Why do "they" seem so optimistic? Or perhaps, simply complacent?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by parmalee, Feb 26, 2011.

  1. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    The "they" of whom I speak here are the overwhelming majority of persons in "developed" nations, and Americans in particular. The subject of the optimism and/or complacency are the impending colossal transformations the world is presently undergoing: climate change, peak oil (including other non-renewable and drastically disappearing resources such as natural gas), environmental devastation, and political upheaval in "benefactor" nations (for which, whether the replacements are somewhat democratic models or simply a new batch of puppet despots, the beneficiary nations will not likely be in as favorable position for acquiring their precious resources).

    For the U.S. in particular, having passed it's own peak oil phase four decades ago and lacking the appropriate infrastructure to transition to an oil-scarce world, the situation seems especially dire. The U.S. lacks both adequate mass transit systems and the structure for transporting goods via alternate (non-oil based) means, such as an extensive (and functioning and maintained) rail system. The majority of the populace live in ghastly unviable suburbs, both removed by great distances from their workplaces and from where their foods and goods are grown and manufactured.

    To my understanding, most of the "alternative" fuels and energy sources which are supposed to come along and save us all from actually having to compromise the (obscenely wasteful and destructive) "American lifestyle"--which, according to Dick Cheney, is "non-negotiable"--are gonna kinda fall a bit short, to put it mildly. And the cargo cults were seldom "rewarded" for their efforts. Hydrogen fuel cells and whatnots: yeah, whatever. Biodiesel, ethanol, and the like seem not so promising--especially on a massive scale. Wind, solar, and hydro: great, but rather limited, costly, and requiring a good bit of maintainence and a good bit of oil just to get going. Nuclear energy might have been helpful for a few decades at least, had we commenced building ten thousand additional power plants thirty years ago--and then there's that nagging little problem of the waste. What else is there?

    Frankly, this notion of preserving the "non-negotiable" lifestyle seems a pipe dream at best, and mindnumbingly stupid and selfish at worst. Personally, I'm not terribly concerned for myself at least--I don't have a car, I've very few luxuries (this laptop is the most "sophisticated" thing I own), I rather enjoy living without electricity, and I can and have (and still do, to an extent) live(d) off of others' "waste" and "refuse"--but I'm wondering what sort of plans others have got (if any), particularly all the suburbanites with the SUVs, the flat screen tvs, the McMansions, the swimming pools, and whatnots. What are "they" gonna do? Are "they" even thinking about any of this shit?

    Perhaps I'm being somewhat alarmist, but I really don't think so. So what's with all this optimism, complacency, seeming obliviousness?
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  3. drumbeat Registered Senior Member

    I think the optimistic thing is more an American thing, rather than for example a British or even European thing. Americans just seem more faithful and cheery to us miserable British folk. Add that the way the American stereotype is not very educated in world affairs like Asia or Europeans are. Not saying it is or isn't like this, but thats the stereotype here.

    Complacency probably comes from being comfortable, or things being stable for many generations, ie the western world.

    I have found Africans and Chinese to be very optimistic, so I don't really think theres anything in your query.
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  5. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    As to alternative energy, the US has a shitload of coal, shale, and natural gas. When the going gets tough (i.e. our non-negotiable lifestyle actually is threatened), we'll say fuck carbon output and join the Chinese in building good old fashioned coal fired power plants left and right.
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  7. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    That's what my wife thinks too...we're spoiled and greedy enough to absolutely rape the planet into a moonscape so we can have our luxuries.

    Non-negotiable lifestyle indeed.

    As far as the optimism bit-it probably is sheer stupidity. I don't say ignorance, because it's willful. They don't know, and they don't want to know.
    And we could do better-energy efficiency? houses built with thermal mass? Even painting roofs white reduces A/C use by 10%.

    We know how to do this stuff, that's all old tech!
    But we're too lazy, stupid, and greedy to apply any of it!

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    Our builders continue to barf up cheapass McMansions that leak air like a sieve.

    There's a culture of fetishizing stupidity here that just...oh gods, it revolts me every time I fucking think about it.

    I'd better get off this thread and go patrol the building before my head explodes.
  8. jmpet Valued Senior Member

    The simplest answer I can give you is that change is hard. I think things were more drastic in the 70's and 80's between oil and nuclear war... nowadays we have the Middle East to worry about- not the end of life as we know it.

    It is worth noting that the last President we had that was all for change was Jimmy Carter who was laughed out of office. The solar panels he put on the White House? Reagan tore them down. Today Obama put them back up and I think they are here to stay.

    We need an environmental President. And the last one we potentially had was Al Gore who everyone laughs at today.

    Big change for a big nation requires big government to accomplish goals. But it's a political third rail to invest billions in green energy when we have abundant coal.

    This is a very complicated issue you brought up.
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    You might appreciate this book:

    The Positive Power of Negative Thinking
    Preview at Amazon

    I got it recently and it has been really helping me to understand the whole optimism/pessimism business.
  10. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    Gee, if only there were some pre-existing natural means of large-scale transport available in the US, then that wouldn't be so worrisome. Like, just to invent an example out of thin air, if a huge portion of the continent (and in particular its most productive agricultural regions) were all linked together and to the sea by some sort of system of navigable waterways.

    And it's not like coal-fired locomotives could ever form the backbone of a transcontinental realroad system. That sort of idea is just crazy. Certainly not the sort of thing that anyone would ever attempt.

    It's strange, though - I could swear that the US industrialized before getting onto oil. How did we ever manage that?

    So we move the companies out to the suburbs as well, and rename them "cities." Sort of like how development of cities has been proceeding for thousands of years. The jobs already are in the suburbs, in the city I live in. See also: Silicon Valley.

    Not that I'm sure it's true that the majority of the population lives in suburbs. But I am sure that it's almost meaningless to conflate all suburbs with one another when attempting such an analysis. Some of them are indeed isolated, distant residential areas with few jobs. Others are more viable than the cities they are near, which is exactly what led to their growth.
  11. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    I prefer to be cynically pleased to be right or pleasantly surprised; I find it beats the heck out of being disappointed.

    We did industrialize on coal...but we used horses to get around back then. Cities had problems with dry, pulverized, particulate horse manure dust...
    (Hmm, biofuel, that...)
    Plus current mining techniques require lots of fuel oil...not that the older techniques don't work-but they're more dangerous...

    There's bicycles now...and someone pointed out to me that if youfactor in how much time you spend working to support your car, that a bicycle is actually more time-efficient.
    Which I do appreciate whenever I feed the beastie. It probably costs me more than a day of work a week to get to work...:bugeye:

    (The mooching of a free house means it's currently cheaper to drive to East Jesus-I can't bike 60 miles a day, my lungs/legs aren't all that...and the commute buses don't run at night out to where I could make use of them at a park-and-ride, probably because this is 'MERKUH!)

    Sean McMullen wrote a series of novels in which pedal-driven "trains" featured...I thought that a sort of interesting idea of public transport...the harder you pedaled, the less you paid for the trip-there were little geared meters hooked up to your pedals...

    I do think Americans have this problem hurtling at them and it seems they are going to collectively ignore it, possibly guaranteeing a really nasty period here.

    Please note, we use over 7.1 billion gallons of oil a year here. An infrastructure's a very slow-to-turn ship, yanno.
    This is why I keep harping about this.
    I'm a med-dependent asthmatic. I don't want to face drowning in mucus because of societal collapse, alright?

    Don't count on the Missouri remaining navigable, BTW.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2011
  12. Stoniphi obscurely fossiliferous Valued Senior Member

    Being optimistic is healthier than being a cynic, though all things in moderation. You have to be real too. Simply slapping a smile on your face even if you don't feel happy is good for you - it generates helpful hormones and improves your mood to the benefit of yourself and the others around you. Cynics tend to get clinically depressed and that complicates their lives a lot as there are social and physiological repercussions with that condition.

    I don't see the overwhelming majority of Americans as being particularly optimistic right now though, but I can cite some reasons why they may well should be.

    Yes, the overwhelming majority of all humans tend to be complacent as long as things are going along OK, it is the stress of new problems that get us moving. There are some very big problems facing us now, and Americans tend to rise to the occasion when fronted with same.

    I am an American. You are concerned about energy and pollution? Me too.

    In response, I built a (type 3 direct gain) passive solar 'furnace' (as per the building inspector) to assist with my home heating here in the Great White North. It works quite nicely, thanks. Has done so for 32 years now, I am currently rebuilding it with contemporary materials that were not invented/available when I first fabricated it. In addition I put R 60 ceiling insulation in my eaves and fabricated my own (44 of them) insulation baffles. This to retain maximal heat, deflect excessive summertime thermal gain and to prevent winter ice damming. It all works quite nicely, thanks. I did this stuff to save my money over the long run. That has worked too.

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    I will be fabricating and installing a rooftop solar cell electricity generating system within the next couple of years as well, so I can sell you electricity to run your ac and your plasma tv as well as mine. Again, my motivation is to make money by saving money and using my scientific/technical skills. I am not the only one going this route either, there are many other Americans doing this stuff right now.

    Heck, Boston Electric has been installing rooftop collectors for years out East on single family dwellings. So many that they have avoided building 2 new coal fired power plants thus far. Here in Detroit Edison Electric is following suit for the same reasons. How do I know? Simple - they asked me to participate due to the orientation and location of my main roof. I declined for the reason I stated above.

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    There are many more examples out there like this, and that is the reason for the optimism. Yep, we still have to make Earth Destroyer 9000's to sell to the housefraus that wish to drive tanks, but the rest of us will go to hybrids because they are cheaper to drive.

    I remain very optimistic.

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  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    They had bigger problems than that. By the end of the 19th century New York City was one gigantic pile of horse manure. Even if you could find a path to walk you couldn't stand the odor. I think the rate of generation was equivalent to about three inches of depth per day, averaged over the streets and other open land. They had reached the point of no return: the only way to clear the streets was to haul it away in horse-drawn wagons, which would require bringing in even more horses.

    The automobile was invented just in time to save NYC from being buried under it.
    I used to ride a bike to work two or three days a week and you'll never get me back on one of those nasty little things. It blew a tire once a month, it was stolen once a year, and I had to take a shower the moment I walked in the building or they wouldn't let me in my office. Oh yeah, and then there was the time it just decided to not track well over an irregularity in the pavement and I landed face-first in the street.
    I have a long drive to work, 25 miles of lovely scenery on back roads with little traffic. My SUV isn't very fuel-efficient so that accounts for about 14 gallons of premium fuel per week. That isn't even close to a day's pay--more like 75 minutes.

    How far away from your office do you live, how low is your salary, and how opulent is your car, that you could possibly spend a day's pay on motor fuel?
    As I have pointed out before, not just here but in presentations and in published letters, a major start on solving America's petroleum problem is to abolish the Industrial Era convention of "going to work" every day. Here in the Washington region, especially, the vast majority of workers spend their entire day talking on the telephone and huddling over a computer, two devices that everyone has at home. Yeah, you need to have a meeting once in a while, but not nearly as often as your boss insists, because it's the only way he can make himself look important. Today's "pass-the-mouse-please" virtual meeting software, coupled with webcams, make it unnecessary for most of us to ever see each other in person except for socialization and recreation.
    And a full one-fourth of that goes directly into commuting fuel. Now add in the energy-inefficient fast-food joints for people who don't have time to cook or can't get home before they starve to death, the nannies driving all over town taking care of children whose parents never get to see them when they're awake, the fitness centers for people who don't have time to walk, the gardeners and handymen doing jobs we would rather do for ourselves if we only had the time and the daylight in which to do them, etc.
    Then surely you'd rather work at home!
  14. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Hmm. I live about 5 miles from work and I bike most days. I blow a tire about once a year. My bike is so cruddy looking no one in their right mind would steal it. 5 miles isn't really enough to work up much of a sweat unless I'm in a hurry - so I don't hurry on the way to work.

    I do it partly because it's cheaper and partly because it's better for me than driving.

    Now add in cost (say, $20K amortized over 8 years) insurance ($600/year?) parking (if not provided) maintenance (at the very minimum oil changes and tires) and it could easily cost you an additional $20 a day. Plus the $8 for gas in your case. $28 times five days a week = $140, which means that if you make less than $17 an hour, it could indeed cost more than a day's pay.

    (Not to diss cars, but often the hidden costs of them are more than people realize.)

    That's a great solution, as is the simple expedient of moving close to where you work. Walking/biking are a piece of cake when you live less than five miles from where you work.
  15. X-Man2 We're under no illusions. Registered Senior Member

    About the bicycling,you can get products now days that all but stop tire punctures.

    If you live in a warmer climate or if not during the warmer months you can bike to most jobs.Say your trip to work is 20 miles but you can only handle 10 of that,simply either add electric or a gas engine to your bike.

    More and more people are getting into Cargo bikes now days.They can handle most of your hauling jobs.Many choices now days.If your not an athlete again add electric or gas engine to the bike.

    Even with adding electric or gas engine you'll be way ahead of the game money wise.

    A scooter is also great choice.More and more people are riding em.
  16. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    That's very nice of you to do, thanks. But if you own a laptop how do you keep it charged up then, a generator or ??? How do you cook, gas then that's a problem with its emissions , better get a wood stove, oh , that too gives off pollutants. Well I guess you better not cook then , just raw veggies and the like would be a good idea.

    Now France has over 80 percent of its electricity made from atomic reactors and where is it they put their waste? They have had atomic energy there now over 40 years, that's a lot of waste isn't it.

    The major problem is that we all, in the developed nations, have thought that there would be plenty of everything to have and use for generations to come but that wasn't the case as we now know. Many nations today are trying to develop new, greener and planet friendly ways to survive. That will take time to develop but slowly we are getting things accomplished as time goes by. As with most developed nations they try now to find ways to improve life without hurting the environment as much and they have come a small way on that road to recovery.

    But I guess your really interested in why some nations are just "better off" than others , well that is true because they worked hard to have a better standard of living that all people could be capable of attaining. Those nations that didn't want to have a better standard of living just didn't do anything like nations that wanted to did. Many nations today might be more environmentally wealthy and some of them have become cesspools according to what their leaders wanted to do with the money they earned from their citizens. The developed nations wanted to build a better place and did so just as any nation could have done with the proper leadership.

    While it is true we have done many bad things in the past we have seen thoose mistakes and are trying to remedy them but not fast enough for some people. What if the gas crisis is all a conspiracy made up by the oil companies just to drive the cost of oil up? We now have developed cars that either don't pollute or pollution is 99 percent destroyed so no harmful things are getting into the air. They are more gas efficiant as well as you know some achieving 60 to 70 MPG. Bit that is the problem as well for the less gas you use the less money the gas companies will make and that's another reason the oil crisis could be just a con job on everyone.
  17. Me-Ki-Gal Banned Banned

    I like you. You don't want to ruin that so I ask you politely to reconsider your statement about builders. The Mcmansion day of builders building what the people ask for is over for starters . Builders get the blame I understand , but understand this " Builders build houses that customers want " Builders build buildings that city hall tells us we can build. People buy Houses and there demand dictates what we build. " Drafty Houses are old houses " Houses now a days have an opposite problem . In door air quality!!! Why ? Houses are not drafty . So they need air exchangers . Ca ching add another 2500 bucks or more . Anyway it goes a lot deeper than a statement that blames Builders .
    Mekigal the builder
  18. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

    I hate bikes!!

    My doctor got killed while riding a bike, by a hit and run driver, who was never caught. A friend of mine out riding for fitness was bowled and spent 4 months in hospital slowly recovering. You will never see me on one of those death traps.

    Cars will always be with us. The idea that they will all be replaced by public transport and bicycles belongs with Alice in Wonderland. People want cars, and what people want, commercial interests will provide for a profit. Lots of people think that we cannot make enough fuel, electricity etc to propel all those cars. Again, I say that you underestimate the mighty dollar. If there is a demand, and people prepared to pay, then economic interests will provide what is wanted, and get rich doing it.

    I am not American (from NZ) and I am an optimist. Prosperity is something that bounces up and down in the short term, but for the past 150 years has always increased in the long. This will not change. Sure, oil will end up in short supply, and the price will go up. When it is high enough, alternatives will sprout like Topsy.

    Coal to diesel. A pilot plant is already operating in the US making 5000 barrels of diesel per day. This can be turned into large scale production very easily.

    Gas to petrol. We had one of these in NZ for decades, making half our liquid fuel at a price competitive with petrol, till our main gas field ran out. But elsewhere in the world there is still lots of gas.

    Biodiesel from algae. Still technical problems, but in theory, enough can be made to supply the whole USA using algae grown in several of the larger estuarine systems.

    Lithium is one of the world's more abundant elements, and Lithium batteries can run half of a nation's cars - all the ones used for commuting and shopping, which is 80% of all car use. Charge them at home very cheaply.

    I could go on. Some of the possibilities will not work out. Others will end up better than expected. Long term, we can expect a further increase in standard of living.
  19. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    I've seen enough advances in my lifetime in both awareness and energy efficiency/less polluting. Not to mention major technological advances.

    Personally, I've just replaced the 80+ year old windows in my house with new ones. I have already noticed an improvement in my energy use and I get a tax credit for doing it.

    Honestly, when the cost for energy goes up more people will jump in and do what they can. I expect a few adjustment pains... but long term, it'll work out.
  20. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    There is that...and more to the point, what banks will finance. Which is why I'm likely to try and build my own house-or at least partly build it myself.

    I'm not saying you build junk, my friend, sorry to engage in sweeping overgeneralizations...

    But I see stupidly-built houses still being stupidly built, all over the place where I live...

    And yeah, it is a problem of the buyers, the same as when the public all wanted gas guzzlers in the 90's.

    The average buyer isn't going to educate themselves on energy-efficiency, passive solar, orientation to the sun's direction, thermal mass, structural soundness...all that stuff. Heck, I don't think it's mandatory to use hurricane clips here...so you can easily buy a house that can get major wind damage from a hurricane or a low-level tornado-we gets 'em.

    They just want a pretty house as cheap as they can get it-not realizing that the cheap part will cost them later in energy costs-for the life of the house.

    Here, we have an area where the lion's share of energy costs are from cooling (and the heat kills people; it's not a luxury).

    Most homeowner's associations demand a dark-shingled roof.

    Forget about white roof paint-which can cut your cooling bills by 10% for less than 200$ in outlay, and make your roof last longer...argh.
  21. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Or in Sweden, or New York City, or DC (places where mass transit provides most of the transportation.)
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2011
  22. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

    There is nothing wrong with optimism. I'm optimistic. The American problem is delusion. We are constantly being deluded by mass media into believing that all is well in the corporate dominated world. Dire problems that apply to us directly aren't good for business. People would save instead of spend. We have been hypnotized by last 50 or so years of dirt cheap energy. Few people alive today can remember when you could not just jump in a car and drive to another city. We take so much for granted that some even think coal or natural gas can replace oil and still maintain our 3,000 mile supply lines for products from Asia, or 1,000 mile supply lines for produce. Or the interstate highway system.

    We will not be prepared for the future, which just means things will be that much harder when it comes. But eventually, the reality of the situation will become evident, and Americans will do what it takes to thrive. We do have a long history of survival skills that are often romanticized, but still present. We will re-discover the old ways, but there will also be untold suffering and tragedy before any kind of stability happens. The right wing in particular will likely lose their minds.
  23. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

    Bikes aren't particularly harmful, the problem is cars. When those go away, as they inevitably will except for the very rich, bikes will have an advantage. But even those won't last, as they depend on an industrial base for rubber and parts.

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