It is Wednesday morning, and the Secretary of State of Ohio announces that John Kerry has won the state, and the presidency. What would that have meant?
For some now weeping, euphoria. For some now cheering, jeering.
But what would be different about the world?
Nothing much, at least not immediately. Just "Feelings ... nothing more than feelings ..."
War would continue in Iraq. Spiderman would still beat Doc Oc. The little squiggly line produced at the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, the one that tells the world how much CO2 has accumlated in the atmosphere, would keep squiggling up.
Russia would still have already ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
Yes, some of you might say, but we would have a more internationalist president with better policies on energy. We would not be worrying about the Supreme Court. No, others might say, we will be weak in the eyes of the world and especially Osama bin Ladin, who taunted us in the days leading up to our election. These things matter.
Undoubtedly it matters who steers the world's only remaining, but arguably declining in super-ness, superpower. (By the way, it won't be long before we are talking about a bipolar world again, anyway, with China the emerging behemoth, the one with nifty space program and the most sustainability stuff.) Many things will be affected by the outcome of this election. Specific people will end up happy or sad, alive or dead -- and different people than would have been so affected under President The-Other-Guy.
What doesn't change, regardless of who sits in the White House, regardless of whether they vacation in Crawford or Nantucket, is the work of worldchanging. Suppose you are one of those who was greenishly sustainable back in 1992. Do you remember Vice President Al Earth-in-the-Balance Gore? Do you remember the US President's Council on Sustainable Development?
Instead of saving the Earth, Gore invented the Internet and hammer-bashed government (helping to balance the budget, give him that). Instead of changing US policy and creating a joint bus-gov-NGO consensus on an ambitious sustainability vision among its high-powered members, the PCSD, if you ever heard of it, held a number of fabulous networking parties. I wrote an article about one of their meetings titled, "They Came, They Saw, They Concurred."
(Before you blast me with nostalgia-mail, I know this last bit was unfair and simplistic, good things happened, yes yes, I am just making a rhetorical point here.)
The point is, worldchanging -- for sustainability, to claim my soapbox, but insert your own big agenda item here -- involves the advancement of very specific idea sets, actual technologies, discrete solutions. Some of these tasks would have been easier under a Kerry administration; and I submit that some of them would conceivably have been harder, especially if we saw a repeat of the post-'92 "We visionaries can all relax now, our man is in the White House, let's go make money instead" phenomenon.
The US President, despite the brou-ha-ha of the last two years, does not run the world. The US President is just a very powerful player. The President is just someone who makes important decisions that change the context for the long-term work of innovation, diffusion, and transformation -- the creation of a world that can work for everybody, and nature, over generations. The Great Work, as geologian Thomas Berry called it.
And you know what?
So are you.
Me? Hardly. I could fund up to a $1000 venture, but that's it. You want to try some experimental change-the-world-technology in the $3-$4 billion range, you're on your own, buddy.
Both points are well taken, and point to a vital distinction: between top-down power and wealth versus networked power and wealth. This website helps create a community that can magnify the power of its individuals.
Putting aside the inherent power and symbolism of the president, just from a funding point of view, it's almost impossible for a networked group of people to compete with the government. Everybody has to pay taxes. There's a reason DARPA and NIH fund the majority of experiments in the defense/health fields.
"Small is beautiful, but big is powerful." (Eugene P. Odum, ecologist)
The implication of Bush's re-election is much worse than Alan thinks. This is a very scary situation, and no amount of philosophizing will make it go away. Alan's comments remind me of the scientists who told themselves that it didn't matter when totalitarian regimes took power in their countries, they could immerse themselves in their science.
A taste of things to come:
U.S. Wants No Warming Proposal
Administration Aims to Prevent Arctic Council Suggestions
By Juliet Eilperin (Washington Post)
Thursday, November 4, 2004; Page A13
"The Bush administration has been working for months to keep an upcoming eight-nation report from endorsing broad policies aimed at curbing global warming, according to domestic and foreign participants, despite the group's conclusion that Arctic latitudes are facing historic increases in temperature, glacial melting and abrupt weather changes....
It is bad, yes.
What you all have to consider, however, is that barring a big correction in the near future, the U.S. is simply, ultimately, going to be marginalized on the world stage in many, many of the ways that matter to those who write and read WorldChanging.
This could take a long time, and I'm not saying things are going particularly pleasant, just or peaceful while it's happening. And I'm sick about the scope of destruction that is now bearing down on the landscapes and eco-systems of U.S. territory, not to mention the pulmonary and circulatory systems of those of us in US air and waterspace.
Of course the U.S. footprint on the world is very big.
But to use the example of the Arctic report, if the U.S. succeeds in gutting this thing (and even if it does not), will all those nice Finns and Swedes and Norwegians, and Canadians and Russians, invite us over again?
No. They will take off with their very nice vodkas and tasty little open faced sandwiches and their fine salted fish foods and their excellent scientists, and they're going to fail to pick up the phone when the U.S. calls and asks where the party is.
As Bruce put it in a recent Viridian note (up on WC at http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001420.html):
"Kyoto passed *because* of the opposition of the Americans, not despite that. Kyoto has become the club of civilized people who are anxious to have a diplomatic venue has no Bush Administration wreckers in it. That is a bigger geopolitical deal than Kyoto itself, because (as we Viridians have always known), Kyoto is far too feeble and modest a treaty to arrest the gathering climate havoc.
"But even America can't stop Kyoto. The husk
of Kyoto, which expires in 2012 anyway,
is just the shell-game for the next-model global
deal. No one cares any more what Americans think
about that. They are over as a diplomatic
There is no question that the power of the president pales in comparison to the power of the market. The market is made up of many individuals, as Alan points out. But the president has the unique ability to push for policies that can act as market catalysts - a power that no ordinary market participant has. While I would rather have a president that is more forthcoming with his ability to influence the market, there exist technologies today that are on the path to sustainability.
Cultivating those existing technologies requires only the patronage of the informed consumer.
What would I have done if Kerry had won?
I'd start selling off my shares in casino and gambling companies (which have done quite well this year, and have been screaming the last few days) and start looking to invest in solar energy and alternative fuel companies.
I'll probably still do that, but not just yet.
(Whenever I feel bad about investing in gambling, I picture a smokey indian casino where a sweating, glassy-eyed Bill Bennet is drinking warm beer and slamming quarters into a video poker machine.)
Correction: I meant to write respiratory, not pulmonary, above.
Maybe I'll look into casinos. The Indian's Revenge, don't they call them?
Well . . . realistically, honestly, those "Indian" casinos are front operations for cunningly run and voracious casino management groups. It's big business, cynical as they come. That slick-haired sanctimonious creep Ralph Reed lobbies for the industry.
I'm honestly intent on getting out of it by the end of the year. I'm waiting for a dividend payment at the end of the month, and one lottery technology company to un-tank.
When Bush's next egregious foriegn-policy fuckup makes the market tank, I'll move the money into something less parasitic. (Since the next foreign-policy fuckup might involve bombing a Middle-Eastern country, this might be a very good time indeed to invest in alternative energy firms!)
(In the mean time . . . there's Bill Bennet, with a sweaty Childrens' Book of Virtues T-shirt on underneath his suit, mumbling about fornicators and idolators as he loses another dollar token in the Lucky USA Hot 7s slot machine.)
Far scarier than a lack of common sense or values in the White House are upcoming Supreme Court nominations. Rehnquist and O'Connor are not going to make it another four years. We could easily have Chief Justice Antonin Scalia and a very neoconservative court. Abortion rights, women's rights, affirmative action, keeping school vouchers out and freedom of speech would all suffer.