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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

about American culture « Previous | |Next »
June 4, 2006

From Joel Achenbach's feature in the Washington Post's weekly magazine on the global warming skeptics. These are the crowd who hold that 'global warming isn't really happening -- or, if it is happening, isn't happening because of human beings. Or, if it is happening because of human beings, isn't going to be a big problem. And, even if it is a big problem, we can't realistically do anything about it other than adapt.' Behind this crowd stands the fossil fuel energy industry, which has a financial stake in opposing policies and actions that seek to combat climate change.

Rather than evaluate any of the claims of global warming skeptics. Achenbach interviews the sceptics, lets them speak for themselves, and lets the readers draw their own conclusion. The sceptics come across poorly.

In the process of allowing the sceptics to hang themselves Achenbach makes the following comment:

Let us be honest about the intellectual culture of America in general: It has become almost impossible to have an intelligent discussion about anything. Everything is a war now. This is the age of lethal verbal combat, where even scientific issues involving measurements and molecules are somehow supernaturally polarizing. The controversy about global warming resides all too perfectly at the collision point of environmentalism and free market capitalism. It's bound to be not only politicized but twisted, mangled and beaten senseless in the process. The divisive nature of global warming isn't helped by the fact that the most powerful global-warming skeptic (at least by reputation) is President Bush, and the loudest warnings come from Al Gore.

Strikes me as pretty accurate account from the bits of American politics that I dip into.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:57 PM | | Comments (10)
Comments

Comments

In the US this issue is more than just about global warming, it’s about the survival of American suburban culture. With the provision of public transport being uneconomical, suburbia has always been dependent on private transportation, namely the car.

Behind the scenes in today’s America, intellectuals are arguing about whether suburbia can be sustained in its present form, and for how long. From the left comes the argument that suburbia is a social experiment gone wrong; the sprawl, energy waste, traffic, road rage, pollution and strong dependency on petroleum. The right argue that suburbia has progressed to far, trillions of dollars of investment cannot be written off, suburbia must be sustained at all costs.

The issue is made more complex in that corporate America also has a big stake in suburbia. Auto, petroleum, fast food, construction and retail industries have grown enormously on the back of suburban sprawl. With 85-90% of Americans and Australians living in suburbia, how will they travel to the Mc Donalds’, Hungry Jack’s or mega shopping malls without affordable private transportation?

In the future, the affluent in our society will be able to afford petrol at $5 litre and $10 motorway tolls, but what about the not so affluent. Maybe we're all hoping that future advancements in technology will save the day.

Steve, Another problem is the suburban communities and culture is very strong. People in the US and Au have fled the city edges and fault-lines for the more tolerant and accepting suburbs. Gentrification is starting to flow back into the cities with the suburbs getting expensive, but even so.

I live in a very strong, tight and friendly suburban community. My wife and I like it and our lifestyle. So I will probably go to abnormal lengths to maintain it.

Currently I telecommute three weeks of the month. Which is probably one technological response to increasing transport costs.

Steve,
I'm not sure the scenario is the end of suburbia in America or Australia (eg Perth) as today's suburbs become the slums of tomorrow. That account holds that the American dream--suburbia----is turning into a modernist nightmare of a vast transportation system that is now trapped industrial society between a rock and a hard place: dependence on oil and climate change.

There is an option of retaining suburbia and private transport by making the adjustment to clean and renewable biofuels, just like the Brazilians have done. Brazil is a market leader in biofuels.

I presume that developing ethanol as a way of breaking the U.S.'s addiction to oil is controversial.

Hybrid cars is another option for suburbia whilst we make the transformation into a non-oil economy.

Ethanol is no solution Gary, once you factor in how much has to be grown to replace any reasonable amount of fossil fuels, and you soon realise it is just a measure that can stretch things out a little - but it isn't ever going to replace oil based fuels.

Same with biodiesel and the like.

Even if we have enough land, we certainly don't have enough water to make this a sustainable activity.

Slightly off topic, but part of your above post is this adverserial culture we have all developed. Reading blogs exposes you daily to discussion degrading to denigration approach to life we seem to be developing. I actually think this is being driven by the vested interests, who most definitely don't want a dispassionate, informed debate.

BigBob,
why not grow some ethanol (from sugar cane) and import some from Brazil? Why do we have to be independent?

American culture and global warming.For mine any controversial issue is not about the culture of a people but to the basic arguements put forward from a left/right or centre political perspective.John Howard or any other leader for that matter fits the policy to the mood of the people and what they, the leaders, think they can get away with.It wasn't so many years ago the thoughts of the plebs out in the burbs,counted for nothing.With the advent of the wwww.even dick heads like me get to have their say.
And anyway since when did the thoughts of the majority matter? We no longer have capital punishment(I know cause I put in for the hangmans job)but by far the majority of people would bring it back tomorrow.But I digress.

Ethanol and other substitute fuels are to late,this planet is on the verge of economical collapse.Now I know that latter statement should have me commited to the first nut house,considering the boom we are in,but it aint gonna last.When a heap of dedicated scientists tell me the planet is in the shit house and getting worse by the day,of course I aint listening to that crap.I tell you what!lets get another mine up and going another fishing trawler mayhaps or another huge shopping centre.This in turn create all those thousands of jobs,paying 8 bucks an hour so kids can buy those cheap 350 thousand dollar houses.

I gotta tell you though folks all is not lost,cause there is enough methane gas being generated in parliaments and company board rooms around the world to run somthing like the U.S.S.Enterprise for a lifetime.I really don't know why engage in this kind of debate, Ive just snapped another pencil.
Phill

No doubt the suburban lifestyle is very popular today, and would still be popular with most suburbanites even if constraints were placed on private transportation sometime in the distant future. The NSW Govt some years back changed planning laws to encourage the construction medium density housing in the suburbs but encountered fierce opposition by residents who were opposed to any form of urban development in their neighbourhood. Fearing an electoral backlash it quickly reverted back to sprawl and motorways to meet the city’s housing and transportation needs.

I think the recent increases in the price of petrol and world demand for oil in general are making people think about how dependent they are on private transportation to get to work, shops, etc. It may have the effect of changing people’s attitudes towards urbanism and public transportation. I agree with your comments on alternate forms of energy, however I don’t think they’ll be an adequate replacement for crude oil, both in terms of cost and availability.

The global initiative to cut back on the consumption of fossil fuels has in most part been a failure. It’s no coincidence that the two of the most suburbanised countries in the world, Australia and the US opposed Kyoto. As Cameron was saying, people are going to resist changes to their lifestyle in this respect until change is forced upon them, through market and environmental forces which they have little control over.

BigBob,
the adverserial culture that has developed in the US is not just discussion that is a degrading to denigration approach to life.

Look at this

Steve, people are going to resist changes to their lifestyle in this respect until change is forced upon them, through market and environmental forces which they have little control over.

Some of the technologies have already been developed, and are just not in wide use for differing reasons. Telecommunicating is one approach to work that will save the suburbs, permaculture (permanent agriculture) is as much a suburban technology as a rural one, and solar power is perfect for the decentralised nature of the suburbs.

Where we talk about social production now (ie opensource software) we may one day be talking about suburban production (food, energy, commerce) and even suburban diversity.

Rather than the suburbs becoming slums as Gary mentioned may happen, I think the suburbs will become more active and useful than the CBD.

Gary, I don't think that there is enough arable land gloabally to support such industries.

My references aren't with me, but the areas needed to produce enough fuel to make a real dent in our fossil fuel usage would be immense.

One thing that may happen, is that if oil reaches high enough levels to justify producing biofuels on a large scale, is that the Western agriculturally strong countries may divert from food production to a now more profitable game of producing biofuels - at the cost of exports to countries that need agricultural imports to survive.