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

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

1. ### parmaleeperipatetic artisanValued Senior Member

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2,332
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?

3. ### drumbeatRegistered Senior Member

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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.

5. ### madanthonywayneMorning in AmericaRegistered Senior Member

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12,461
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.

7. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
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!

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. ### jmpetValued Senior Member

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1,891
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

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15,058
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. ### quadraphonicsBloodthirsty BarbarianValued Senior Member

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9,391
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. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
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.
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. ### Stoniphiobscurely fossiliferousValued Senior Member

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3,139
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.

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.

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.

13. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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24,690
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. ### billvonValued Senior Member

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13,225
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.

21. ### billvonValued Senior Member

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13,225
Or in Sweden, or New York City, or DC (places where mass transit provides most of the transportation.)

Last edited: Mar 4, 2011
22. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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52,574
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. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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52,574
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.