Addicted to Risk without a backup plan

January 20, 2011 | By | Reply More

The BP oil spill was one of the more recent examples of overconfidence, according to Naomi Klein.  Also consider the financial collapse and overconfidence that was rampant prior to our military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Klein states that we are addicted to risk. Instead of asking how how to proceed prudently, we ask bizarre questions such as these:

– What is the latest possible moment we can act to remedy a major problem?
– How much hotter can we let the planet get?

These questions are being driven by economists rather than scientists.  Greed and hubris are factors in this mindset, and fear of failure seems to be lacking.

Klein gives the illustration of a 35-year old banker who is taking home more than 100 times as much salary as a brain surgeon. That banker seeks a narrative other than thinking that he is a good scammer who gamed the system.   He will likely start believing that he is a genius and that he is somehow contributing to society, or at least not hurting others.  But he does absorb the narrative that he is a genius, and being told that you are a genius who is born to rule is a “peril of privilege.”

People in these positions adopt traditional narratives that enhance their feelings of superiority over others. These archetypal narratives include the following “fairy tales”:

– Newly discovered frontier and conquering pioneer;
– Manifest destiny;
– Endless growth;
– We don’t need to change our lifestyles;
– Apocalypse and salvation. We will be “saved” in the end with technology.

They also embrace deep narratives that Mother Nature is there to be conquered and yet she is always forgiving and resilient; there will always be a frontier. Klein argues that these are lies, and we are running up against severe physical limits. We have already exhausted easy energy and we are now into the era of “extreme energy.” This means we ravaging the earth to get to dramatically diminishing returns.   Exhibit A is the tar sand region of Canada which, to produce oil,  requires ripping away the trees and contaminating huge amounts of water. Vast landscapes are being decimated (see the video for some of these dramatic images). It takes three times as much energy to produce a barrel of oil this was as it takes to produce conventional oil. In terms of greenhouse gases, this is “insanity.” This is how civilizations “commit suicide.”

Klein states that we need new heroes with new kinds of stories that will replace the current linear narrative of endless growth with circular narratives of what goes around comes around.


Category: Environment, global warming, Risks and Dangers, Sustainable Living

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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