Why are well-considered, thoughtful analyses often discarded for nonsensical, non-analytical rhetoric? Typically, the simple interpretation is that the moneyed lobbyists hijacked the debate. But, why is the public buying into this nonsense? Why are people so ready to support policy that is demonstratively not in their best interests? Have the utility calculations of welfare economics suddenly become defunct? Has mass-delusion overtaken considered rationality? Is there something in the water? In the air? What is going on here?
One current example of failed policy discourse is that regarding the bio-physical reality of climate change: global warming is predominantly man-made. Supposedly rational humans, who otherwise should be concerned for their survival, are completely disregarding the inevitable cost of using the earth’s atmosphere as a sink for carbon (and other GHGs) emissions. The science on climate change is about as solid today as the quantum physics used to build the first atomic weapon, demonstrated at the Trinity test on July 16, 1945, was at that time. Yet, today, there is still a debate whether the science is solid; and no Manhattan Project has yet emerged to mitigate the carbon climate war between 'business as usual' and doing something different.
Instead, climate change is just another policy challenge scattered among many urgent and pressing issues in the US such as health care reform, the $9 trillion ten-year government deficit, arguing for regulatory changes to address the 2008 financial meltdown of Wall Street that cost almost $50 trillion in losses worldwide, the collapse of the US automobile manufacturing industry, the escalation of the unnecessary and destructive war in Afghanistan, developing a strategy for extracting the US from the never-ending war in Iraq, expanding the covert war in Pakistan, securing cyberspace, creating new jobs to reduce unemployment, etc.
There is no apparent prioritization as to what is more and less important. Furthermore, given a finite amount of capital, budgets have no analytical basis for deciding where the highest return for investments might be obtained, or even how much capital is required to actually adequately address any given problem.
What is particularly alarming is that business-as-usual urgency regularly takes precedent over the important issue of climate change. For America, that means the business of wars. Including the cost of the plans to escalate the Af-Pak War, the US will spend almost $1 trillion out of a world-wide expenditure of $1.5 trillion on its military-related activities in the 2010 fiscal year. It takes a lot of capital for America to maintain two ongoing wars and over 700 military bases located in 120 countries around the world, staffed by 2.5 million personnel. However, the global trend is to spend ever increasing amounts on military-based national defense. In the past 64 years, collectively the world spent around $60 trillion (in today's dollars) on military defense. The majority of this was spent in the wholly unproductive and supremely dangerous arms race between the US and the former Soviet Union.
From a capital allocation perspective, let’s pretend that the world has only $60 trillion in discretionary capital to spend over the next 64 years. We have two choices: continue spending this capital on military defense, or alternatively, spend this same amount of capital on solving the carbon emissions/climate change problem. Which choice will be made? If one examines rationally the consequential and catastrophic risks associated with each choice, there is simply no contest. One investment stream leads to more death and destruction, the other leads to at least a fighting chance to continue life as we presently know it on this earth. Hard choice?
My claim is that it is a hard choice. It’s a hard choice because non-rationality, not post-Enlightenment rationality, more and more, is ruling the day and overwhelming rational discourse concerning policy decisions.
For an in-depth discussion on irrational policy behaviour in the US, please click here.
Lyle Brecht is business development adviser, social entrepreneur and President of the Blue Heron Group.
Related Material on Atlantic Community:
- Milessaratos/Slabbert: Wanted: A Campaign for Global Technological Innovation
- Jakob von Weizsäcker: Greening the Debt
- Scott Michael Moore: A Multidimensional Approach for a Planet in Peril