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Coal and Cows, Ecological Madoff and the Brittle Rich
Alex Steffen, 13 Mar 09

So, three relatively spur-of-the-moment things I said on stage at ETech seem to be making the rounds:

1) step one in fighting climate change is getting off coal and cows;

2) from the perspective of future generations, we're acting like ecological Madoffs;

3) our current prosperity here in North America is extremely vulnerable and easily imperiled - we are the brittle rich.

That's all. Have a good weekend.

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To me, 1 and 2 are very clear and very important.

I would appreciate a little more explanation on #3, but I do understand it in a sense you may or may not have meant:

The rich have means throw their massive cash at big, creeping problems and get away with short term solutions, so that they can experience minimal consequences. However, this often is coupled with an insufficient long term solution effort, which would lead to a weak North America in the future.

Is this what you had in mind? Do you agree or disagree with that mechanism? Thanks very much.

Posted by: Dave Gupta on 15 Mar 09

These are all great points, I just have a couple of comments for each one:
1) It is very difficult, especially in our current economy, to ask people to simply stop using coal and cows. Just ask the folks out in Western Kansas who rely on those products for their livelihood. That's not to say I disagree - just that it's more complicated.
2) It is the same socio-economic system, which values immediate gratification, hyper-individualism, and profit for profit's sake that produced Madoff, the current economic crisis and the persistent destruction of the environment. Any effective change (whether it's to fix the economy or to preserve the environment) will have to be systemic rather than superficial.
3) Our current prosperity here in North America is not only brittle, it is also built upon the economic and environmental destruction of other countries. We are able to live in relatively clean, healthy, and prosperous conditions precisely because we send all of the pollution, environmental destruction and social and economic instability overseas to places like Africa, South and Central America and Asia.

Posted by: Jeremy on 15 Mar 09

Jeremy, your very last point about outsourcing the impacts of our prosperity is absolutely right on. This point is so important, I wish it were a much greater part of the dialogue - from greens and economists alike.

Posted by: justus on 16 Mar 09

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