Monday, March 19, 2007

The Political Conundrum, or

How Do We Encourage Enough Voters to Think Long-Term?

If you are reading this, then you may share my concern for our over-dependence on non-renewable energy sources. You perhaps have begun to conclude that in the near to mid term (within twenty years), we are going to be confronted with rapidly escalating costs of energy. You may also share my concern of the economic and social implications such costs will impose on our society.

The more reading I do, the more consensus I find. It is not a matter of if, but when we shall be confronted with the consequences of worldwide Peak Oil Production. Even the most optimistic prognosticators, such as Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) see world oil production peaking within 20 to 25 years. Government agencies are beginning to recognize they need to confront this issue. Web pages such as The Energy Bulletin, The Dynamic Cities Project or The Post Carbon Institute (to name but three), are full of links to stories about various groups responding to the situation.

About a year ago I started to visualize various futuristic scenarios. I Knew that I needed to improve my skills to help me cope with the post carbon era. In short, I needed to change my lifestyle. I needed to behave as if there were a critical energy shortage, so I would be better equipped to cope when it does happen.

Over the past year I have paid more attention to shopping locally. I switched to my local green energy provider, Bullfrog Power. I gave up car ownership, and started to walk, cycle or take the bus. I attempted to organize my thoughts and communicate my concerns to my community through my personal website. Not only did I feel that I could breathe with a cleaner conscience, but I felt healthier!

However, this slower pace has also provided more time to watch the world speed by. While you and I may be getting it, I must admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of those who don't. It is not just that Wal-Mart parking lots remain full, and gridlock continues to be the primary complaint of the masses. So often the electors in our various democracies are swayed by promises of short term gain. As I write, the Canadian Finance Minister is delivering an election style budget based on assumptions of continued economic "growth". He opens his speech by saying "Mr. Speaker, Canada is strong today, and we have a plan for an even better tomorrow!"

Sadly, elections are not won by telling voters the truth about what lies ahead. They are won by promises of more, forever. Many Canadians will be cheered when they hear their Finance Minister say:

Canada is great because Canadians made it great. The people who built this country worked hard to realize their vision. They set us on a bold course to greater hope and opportunity.

Only a small minority of the electorate understands the fact that our economy grew as it did over the past 100 years because of the abundance of cheap energy.

I would like to think that the small steps I am taking to change my lifestyle will help me cope with the changes that are coming. I am much more concerned, however, with how the rest of the world is going to respond. I am trying to figure out what I can do to appropriately sound the alarm. The tricky part, is the relatively short attention span of the electorate. The problem we are facing requires very long term solutions.

Some people have the patience and are prepared to accept a plan that asks them to sacrifice today for something that will show results in 2 or 3, maybe even ten years. Occasionally an astute politician can be that persuasive. But how do we convince a majority to accept less for the rest of their lives so future generations can survive? How do we develop an electorate that is that informed, and altruistic? How do we convince ever increasing numbers of people to stop listening to the constant rant of marketers who continually tell us to "zoom zoom" through life, and have it all?

I look forward to your answers.

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