You Can't Drink Money

Here we are in the first week of December 2012 just a few short weeks shy of the much ballyhooed potential “fiscal cliff”. The pundits, and the markets, seem to think that we are witnessing a lot of posturing and that more likely than not, an agreement will be hammered out. I’m a little less sanguine.

Although there is a wide chasm between the different proposals for dealing with our debt, it is inarguably unsustainable and undeniably irresponsible to continue ignoring it. Recent figures claim that if the debt were divided among American families, each would owe well over $100,000 and that figure is climbing by the minute. To leave this situation unaddressed and pass it onto future generations is unthinkable.

This being said, what really keeps me up at night is the thought of the “environmental” cliff we seem to be racing towards with equally reckless abandon. It’s not my intention here to discuss some of the dire predictions that accompany the melting polar icecaps but suffice it to say that once this threshold is crossed, it will be nearly impossible to retrace our steps and the price that future generations will pay is incalculable and will dwarf any economic and fiscal problems.

What is especially disturbing is how these two concerns are sometimes pitted against each other. So often the voices that condemn fiscal irresponsibility and its effect on future generations are the same ones that decry any and all attempts to protect our environment. Or else they give the environment lip service and claim that now, while the economy is suffering, is not the right time for any “job killing” environmental regulations. Form my understanding, “now” is our very last chance. It is not the eleventh hour but rather 11:55 PM.

Many economists are looking toward fracking and the cheap energy it can purportedly provide as the engine that will pull the US economy of this long, nasty recession and refortify our position as the leading global economy. And they are more than willing to overlook the mounting evidence of the environmental contamination that accompanies fracking. I would ask them to consider the famous quote from Oren Lyons, an Iroquois tribal leader: "In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It's our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours and hopefully better….”

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What if President Obama were to make clean energy a cornerstone of his second term and implement a massive program to address America’s role in the global warming crisis? Is it possible that such action might actually provide a much needed, job-creating economic stimulus? One would have to look no further than Germany to see where just such a program has worked remarkably well.

I often wonder what it would be like to have to face future generations who are suffering the effects of my generation’s greed and environmental negligence. How could I possibly rationalize my desire for cheap gas when their water is undrinkable, their air is unbreathable and the Earth’s soils no longer fertile?

Whatever excuse I might cobble together, they very well might reply, “you can’t drink money”.

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