December 04, 2003 | Peter

Short Term Politics

Although we will see how much leadership changes Mark Latham’s views, on the surface of it we now have two political leaders who assume that a new era of market-based social realtions is upon us. As such they both focus on the most salient politcal (or at least electoral) aspect of this condition, the so-called aspirational class.
One thing that is clear about this class is that they like their material goodies – block-filling mcmansions, gas-guzzling 4WDs and jet skis, noisy lawn mowers and leaf blowers, and home entertainment systems that’ll blast you out of the room at full volume.
The thing is, except for the last example, these things are all environmental disasters. The mcmansions use vast resources to build and have to be air-conditioned, the 4WDs also use massive amounts of materials, are wasteful of fuel and pollute, and much the same goes with all the other stuff. And the further thing is, sooner or later the problems of declining oil reserves, pollution and especially global warming mean that the economics of these things will alter radically.
In all likelihood we are in the last days of the carefree abuse of the environment that underlies this hyper-materialistic lifestyle. It is already a harsh fact that wars are being fought to maintain American and western control over the declining oil reserves. This brutal reality – that most of the globe’s significant oil reserves are in the middle east – is behind the new US policy in that region. The US is also increasingly active in influencing events in other oil rich regions, notably around the Caspian Sea, South America and west Africa.
There are a whole raft of environmental problems approaching a critical condition, but the big one is clearly global warming. If even the mid-range projections are correct, then this century will see massive social, economic and political upheaval due to climate change. And inevitably, given current international power relations, there will be military conflict.
Kyoto, that miserably meagre attempt to ameliorate global warming, is in limbo, with Russia just opting out and the US under Bush going in the opposite direction.
If we were an intelligent species, we’d be doing something about this set of problems, perhaps the worst we’ve ever faced as a civisation. First, we’d adopt the precautionary principle and act to end the worst abuses. Second, we’d shift our whole economic base from materials to information.
Many smart men, including a bevy of business gurus, have been saying that’s where we are heading anyway. They note the information revolution and how it has radically altered industrial production, trade and everything else. More and more, they say, the real money is in information and ideas, and not things.
So the most obvious response to the environmental crisis is to hasten the shift to an information economy that minimises use of material resources.
So the aspirational class need to trade in their polluting and gas-guzzling gadgets and expand their home entertainment systems.
In fact, the most interesting and important aspect of this whole information revolution is the way it places the emphasis back on human beings, creativity and education. Promoting these things is a good idea in itself.
So, if we had really smart leaders they’d be addressng these issues before it was too late, but that’s not how politics works, is it. Any party that said we’re going to act now to prevent a problem not already obvious would get hammered at the polls. Or is the electorate smarter than that?

Posted by Peter at 5:07 pm | Comments Off on Short Term Politics |
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