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January was the “month in which, for the first time, more automobiles were sold in China than in the United States” (Harper’s Index, April 2009 issue). China passed the U.S. to become the second-largest automobile-manufacturing nation in 2008. Chevy-Chery photo by The Pocket.
Elizabeth Kolbert created an evocative image in a recent New Yorker editorial: she described the auto executives in Washington as men with explosives strapped to their chests, bringing nothing to the table but the promise that if forced to suffer, they won’t suffer alone.
Imagine, instead, that an auto executive had come to Washington armed with a vision – such as a new line of ultraefficient cars leveraging carbon-fiber technology a la Amory Lovins.
We are having a crisis – the Econaclypse, the Great Decession, call it what you will – and like the Great Depression it will define an entire generation. But it really is a crisis of imagination, not of economics. Wendell Berry:
We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper, or the landscapes, the streams and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimmingpools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations. An excerpt from “In the Presence of Fear” by Wendell Berry
This is important, so I’m going to say it again: We are in a crisis because too many people have lacked a certain kind of imagination. We all know that everything exists in an ecosystem, but it’s possible to pretend that it doesn’t, or that the system will be able to suck up whatever abuse you happen to do to it. The people who made the sub-prime epidemic happen did not imagine that they were destroying the ecosystem of credit. The people who made gas guzzlers did not imagine that they were destroying the ecosystem of energy evolution.
Now, however, those connections have been made clear. Now the thing we cannot afford is for people to strap on their unimagination like bodybelts of explosives and demand that the unimagined consequences of their destructive actions be allowed to continue. What they are failing to see is that their terrorist demand – for life not to change – is impossible. And what they are failing to imagine is that change can create a better life, both for them and the entire ecosystem they live in.
This is why serious games such as World Without Oil and Superstruct are such an important development. These games get at the root of the problem: they encourage imagination and the massive building and sharing of future visions. They put our collective intelligence to work on figuring out what’s happening, what’s possible and what’s fair. And they open-source this vision so that anyone can understand and participate. Wouldn’t it be grand if the legacy of our current economic crisis is not survival, but leadership in imagining how we can all make the future better? Photo by brndnprkns via Flickr.
“Over the last 25 years, opportunities to head off the current crisis were ignored, missed or deliberately blocked, according to analysts, politicians and veterans of the oil and automobile industries. What’s more, for all the surprise at just how high oil prices have climbed, and fears for the future, this is one crisis we were warned about. Ever since the oil shortages of the 1970s, one report after another has cautioned against America’s oil addiction.” (The World Without Oil game, ahem.)
The “Asleep at the spigot” article in the New York Times goes on to show just how the U.S. has gotten itself out on the limb as far as it has – and who led us out there – it’s good reading for those who hope we don’t get fooled again.
Plus I’ve got an excellent article summarizing the global oil situation, also in the NYT, courtesy of reader PeakProphet. It’s 2 months old but still nails it. (Image from the New York Times)
“A top Ford Motor Co. executive urged the government to make a greater commitment to the development of plug-in hybrids on Wednesday… Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, said at a conference on plug-in hybrids that bold incentives are needed to speed up the development of advanced batteries that are key to the green vehicles….’This is a race we absolutely must win,’ Fields said,” then went on to say, ‘It seems clear that a business case will not evolve, in the near term, without support from Washington.’ Hunh?
Meanwhile, in an adjacent article, Toyota’s president Katsuaki Watanabe demonstrated a plug-in hybrid car, with a next-generation lithium-ion battery, at the Tokyo Environmental Forum. Toyota said its plug-in hybrid should be in the U.S. market by 2010; last year, Ford estimated its time to market at 5-10 years, or presumably never, if the government doesn’t help them out. Perhaps, if Ford had diverted one-tenth of its marketing budget for SUVs to hybrid research over the last 5 years, it wouldn’t be in such an embarrassing palm-out situation today? Bold never quits, but apparently it’s not above whining. And cutting pay and jobs; Mark Fields announced a 15% cut for white-collar workers last week. More reverberations of WWO themes, from AP articles on Thursday.
Check this out. Mita refers us to Rebecca Solnit’s ode to Detroit, rebirthing. Is this what will happen to most, if not all, of our cities as they reach the end of their growth arcs and begin to tumble back to the green earth?