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My…what a mess we find ourselves in!

June 15, 2011

To put it quite honestly, our global energy future looks bleak.  Everyone I know who has more than a shallow understanding of the energy industry believes that we will not be able to meet the growing global demand for electricity in the coming years.  We can not do it.  No one believes we will be able to do it.  And it’s time to stop listening to politicians who tell us that if we’ll vote for them, they will fix the problem.  They won’t.

Why not?  Because the problem isn’t something that they can fix.  Because the problem is in us.

We have become a society where we care more about being consumers than we do about being good citizens.  As consumers, we care an awful lot about how much we pay for gasoline at the pump, and we care about how much we pay each month for electricity.  But we don’t care enough about where that gasoline came from or how that electricity was produced to let such issues drive our buying decisions.  We will complain about the importing of oil and how it costs us jobs, but we will continue to consume it.

A consumer simply lives his life inside his own bubble, buying what he wants and making decisions based on what it costs himself personally.  Citizens differ from consumers.  Citizens actively seek to know about public affairs, and they care about how their actions affect other people.  Citizens care so much about the common good that they will often make decisions that may be inconvenient for themselves in order to promote a better way of life for all.

One of the most important things we need to keep our civilization running is energy.  Consumers go through life rarely giving a thought to how much energy they consume — indeed, they become quite offended when challenged about their energy consuming behavior.  How many commercial buildings can you think of where the lights are left on after they’ve closed, burning all night and all weekend long?  How many people do you know who refuse to support renewable, sustainable energy because it costs them three or four more cents per kilowatt hour?  Consumers, not citizens.

If we were good citizens, we would have a deeply held conviction for the common good.  We would not support the import of foreign oil over our own domestic production and the jobs that are at stake.  We would not buy electricity from an industry that pumps megatons of pollutants into the air or into the water.  We would not buy a gas guzzling automobile when we only drive it back and forth to work.  Consumers do those things.

Citizens are people who inform themselves about the issues.  They cultivate their common interests and engage in public discourse to inspire other people to also engage.  How many people do you know who say, “I don’t discuss religion or politics?”  A real citizen wouldn’t be afraid to share their ideas on either.  As for politics, too many of the people who live in our country feel that they have fully satisfied their obligation to the political process once they exit the voting booth.  But they never dare open their mouths to discuss or persuade others on the issues.  Perhaps they don’t want to be persuaded themselves.

So you see, our government can not solve this problem.  We have to.  If we truly care, if we are truly going to be citizens, then we need to educate ourselves individually and make better decisions about how we spend money on energy.  We must never leave our responsibility with the empty promises made by politicians or corporations.  We must never let them make the decisions for us.  We need to understand the issues, discuss them openly, and decide for ourselves how we will spend our money.  We each must decide whether we will contribute to the problem or to the solution.  It is our decision, and ours alone.

Here is a link to an interesting short video from Harvard professor Dr. Michael Sandel regarding citizens and consumers.  It makes a powerful point.  I encourage you to enjoy it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. jbl05 permalink
    June 18, 2011 5:29 pm

    I think life is going to have to get a lot more uncomfortable at the individual level before the ground swell of activity has gathered enough energy to go up against the powerful systems that are in place right now. When you think of the corrupt political system, the banking system, the cronyism, corporate greed, the over-population of the world, the dumbing-down of our public education system, the siphoning off of the flow of production by leeches who produce nothing (such as attorneys)…

    …it becomes too easy to feel as though the puny efforts of any given individual are akin to pissing into the ocean; it becomes too easy to just take on learned-helplessness, and roll over and whimper; it becomes too easy to settle, too easy to ignore the low-level white noise hum of dissatisfaction on the personal soundtrack.

    When the Founding Fathers created this great nation, they pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor”. We the People now have had our fortunes stripped from us by the greedy fat-cats, our lives are hardly more than an apology, and we believe that “honor” is for suckers. We don’t have a lot to pledge to “the cause”, even if we believe in said “cause”.

    What a mess we find ourselves in, indeed.

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