—It Won’t Be the First Time
In discussing the proposals to battle the effects of global warming, specifically ambitious carbon reduction, Thomas Donohoe, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “There is no way this can be done without fundamentally changing the American way of life.”
Now there is no way to know what aspects of the American way of life he was referring to; the ongoing effort to eliminate the middle class, our fascination with guns, our propensity towards violence as a first line of defense for matters big and small, our love affair with mediocre T.V. and lots of it, our dependency on fast food, our refusal to avoid HOV lanes at all cost, or our determination to live in the past even when we know the past wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
My guess is it is the last one. We continue to think, as Jerry Lee Lewis expressed so aptly a half century ago—Has it been that long?—that we Americans really “have the bull by the horn-a.”
Has fundamentally changing a way of life ever been a good thing?
The obvious answer is ah…well…ah yes, yes it has—especially when that fundamental way of life doesn’t seem to be working.
Living in filth during the Black Plague seemed like the only way to go until someone got the bright idea that cleanliness is next to Godliness. It took a while because Europe was a pretty big cesspool but in time and with a great deal of effort and expense, Europe cleaned up its act and eliminated a deadly disease in the process. And when it was over, the only question being asked was, what the hell took us so long.
Of course, the answer to that question was that for a long time not everyone was walking around in the filth but when they learned that you didn’t have to actually walk around in the filth to be affected by it, fundamental changes occurred and plagues, for the most part, now only turn up in children’s nursery rhymes.
But you can go back even further, right to the beginning in fact. There was a time, and people tend to forget this, but there was a time when men lived in caves. Not only did he live in caves but he was damn happy to be doing so. He had his fire going, a bed of straw, a coat of fur, and a stack of rocks to keep the neighbors out of his yards.
Then someone came up with the bright idea that they could do better and the natural response was, “What, better than this?”
That was a cave man trying to hold on to his fundamental way of life. That was a caveman flat out rejecting the idea that while bear coats might be appropriate for everyday wear, deerskins might be better for formal events.
The world that has been continually changing from day one. And no faction of society has successfully been able to apply the brakes to change. So again the question becomes, why do we still fear it?
The answer is no one really fears change. But some people have a stake in avoiding it.
So the next time someone—someone in the oil business, say, makes the argument—yes, we could go to wind power and solar power, and it would be cleaner, but do we really want to turn our backs on dirty coal?
You tell him not to let the windmill blade hit him on the way out of the 20th century. And remind him that today’s fundamental way of life is yesterday’s old news and today’s new ideas will be tomorrow’s fundamental way of life—but not forever.