We need something besides fear to motivate us.
We went to the moon when I was ten years old. I'm approaching fifty (on this years election day), and we haven't done squat as a nation sense then. What the happened to this country?
What should motivate us is the potential we, as human beings have, that we have not realized, that we can realize if we choose to do so. We should have self-sustaining human presence on the moon, mars, maybe even some of the minor planets. Poverty, that shouldn't even exist. Environmental concerns? We shouldn't be in the mess we're in, technological solutions and even some low-tech solutions to many of our environmental problems have existed for years.
The GOP keeps talking about government spending, odd since the last three Republican presidents rang up record federal deficits and debts. But the real problem isn't spending per se', it's what money is spent on. We need, as a people to provide infrastructure and functions that are necessary for the efficient functioning of society. Republicans spend on war and the tools of war. But we need an investment in energy, education, health, and other fundamental necessities that allow our economy to function. Spending money on things that will actually create more wealth is OK, it's not the same as just throwing it away on things like bombs. The economy ultimately is dependent upon energy, and that's a bottleneck presently. Water and food, they ultimately depend upon energy.
Right now we are having serious economic difficulties, and while there are people pointing fingers at various technical issues, the real issue, the bottom line issue, is energy. Our economic system is based upon growth, it can't exist in a steady state in it's current incarnation, it requires constant growth, to pay interest, because our money isn't issued by our government free of interest, it's issued by a cartel of giant international banks with interest, and so for money, which facilitates the exchange of goods and services, the exchange of real wealth, in order for that exchange to continue, our economy must forever expand, this is a real flaw in our economic system, but it is a flaw that allows a handful of individuals to economically control the world and every time we've had a president that tried to do something about it, he found himself shot dead. So unless and until someone finds a way to wrestle power from the ruling elite, we're stuck with this economic system that demands expansion to function.
And maybe that's not entirely bad, and here's why. We've got a world where four fifth's of the world's population lives in severe poverty, and perhaps only 5% lives relatively comfortably and secure in their basic needs. Now if you're part of that 5% maybe you're thinking well that's not my problem, but even if you're a complete jerk lacking any degree of empathy, it IS your problem. Our current situation is not sustainable, and if the population of this planet continues to grow it will soon outstrip any capability of this planet to support our species, and you will suffer. Your economic slaves will die, your food producers and transporters will die, and so will you.
It's a fact that developed countries with strong economies do not have native population growth. They may, as in the United States, have population growth as the result of immigration, but if people are well fed, housed, have their basic needs taken care of, and can feel secure their needs will continue to be met in their old age, then they don't have a lot of children, on average they tend to have less than is needed for zero growth. Eliminating poverty isn't just a good thing to do it's a necessary thing to do for our survival as a species.
Eliminating poverty requires economic growth. So until such time as all the basic needs of humanity, all over the globe, are met, we need continued economic growth. Economic growth isn't in and of itself a bad thing, not if it can be achieved in a manner that isn't destructive to our planet and isn't just for some at the expense of others.
Energy consumption is strongly related to economic growth. The economy grows, energy consumption increases, the economy shrinks, energy consumption shrinks. If the economy grows to the point where the energy supply is less than the demand, the economy shrinks to fit within the constraints of the energy supply. That is what we are seeing now.
The relationship between the economy and energy use isn't completely inflexible however and you can see this when you look at the the US economy compared with the Japanese economy. The Japanese economic gross national product divided by the amount of energy they consume, is twice what the US GNP divided by energy consumption. In short, Japan is twice as efficient at producing wealth from energy as the United States.
We could save the energy equivalent of all the oil we import by upgrading our national power grid. We could save the energy equivalent of all our domestic oil production and a good portion of the coal that we burn by utilizing the energy produced but wasted at night to power our commute. Because nuclear and coal plants can't be throttled down effectively, you can dissipate the heat in cooling towers instead of generating electricity but the fuel is still consumed, at night so much energy is wasted that it could power our entire nations commute. If we saved all of this energy, and we could do so without negatively impacting our lifestyle at all; what could we do with the extra two trillion a year we didn't spend on imported oil? And keep in mind those dollars would be worth a lot more if we didn't have the huge national deficit and debt. Maybe we wouldn't have the financial incentives to fight a war in Iraq and occupy it for the oil companies?
Take a look at Africa; you've got a situation there where the desert bands, the areas where rain does not fall, moves up and down over periods of decades, and when it does, areas that previously were able to grow food productively no longer can, and the populations in those areas no longer have a food source, they try to migrate elsewhere and they're unwelcome, wars result, huge refugee camps result. If you could provide enough fresh water to these regions, they could grow food. If you could provide energy they could refrigerate food, develop industries, produce products for their own needs and export. Exports would provide income so that they could afford medical care; afford to fight malaria and AIDS and other diseases.
Coal, oil, and natural gas can not supply sufficient energy nor can it provide energy economically enough to bring the worlds impoverished into a decent standard of living. Using the energy sources we have efficiently will help but it's not enough. However, there are many potential sources of energy that are more scalable and potentially less expensive. But in the US, we have enough geo-thermal resources in the western US that it could provide all of the energy needs for the entire country. The wind resources of just three states could provide as much energy as our entire country uses. Just a fraction of the Arizona desert could provide as much solar energy as all of the energy our country uses, and that's with current inefficiencies.
We need to modernize our electric grid; bring these new renewable sources of energy online and scale them up to the point where energy is abundant and affordable. As we develop this technology we can export it to other countries, enabling them to improve their standard of living.
The more people we lift out of poverty, the more people who will be able to contribute to our global society; contributing their ingenuity to solve problems, their artistic talents to enrich all of our lives, their dreams to enhance all of our lives. When people are struggling just to exist; they can't contribute in a way that they can when the basic's are taken care of.
The technology that we have today is vastly superior to that which took us to the moon four decades ago. We should be doing a lot more with it; eliminate poverty, cure disease, explore the universe, establish a human presence on the moon and mars, so many things we could be doing if we worked towards improving ourselves and the world instead of fighting over limited resources.