Bringing up global warming the other day got me thinking about capitalism, of which I'm a bigger fan than I let on. In fact, I believe that capitalism, innovation driven by profit, is the only thing that can solve climate change. Case in point is Denmark, where they came to the decision, after the first Iranian crisis of the seventies, that they couldn't be dependent on foreign oil anymore. So they made a legislative change, designating a strict reduction in the amount of carbon emissions.
Thirty years later, cottage industries have turned into engineering conglomerates, and now half of all of the world's wind turbines are Danish. Not only did they create energy independence for themselves, they also created a vast new industry that they now leaders, that they can sell because they have three decades of experience on us. During the global financial crisis, the Danish unemployment rate has hovered around 4 percent. (Reference this Wikipedia page, but a general Google search will tell you all you need to know.)
I believe that's because of capitalism creating favorable conditions for solving a problem. That's the power of a free market. I was a waitress. I know how well it works.
The problem is that our energy market isn't free, at all, because oil and gasoline products are overwhelmingly subsidized. Not just in the support our government gives in cash payments (which they do), but also in the institutionalized support for things like car companies and roads, as opposed to magnetic trains and bike paths. Things that sound like science fiction, but if we actually put any effort behind could become viable solutions. It does require a massive shift, but the expense of not gradually turning the vast ship of state will be much, much greater. If the energy companies had to foot the bill for the true cost of their product, if we had to pay the true cost of our product, traditional energy would be much more expensive and renewable energy would have a much fairer shot, and true innovators and entrepreneurs would be able to develop alternative solutions. Think of the expenses of disaster relief alone, not just in this country but around the world, and if we had to pay a tax for them, every time we hit the pump.
I said: I'm too afraid, too poor, too lazy. And I am all of those things. It took me months to work up the courage to write about this—fear. I can't afford an electric car or carbon offsets or a geothermal heating system or a retrofit of my internal-combustion engine into an electric one—poverty. I barely even write letters to my senators, although if I really believed what I claim to believe I should be running for office and staging protests—laziness.
And yet. I'm writing about it, at last. If all of us could call out the fire-breathing dragon in the room, if all of us reduce consumption and write our senators and raise awareness, then maybe the market will begin to turn.
If I'm honest, my concern about the non-sustainability of American life was, to a large degree, what sent me off on my hiking adventure eight years ago today, what made me move aboard a boat where I could catch my own fish, my own sunlight, my own water. It's what drove me here, to northern Maine, where I can farm and can and slowly build an off-the-grid homestead. It just doesn't feel like enough, doesn't feel fast enough. I still cringe even throwing a log on the fire, thinking of all that carbon dioxide coming from my chimney, though I know it's the best heating choice I can make right now.
Jesus said: sell all you have and give it to the poor. I always have taken him literally, and still do. If only I were brave enough to lay myself bare on the altar of absolute faith. I'm not yet. I'm still afraid, still lazy. It's too easy to sit up late at night in front of my screens. The difficult choices are difficult. To say that I'm doing enough would be lying.
But I'm doing the best I can.