Sunday, January 7, 2007

It's No Sacrifice

I was listening to Steve Inskeep interview Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer from California about the environment. With the handover of control in Congress, Senator Boxer is the new chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

At one point, Mr. Inskeep asks her if she's prepared to ask or demand that people make sacrifices in the name of energy efficiency. Senator Boxer's answers are telling, in the fact that they give insight into the way that politicians deal with delicate issues -- or, perhaps more accurately, issues that some of their constituents might not like.

Senator Boxer actively avoids saying that there will be anyone who is hurt or pained by initiatives to increase fuel efficiency. She focusses on the idea that we in the United States as a whole will benefit from reducing our reliance on oil, especially foreign oil. But just because we, as a whole, will come out ahead doesn't mean that each of us as individuals will be able to make changes painlessly. Mr. Inskeep pushes her on it a little bit, but it becomes clear the Senator Boxer is not about to address what we as individuals are going to have to do to make her new environmental policies work.

Whether she really wants people to hear her saying "there's no downside for you if we do this" is debatable, but it's pretty clear that she understands that in this case all politics is, even more than local, personal. So she dodges the question of what we're going to have to do as individuals, and focusses on what we're going to gain collectively. Of course, this was really sort of a "gotcha" question on Mr. Inskeep's part, and I would have been surprised if he'd hung on to the question long enough to risk alienating the Senator.

But I think that Americans have become estranged from the idea of personal risk and sacrifice, and that modern political discourse contributes to that. Our current standard of living drinks energy resources like Kool-Aid, and if we're going to put the brakes on things like resource depletion and/or man-made global climate change, we're going to have to change our ways. And that means that there is a chance that certain among us won't be able to maintain our current standards of living. The pay off for that MIGHT be that all of us benefit down the road, but it might not -- these things are always uncertain. But risk is a part of life, and they say "Who dares, wins." This country was built on risk-taking - mainly because it turned out to be a remarkably useful material.

(If you have the chance, listen to the audio file of the interview. The posted "transcript" is abrdiged, so you miss a lot of what was said, and in any event, you can't hear HOW things are being said, when you just read it.)

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