

I have not seen Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. But everyone I know that has seen it has told me I need to see it "for my sake and for the sake of my kids." I put that in quotes because everyone who's talked to me about this has used almost those exact words. I'm starting to wonder if the movie ends with a tutorial on how to get others to see it? Or maybe they hand out instruction cards as you leave the theater? Or perhaps it's just that good a film? Whatever they're doing, it seems to be working.

I'll probably see the movie eventually, but given that a babysitter and a night out is a fairly rare occurrence, I'm not likely to dedicate one to a lesson on global warming from a guy who Saturday Night Live used to parody as the most boring man alive. He's got a much better shot at me when the movie appears OnDemand, or in the local video store on DVD.

All of that said, I've read quite a bit about the movie, I've seen the trailer, and I've seen Al Gore on various talk shows discussing it and showing clips, so in the all-too-forgiving world of the blogosphere, I feel more than qualified to give my (somewhat uninformed) opinion on the topic.

From what I've seen and read, the global warming issue seems divided into two camps: those who think it is the single largest threat facing mankind today, and those who think it's an unproven scientific theory that requires more research, at least until the people who think this way no longer hold political power and don't have to do anything about it. As is often the case with debates like this, I find this dichotomy frustrating, because it prevents a whole lot of honest, thoughtful discussion on the topic. For instance:

Let's stipulate, for the purposes of quieting the anti-Gore crowd, that global warming is a real problem, and that it's caused by human activity. I've also read that we've already put enough pollutants in the air that regardless of what we do, global warming will continue unabated for the next X years (10>X>90). And I've seen the clips of the computer generated models, demonstrating that Florida and lower Manhattan will eventually be underwater if nothing is done. For the sake of argument, let's assume all of that is true as well.

So here's my question: Can we also stipulate that migrating the world's economy, or even just the American economy, to a model that doesn't depend heavily on fossil fuels (cars, yes, but also oil for heating/cooling systems, electricity, factories, public transportation, shipping, etc., etc.) would be a colossal undertaking, and that even in the best of social, economic and political conditions, it would take decades and billions of dollars of investment to make it happen? And if so, can we stipulate that even in the best case scenario, the current global warming problem will continue for decades to come?

I ask these questions not to imply that we shouldn't do anything about global warming, but to suggest a parallel course of action that no one seems to have mentioned: the economic transformation approach. If all of the above is true, there are literally billions of dollars in profit just waiting for the taking in the coming years. This money will go to the corporation that figures out how to make levees work properly, or whoever builds a better hurricane detection system, or the guy that invents a way to make homes/buildings more resistant to storms and floods, or the scientist who invents a way to weaken and/or alter the path of a tropical storm, etc.. While we're working on the electric car, the solar-powered factory and other preventative measures, why aren't we also encouraging investment in protective measures as well?

I bring this up for two reasons: First, if all the predictions are indeed correct, we'll desperately need these technologies at some point down the road. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this tack provides for new economic development, as opposed to disruptive investment in the existing economy. The incentives are exactly opposite to the ones standing in the way of what Gore, et. al are advocating: new money chasing new technology, with the possibility of moving the economy onto a totally different growth curve. And the financial gains from this brand new industry can be used (read: taxed) to defer the cost of the more traditional anti-global warming measures we're currently discussing.

This kind of thinking isn't new to Al Gore. It was his leadership (among others, of course) that helped transform us from an Industrial economy in the 1980's to an Information economy in the 90's and 00's (and led to that whole nasty business about him "inventing the Internet.") The change powered the longest peacetime expansion in our nation's history and, despite the bursting of the internet bubble, has retained a great deal of its value in terms of new technologies, new industries, etc.

I'd think he would jump at the chance to migrate us once again, this time from the Information economy to the Ecological economy. Unless he's worried that someone will one day accuse him of inventing the environment...

posted by Brian at 5:03 PM


  • Excellent thought, Brian - now all we have to do is figure out how to contact Al...

    By Anonymous jason, at 6:21 PM, August 15, 2006  

  • Dude. You're kind of proving why you need to see the movie -- not only are the questions you're raising answered in it, but your proposed solution is exactly the one Gore presents.

    Which is exactly why everyone who sees it goes off and tells other people to. Remember, I'm not an environmentalist -- but this is the best presentation of the issue I've seen in 20 years.

    Finally, if you don't have time to catch it in the theater, go ahead and grab it off BitTorrent. I'm sure Al would forgive you.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 1:01 PM, August 17, 2006  

  • Dude. You're kind of proving why you need to see the movie -- not only are the questions you're raising answered in it, but your proposed solution is exactly the one Gore presents.

    Well, then, that's great news.

    Of course, it leaves me to wonder why all the clips & talk shows are about Florida & Manhattan sinking under water, rather than Gore's proposed tax breaks for ecological technology advancements.

    Just like his presidential campaign, I guess: right message, wrong marketing strategy...

    By Blogger Brian, at 2:58 PM, August 17, 2006  

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