Posted by: Taylor Hoff | June 10, 2009

Untenable Positions

It occurred to me today that there is alot of idealism in the American spirit.  (Not really a newsflash, but worth repeating.) “We’ll think of something.” is a common view on many if not all of the major dilemmas our world faces in this new century. Yet, the time for thinking and the time for doing are two very different times. Some, like Einstein, believe that we need to think long and hard about our course before we take action. Others, like Obama, want to take action right now (!) when they believe it is needed most. Both views are noble, but ultimately they are ruled by one common and universal human trait that has pervaded through history. People don’t change unless they are forced to. You and I will continue to drive our fossil fuel automobiles until they become so costly that we decide they aren’t worth keeping anymore. Until our tenable position becomes untenable, we won’t change. The reason the invisible hand is so accurate is because it has its translucent fingers on the pulse of this axiom.

Yet the nature of these problems that we face won’t always behave nicely within the boxes we assign them. They’re impatient, and the population problem logarithmically so. Our collective To-Do list is enough to make even the lightest hearted person fret and the worst procrastinator worry: Climate change, the world’s carrying capacity, the oil crisis, nuclear weapons proliferation, decreasing efficacy of antibiotics & flu shots, HIV/AIDS epidemic (silently outdoing H1N1 every day), strained infrastructure, economic downturn… the list goes on and on, and the sub-tasks are far more frightening. Yet if any good news is to come of this, it’s that we actually know what our problems are. There are none of Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” hiding to ambush us. All we’ve got is a load of “known unknowns” and a million potential ideas, each ranging from brilliant (cheaply made solar panels you can print like paper) to catastrophic (injecting sulfuric acid into the atmosphere to slow climate change). We need time to figure out which action to take, and we need action to remedy the situations before their deadlines pass. We can’t do both at once, and we can’t afford to do neither.

What we absolutely can do is stop standing around comparing our hemp shopping bags and complimenting each-other on being so eco-friendly.

The “green revolution” has been a farce, and while we were too busy declaring everyone else to be close minded, a channel of opportunity closed down. India has released reports that it cannot sustain an organic farming industry and feed its people at the same time. This means that something in the organic, eco-friendly, no-GMO movement has failed. In order for a solution to be possible, it first has to be tenable, and then it has to be profitable. The organic farming solution, in India’s eyes, has been untenable. We need another solution. I also have no idea what that solution is. India believes it lies in the unhip, totally uncool GMO “frankenfoods” of the future. They could be wrong, but I don’t have anything better to suggest, so… I don’t know about you, but I’m going to side with a billion hungry people rather than a group of suburban teenagers.

These untenable positions we are faced with are daunting, make no mistake. But the worst thing we can do in this situation is wail and gnash our teeth and scream about what we believe. We don’t have time for beliefs. In the time it took you to read this message, seven thousand eight hundred and thirty people were born. Most of them will go on to have more children, and every single one of them needs to eat to survive. We need ideas, and we need them fast. We need ideas fast because we need time to think about them before we carry them out, and at the moment we’re running out of time. Beliefs will only carry us and our idealism to the grave, they have caused every war and quarrel and spat that ever occured. We don’t have time to fight about weither the green revolution is right or wrong, we don’t have time to figure out why extremists hate us, and we don’t have time to wait for our position to become untenable. By then it might be too late.

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