Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trying To Be A Hopeful Green Realist

As is often the way, whilst researching one topic - social evolution, I re-discovered another topic - self-deception, that I had long wanted to spend some more time investigating. That will be the topic of yesterday's blog. I know that sounds a bit strange, but the explanation - self-deception - also explains a more serious problem - why it has been so hard to write a couple of articles for some important publications, when there is so much to write about in these clearly troubled and historical times.

The self-deception in the cases in point is mainly that of being too hopeful or optimistic. It's a mild form of self-deception, a kind of illusion, and there is plenty of academic evidence to suggest that it can be quite beneficial when not carried to extremes. In the case of trying to write a useful but brief introduction to self-deception using some primary sources (and not just cribbing off Wikipedia, which in this case wouldn't get me very far, since the entry is very short), I underestimated how long it would take to track down sources and then to read them studiously then distill something out of the copious fruit.

I sort of knew it would take longer than I was telling myself, but the subject is really important (as I hope to show yesterday), and if one is too honest about how much time things really take, many good things would not get done. Hence my attempt to be a hopeful realist, which in this case will mean the triumph of realism over hope - I'll finish today's piece before yesterday's. It reminds me of Samuel Johnson's famous quip about second marriages - the triumph of hope over experience.

The second example of self-deception also has a dimension of illusion to it and concerns my efforts to write something reasonably cheerful or at least helpful about how the coming decline of global petroleum production will help green business and clean technology - hence the green hopeful realist.

It's relatively easy to write about how the decline of oil will affect the world if you stay vague and keep the timeline indeterminate. What is not so easy is to offer specific areas of opportunity and generative strategies within a short-to-medium timeframe and take account of the global economic crash that is so far making life very uncomfortable for just everybody except the repo man. I suppose you could say that repossession was a form of recycling, but it's a pretty ghastly way to do it.

So I have struggled for more than two weeks now to find something positive to say about the near-term future for the kinds of businesses we shall certainly need. Every time I thought I had something promising, the realist in me would point out that for such and such an opportunity to come true it would require either that the US government realise how dire the energy, climate and environment situation really is and change policy dramatically or else we would need to order up a fairly major miracle along the lines of the Red Sea being turned into wine. Or oil. Or vinegar, more likely. Maybe I have my miracles mixed up, but the scale is right.

Most likely we need both policy change and miracles. Some might say that the former will be a form of the latter. However, even if all kinds of wonderful policy changes start on Day 1 of the Obama epoch, major things like the electricity grid and the broken US railway system are not going to change quickly nor will the new US president have much of a free hand to wave a green magic wand, much as he might like to.

One of the articles I was about to write was how California could once again lead America into a renewable energy renaissance that would banish fossil fuels to the dark and backward abysm of time (to slightly misquote Shakespeare) and send a signal to the world that America meant business when it came to going green. I still intend to write this piece and I hope this does happen (the article and the greening of America), because without full-scale American involvement, it will be hard for the world to scale up to the realities we face. However, this definitely can't be done without sweeping help from the government at federal and state levels.

In the meantime, I think I have finally come up with two themes that offer opportunities for those that want to make a living from sustainable business (which will ultimately be most of us) and won't require miracles or even huge policy changes to make them come true. If wonderful things happen in high places, then so much better, but, if you will pardon the grim pun, I am not banking on it.

Mind you, I said that I think I have got something green and realistic ready for the virtual printing press, but then of course I may be deceiving myself.

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