On the Hopeless Cause List, you’ll find peace in the Mideast, making people floss after every meal, winning an argument with your husband or wife and deciding between Tastes Great and Less Filling. And global warming.
Now, maybe it seems like we should stick peak oil up there too.
After all, expert after expert tells us that peak oil means the end of economic growth. And the end of growth means the end of the American Dream of a house in the suburbs, a couple of new cars in the driveway and a higher and higher standard of living every year.
It also would mean the end of many big corporations. And if you’re going to pronounce the doom of Wall Street, Walmart and Wally World, then don’t expect to make a lot of friends in the press, in government and among people with power and influence in general.
Spitting in the wind? Just hope it’s not blowing that hard.
You might as well just invite Fox News to a press conference where you wrap up mom and apple pie in a Gadsden flag, smack ’em with a Louisville Slugger till they ooze, douse ’em with a barrel of West Texas light sweet crude and then light the whole shebang on fire.
At the site of Ground Zero. While reading a passage from the Holy Qur’an.
Or, you could get some serious help. And that help is called Nader.
Peak oil raider
Whether you think he’s a self-important Don Quixote or the Patron Saint of the Little Guy, for nearly half a century Ralph Nader has been fighting the most powerful force in America, big corporations, and often winning. Nader has achieved so much for ordinary citizens — seat belts in all new cars, federal inspections of meat and poultry, standards for clean drinking water, the Freedom of Information Act, and on and on.
Unfortunately, many people, especially liberals, remember him only for allegedly spoiling Al Gore’s presidential race in 2000. In fact, Nader probably didn’t take many votes from Democrats but instead recruited support mostly from people who otherwise wouldn’t have voted. In any event, it is well documented that Nader didn’t make the difference in the crucial Florida vote.
But Nader will tell you that he’s not out to elect Democrats. He’s out to make them and everyone else in power accountable to the voters. And as he’s said, unless you show that you can withhold your vote from your own party, then they will start to take you for granted, as the Democrats have done with liberals, taking the party far to the right in the last two decades.
And while he does see a difference between the two parties, he finds the Democrats like the Republicans to be far too cozy with big corporations. That freezes ordinary citizens out of exercising their rightful say in government.
At the invitation of ASPO-USA President Jim Baldauf, Nader spoke to the group’s conference in October. He agreed with many conference speakers that the world has hit peak oil, that the debate should be settled, and that it’s now time to move into responses.
“I’ve always viewed the peak oil movement as a provocateur for discussion,” Nader said. “We now know there’s a considerable difference between conventional and unconventional oil. But you don’t hear the phrase ‘net energy’ anymore like you did in the seventies.”
Nader says that corporate control of both public opinion and of government at all levels is worse today than it ever was. Most of what’s on TV is entertainment or ads, helping to make voters dumb and dumber. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision will make it even easier for corporate money to corrupt politicians. So it’s no wonder that big companies have become more arrogant than ever.
“The US government owns 61% of General Motors, and yet they’ve formed a political action committee to lobby against Obama’s initiatives.”
In such an environment, it’s easy to despair of ever getting the public to care about peak oil and ever getting government to do anything about it.
You can beat corporations — and the super-rich can help
First, talk to the people. “Half of the public doesn’t believe in global warming. They listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, and the weeping Glenn Beck. This conference should be on C-SPAN. We’re not a serious society…So we have to communicate with sensual concreteness, like Madison Avenue does.”
Second, don’t give up on Congress. “Make them keep their options open for revision. There are 535 members of Congress who put their shoes on every day just like you and me. It’s the most powerful branch of government, but they like to send their power to the White House.”
Nader estimates that 15% of Congress members and senators might be open to the idea of peak oil, including Ed Markey (D-MA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) in the House, along with Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND). “And you can double that number if you can talk to these people privately.” It will also help, Nader says, if the Senate abolishes the filibuster rule, which has allowed a minority to hold up without a vote hundreds of bills passed by the House since Obama took office.
Congress should also be open to using government procurement dollars to buy clean technology, Nader told me in a personal interview.
“They could push purchases. They did that with airbags when they ordered 5,000 airbag-equipped cars for federal fleets. Ford got the bid and then Lee Iacocca [at Chrysler] put out an ad saying that he had become an airbag-convert. Government procurement is the unsung lever for making better products commercial.”
Nader told the ASPO audience that they needed to start a lobbying effort in Washington, a plan the group has already started to develop.
“Is there a lobby for clean energy that has a budget of one or two billion dollars? Ted Turner could do that. We live in an era with an enormous number of super-billionaires who don’t know what to do with their money. How many do you need to persuade?”
The idea that good-hearted billionaires can help solve America’s economic and environmental problems is the premise of Nader’s latest book and his first novel, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” (See our next issue, December 2010, for a book review).
“Any time you’re in a struggle to get something done and you fail, you should sit down and imagine ‘what if? What if we had more resources. We have to begin imaging the future to see the possibilities that are right in front of us.”
As to General Motors, Nader thinks that they need to change their business. It’s not enough to stop trying to buy their way in Washington. They should also, well, stop making cars.
“We have to say to the auto industry that you have to prepare for displacement as soon as possible.” In World War II, Detroit quickly retrofitted its assembly lines to turn out tanks for the military. The company could do the same thing now to stop making SUVs and start making cars for light rail.
That’s an idea sure to go over in Detroit like a Toyota Prius crashing into the lobby of the GM Renaissance Center.
But Nader would say it’s time for citizens to stop worrying about offending big corporations so much and start better looking out for our own interests. And if we’re going to prepare the US economy for a soft landing in peak oil and climate change, then we have no more time to waste following the corporate agenda or trying to squeeze out a few more years of economic growth. Instead, if we accept peak oil, we should move forward to create a more resilient world.
And if Nader’s right, we can’t just write off Congress or the general public. We need to be smart about making them our allies. And that will take money.
“We will entertain any multi-billionaires who want to step up to the plate and who want to achieve a place in history that they’d never have imagined.”
Mr. Buffet? Mr. Pickens? Mr. Gates?