In a World That Could Probably Never Be
What if our politicians told the truth? And I don't mean the truth that they believe is the truth, I mean the real truth. Of course what counts as truth is a little slippery to be sure. I'm not talking about ultimate truth as one finds in logic and mathematics. I'm talking about the truth regarding the best evidence science can provide about how the world works, what is happening, and what is likely to happen in the near future if we continue on the path we are on.
The immediate and most likely right answer is that they would be soundly tromped at the polls. They wouldn't stand a chance in hell in today's political climate. They couldn't even get nominated. People don't want the truth because the truth is that their world is going away and who wants to hear that from the person they want to elect to solve their problems?
Truth is a tricky concept. It is impossible to distinguish the truth of a matter when all one has to go on is a set of differing opinions. Then one is compelled to choose that opinion that sounds most likely to be the case to their way of thinking. In other words, what sounds most like what one already believes, then that must be the truth. Evidence need not apply.
Looking at two or three of the most important issues of our time, the ones that will have the greatest negative impact on every human being on this planet, provides exquisite examples of just how poorly people deal with the truth. For the last three hundred years human beings have been burning carbon-based fuels to power their cultures at an exponentially increasing rate, that is until recently. Burning carbon-based fuels produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, that has changed the energy balance equation on the Earth allowing the buildup of heat in the atmosphere and oceans. Global warming, as it is called, is causing major shifts in the climate cycles already and promises more and worse to come in the near future. Meanwhile the very burning of these fuels is depleting them from our reserves, which are fixed and finite. We are now approaching a point at which we can no longer extract these fuels at an energy cost that leaves a net gain sufficient to power our machines. So we burn the fuels up producing climate disruptions, have less to work with as time goes on, and have, in essence, painted ourselves into a corner. Our modern technological society cannot function without the energy flow and we cannot adapt to the future climate shifts without more energy. Aren't we brilliant?
On top of all of that, and indeed amplifying the problems, is the continuing growing population. We will have more mouths to feed but less fossil fuel to produce that food. We will need greater food security but the climate shifts are likely to wipe out large portions of what are now our most fertile farm lands.
There are many more derivative problems that stem from these primary ones. And all of this is known to science. The evidence is in. It is clear. It is irrefutable except by ignorant arguments. And still the vast majority of people do not want to hear this. In a way you can't blame them. Here is the truth that some hapless politician with good intentions might state:
Folks, the truth is that maybe 90% of you and your children are going to die prematurely after suffering various forms of privation over the next several decades. Sorry to have to tell you this. And I'm also sorry to say I have no solutions to offer, because, frankly, we have created an unsolvable predicament. But I would like your vote anyway.Vote for me, Cassandra is my top political advisor.
The job of a truth-teller is a lot like that of an oncologist who has to tell a patient that they have six months to live so they had better get their affairs in order. The patient had hoped the oncologist could cure them and they will undoubtedly go through the stages of grief, disbelief, denial, anger, etc. But eventually the patient generally comes to accept the inevitable once they understand that it is inevitable. And they get on with putting their affairs in order.
Real leaders, if there were any, would be like the oncologist. They would tell humanity the truth about its future prospects and suggest they start to order their affairs in preparation for the end. Why? Because when each of us dies (an inevitable fact) we leave others behind to carry on. And we want to impart something of value to those who survive us even if it is just some bits of life wisdom we've acquired. We Homo sapiens, as a species, will also be leaving others behind. They will still be Homo sapiens, but with any luck they will be those with much stronger sapience qualities than the average person today. They will be the seeds for a new evolved human.
The other thing the leaders in a Party of Truth could do is lead the preparation of a hospice for humanity. Death is inevitable but we have learned how to make it far less painful than in days of old. Leaders who truly understood what is happening and what is about to happen would be working toward making the transition as painless as humanly possible. Instead what we actually have are people who will lie to us right up to the end, probably believing they are avoiding panic. What we children don't know won't hurt us.
Actually, I don't think there is any world leader today who fully grasps the significance of the energy crisis and global warming or the population problem. The majority are still stuck thinking that what we are facing is a “financial” crisis, and if we could just fix that... Most Republicans rightly grasp that if global warming is real then fixing it means stopping burning carbon which would put an end to our technological society. Ergo they must deny global warming. Similarly they realize that fossil fuels are essential to the economy and so they must ‘believe’ that there is more oil in the ground and we just need to drill-baby-drill. Meanwhile Democrats want desperately to believe that alternative energies will produce a new, green, and prosperous economy. All we need to do, in their world view, is substitute alternative sources for fossil fuels and, voila, problem solved. It is a pity that none of them took a basic physics course that included the laws of thermodynamics. But, look, after all, they are more often lawyers and political science majors. They can't be expected to understand technical details.
All of our so-called leaders and would-be leaders are more in denial than the common man in the street who has never even heard of peak oil. They know the truth on some superficial level, I suspect, but refuse to let their thoughts go to the logical conclusions. They cannot let go of the past and refuse to face the future. They hold the title of “leader” but are not leaders. They are not even followers. They are just “do-whatever-it-takes-to-survive” skin-occupiers holding on for dear life and praying that the end won't come on their watch.
Who looks good to you in the 2012 presidential election? Barrack Obama - Mr. empty rhetoric? Newt Gingrich - Mr. I must know what I'm talking about because I have a PhD? Rick Perry - I can't even find words to express my disdain for that character. Who? What about congress seats? Who do we pick to represent us in congress? What about governors, state congresses, mayors, city councils? Do any of them know truth? Do they speak it?
No. To them ‘realpolitik’ is reality. It doesn't matter what the physical truth of the matter is. All that matters is that they get campaign donations and get (re)elected. After all, its a job.
Let me confess that I am so completely disgusted with politicians of every stripe (though most so with Republicans for what they have become). While Democrats pay lip service to wanting science to inform their decisions, they still take neoclassical economics as a science. The environmentalist movement was largely undermined by liberal sentiments misusing environmental science to argue their cases. Everyone from both ends of the ideological spectrum believe that a healthy economy is one that is growing (in GDP) and producing more material goods for consumption. They both belive that the financial economy is real and necessary even if the liberals rail against bankers taking home obscene lucre. There is not a one among them, as far as I can tell, who is capable of taking a big step backward and take in the whole system. Come voting day I will be choosing “None of the above”.
If you still think the political system can work and want a party that stands for the truth, start one. Create a Truth Party and develop a platform. Here is a model you might start with. Let me know how it goes.