What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
It's not that we don't know better
One day long ago Bill and I were exploring Trout Creek. We lived in Summerland and Trout Creek made a canyon through the sandy geology. Summerland was built on sand. I surmise it was once the location of a lake that collected sediment - dunno really.
Bill and I went down to the lake that Trout Creek drained into and then went up the canyon. After a while we came to a place that was under bridge that was half a mile from our home. It was a few hundred feet up the canyon wall.
The sand cliff was easy to climb. You could just kick your foot in to make a foot hold. Bill and I looked at each other - let's just climb up to the bridge. What could possibly go wrong?
We soon found out.
The cliff was made of sand but it had lots of sharp rocks in it too. If I tried to go down the toe holds were not solid and I risked sliding down a slope over stuff like broken glass. So Bill and I continued up. We could see the grassy slope of safety right there.
We got to a tree growing out of the cliff just below the grass. You could almost reach the grass - but there was 7foot cliff of rubble in the way. (I'd be interested in how geologists explain that rubble but that would be another story.)
Bill scrambled up that rubble cliff and got to the top and to safety . But every time he took his hand or foot from a rock it would fall towards me.
I had to avoid falling rocks while standing on pile of sand supported by a tree growing out of a cliff.
Well! when that was done I was glad that Bill was safe - but no way I was going to scramble up that cliff.
I found another solution.
There was a ledge at the base of that cliff - and I edged my way along it.
It ended at a place where the sand had fallen away and that left a sort of cylinder of sand to my left. Just across that cylinder was another tree growing out of the cliff. About 10 feet away - way - too far for me to jump.
I ran at the sandwall and in a couple of steps made it to the tree and got safe up into the grass Bill was near and we went up the hill a bit and sat.
He sat on a cactus - jumped up yelling I've been bitten by a snake
I pulled the cactus from his pants and we laughed and laughed and laughed.
And then we were close to home.
And at the time my household was playing Supertramp's "I took the long way home".
My point here is that it is easy to start on paths that are later hard to get off.
This is a common situation. There's even a name for it. The Collingridge Dilemma: "This dilemma was articulated by David Collingridge in 1980 in his book "The Social Control of Technology". The dilemma is that when we can easily control the social effects of technology we don't know enough about those effects to place appropriate controls.
By the time we do know the effects, the technology is too embedded in society to be easily changed, let alone controlled.
Cars provide an example.
Once they were 'horseless carriages" that had advantages over horses. They didn't need to be fed or watered. They didn't get tired. People who could afford them liked cars.
But wheeled vehicles don't do well on rough ground. They need roads, preferably paved roads. Once there was a network of paved roads then suburban sprawl became possible.
What could possibly go wrong?
Now we are in a bit of a mess.
Cities are designed so that nothing is within walking distance. Many cities don't have adequate public transit. People are dependent on cars to get to work and to buy groceries. And now the price of cars and fuel is going through the roof.
This is a bit like me climbing that cliff.
If I'd known at the start what I'd encounter I might not have gone that way. Similarly, if we'd known about suburban sprawl and the effects of highways on cities and the effects of fossil fuels on the atmosphere we might not have gone that way either.
But now that we have gone that way it's pretty hard to back out.
The public infrastructure that enables cars is a huge investment by society.
But in our culture there is a huge private investment too.
There are supply chains of huge factories that cost billions to build. There are oil fields and refineries and pipelines that cost billions to build.
And the investors who put up the capital expect a return on their investment.
Canada is facing a lot of pressure to build pipelines from the tarsands to the ocean.
Once that infrastructure is built then Canada is kind of locked into producing fossil fuels for as long as that infrastructure endures - global warming notwithstanding.
The difference is that now the consequences of cars and fossil fuels are quite apparent. It's not like we can't see what's coming.
But we're locked into this system where the needs of private investors to profit from investments are paramount.
For them, if they invest in a factory then they feel entitled to make a profit from it even if it's a bad thing for the rest of us.
What could possibly go wrong?
What do you think?