Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Slow Motion Disaster

The recent major oil spill off Gulf Coast made the news cycle. We’ve seen daily coverage of the “disaster”. Anytime you can use that word you increase media consumption, which drives advertising, of course. Luckily, we have yet to see massive stretches of beaches soaked in black oil, with dead marine creatures adrift in the tide, and shore birds soaked in the residue unable to fly.

For this reason the “disaster” is not quite the news item that it could become. It is a bad situation and still getting worse every day, but it is still very much a “pending” situation as far as human experience is concerned. The oil spill remains something off the coast somewhere, relatively far away, even as congressional testimony on the matter began yesterday.

Like so much happening in the world today, the gulf oil spill is in human terms happening in slow motion. Everyday the spill gets larger, the resolution to the environmental disaster so far eludes us, yet the significance of it remains abstract. As of today it is just a bunch of oil floating out in the gulf. So, the enormity of the tragedy (as evidenced by satellite photos) remains distant to human experience. You can still go to any beach you please for vacation.

We live amidst an accelerating pace of life and change. Our world reinvents itself on almost an annual basis through technology, public and personal media, the machinations of late capitalistic consumerism, and increasing worldwide socialism (among many other influences). Late in their lives, it was impossible for my grandparents to understand and keep up with the world. It is just as much of a challenge for my own parents. At times, it is difficult for me as well, more so with each passing year it seems. Everyone manages to cope by using that marvelous human capacity for indifference. I hope I haven’t become that numb yet.

In spite of the acceleration of life, however, some things happen very slowly and the slower something occurs the more disconnected it feels with the flow of life. Thus, its impact is blunted, its effects dulled, and, instead of indifference, the majority of humanity fails to acknowledge it at all.

This is why the gulf oil spill has yet to cause genuine rage. But, the spill itself is, for me at least, symbolic of a greater series of slow motion concerns that fail to resonate with humanity as a whole, though that will inevitably change at some point. Because the concerns are real, their unfolding is happening as you read these words, and their future effects are far more certain than anyone wishes to acknowledge.

Besides the oil spill we have the whole issue of global warming, which I have posted about before. The common analogy among environmentally aware minds is boiling a frog by placing him in cool water to begin with. Turn up the heat gradually and the frog won’t notice its impending demise.

Here our fast-paced life works decisively against us. We expect experience to happen quickly. It is a consequence of being nurtured for decades in bountiful world of convenience. Global warming is unfolding at a pace of years and decades, far beyond the periphery of the news cycle. Global warming is a dry season here, a wet season there, a seemingly random killing cold season, a period where everything appears normal, followed by years of record high temperatures skipping through time like a stone thrown on the calm surface of a pond. We simply don’t connect the dots because it is too complex and too damn slow (well, and far too political too).


The other slow motion disaster that comes to mind is the massive, seemingly unstoppable rise in worldwide public debt. The recent concern in Europe over the possibility of insolvency in Greece seemed to surprise everyone. Suddenly, it was in the news cycle. Major headlines. But, like the latest gulf oil spill and global warming, it has been unfolding for years. This is also true of other European nations.

The same is true for the United States. It was announced today that April produced a record federal budget deficit. The US debt is a train-wreck waiting to happen. We are in no way immune to the Greek crisis. Slowly, more discerning people are seeing this. They see that this massive debt, based entirely upon worthless fiat currency, will lead us to significant public distress if not national bankruptcy. The minority of individuals who see this happening know that gold is the ultimate refuge. Which is one reason the price of gold has skyrocketed again and will continue to do so.

Gold will continue to rise as long as nations feed the slow motion deficit crisis with more fiat money.

So, I wait as the world shows indifference toward debt. I buy on the dips and accumulate more gold. I watch the world far outspend its means with no mechanism for slowing the rate of debt down let alone stopping it. I watch the world continue to warm up even as a growing number among us deny that it is even happening. This in the face of the fact that 2000-2009 was the warmest decade ever recorded.

And I watch that massive oil spill, growing each day as congress tries to untangle who is to blame. But, I have my own ideas on that. It is the same guilty party as with the human aggravation of global warming (not necessarily the cause of it). The same as who is responsible for the unprecedented rise in public debt. It is our collective human hunger for oil that drives us to disaster. It is our inability to care about subtle changes in weather conditions over time that causes us to do nothing to mitigate the effects of our use of oil. It is our need for easy convenience and entitlement that drives up the debt in public welfare programs we have not been able to afford since Ronald Reagan was president.

We have met the enemy and they are us.

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