I used to think of the future as mine, but having lived through a big chunk of it, I think of it as someone else’s problem. I am a minority stakeholder in the century yet to come. I ought to be jealous of the young, with so much of their lives ahead. Instead, I fear for the changes they will endure.
The world’s oceans are an appalling mess. Not only are we harvesting fish faster than oceans can replenish them, factory-scale techniques ruin sea-floor habitats, and indiscriminate netting yields ghastly amounts of wasted by-catch. Marine ecosystems that should be sustaining humanity are victims of negligence and disregard.
Plastic debris floats over square miles of the Pacific Ocean but merely hints at how much sunken garbage and dissolved pollutants we have dumped at sea. Much of the carbon our engines spew into the air winds up in the oceans, where it competes with living things for calcium, a main ingredient in coral reefs, bones, and cartilage.
What we don’t destroy directly we are poisoning.
Three-quarters of the planet is oceans, and if any resource could be unlimited, it would be seafood. Our stewardship of the seas has been so poor, however, that future harvests are becoming fragile and uncertain. Famine has always plagued us, and it will plague our future.
The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico cut the yield of seafood by around 80 percent, and the impacted fisheries are not expected to recover to 2010 levels until 2017. Deep-sea drilling is expanding, and such disasters are becoming more likely, not less.
On dry land, our push to extract and consume yet more energy has started a fracking boom, where slurries are injected underground until the pressure fractures bedrock. Freed gas deposits are collected at the surface and sold for high dollar on an international market.
Our most reliable source of fresh water is underground aquifers, and we are busy contaminating them with huge volumes of pressurized muck to quench our thirst for combustible fuels.
By now everyone but the professionally dishonest and woefully ill-informed realizes climate change is a serious and impending threat. The insurance industry and U.S. military place the threat of rising seas and powerful storms high on their list of worries.
What worries me most about the future is who we are electing to tackle these problems. There are solutions, but when it comes to elections, the popular way to handle problems is to pretend they don’t exist. Discounting the future is an effective political strategy because the young rarely vote.
As an economic strategy, our eagerness to dump costs into the future is a reflection of how poorly long-term value is represented in our markets. Governments should manage resources as if the future matters, but excise taxes and mineral rights are still priced at last century’s rates. Despite the gnashing of teeth over budget deficits, no one is proposing we charge oil companies and mining conglomerates fair prices for the finite resources they consume and convert to profit.
Corporations, not being people, could hypothetically behave as if they expect to last centuries, eras, evermore. In practice, they are as fungible and disposable as labor. Only capital is meant to last, and the planet can be turned to wealth one shovelful at a time. We have an unlimited supply of shovels.
The pony in the roomful of politics is that when Republicans talk about deregulation, they mean more poison, more headaches, more heartaches and hunger for humanity. When they declare that all taxes are evil, they cripple not just the government, but the markets they claim to love.
Republican economics is what turned America from prosperity to decline, and Republicans need to be voted out of office at every level. The people who own the future need to take ownership of the voting booth.