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When It Comes to Sustainability, We’re a Society of Distracted Drivers

When It Comes to Sustainability, We’re a Society of Distracted Drivers

Richard Heinberg

Driving is dangerous. In fact, it’s about the riskiest activity most of us engage in routinely. It requires one’s full attention—and even then, things can sometimes go horribly awry. The brakes fail. Weather turns roads to ice. A driver in the oncoming lane falls asleep. Tragedy ensues. But if we’re asleep at the wheel, the likelihood of calamity skyrockets. That’s why distracted driving is legally discouraged: no cell phones, no reading newspapers or books, no hanky-panky with the front-seat passenger. If you’re caught, there’s a hefty fine.

The metaphor is, unfortunately, rather apt.

The only time I agreed with Dubya Bush was when he said, in a state of the union address, that ‘America is addicted to oil.

Just as with the bewildering addiction to technology, primarily in the form of the so-called ‘smart’ phones, from which people are apparently helpless to ignore for any length of time, so our contemporary societies are unwilling to forego all the alluring highs from their aquired addictions.

Yes, we are capable of living responsibly, in a sustainable fashion, but it isn’t very likely, anymore than all the distracted drivers are going to suddenly ‘get it’, and pay attention to the main task behind the wheel.

And just with my own efforts to safely navigate the public streets, roads and highways in the midst of so many distracted drivers, my daily activities are focused on being as environmentally responsible as I possibly can.

While I wish that I represented the majority of my fellow humans on this wonderful planet, my optimism is increasingly, sadly, infuriatingly fading.


I just want to point out that this is a tiny taste of the works of Richard Heinberg’s works. His books are well worth reading, and so is Post Carbon Insitute’s website relslience.org.


“” We would think about population levels when deciding whether to reproduce."

What? Why would “we” do that?

Where are the trolls to say there is no problem with “population levels.”?

They must have gotten up late today.

Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House roof: The “overwhelming victor” in the next election tore them down. That was about 40 years ago.


I am going to suggest Population Growth levels will self adjust as one moves towards a sustainable economy. As example the closer Cuba got to sustainability the lower its Population Growth rate (it at .1 percent a year).

The “we must grow the economy mantra” implicitly means a growing population. Examples of this occur in both China and Russia where they are concerned about “economic growth” as the population growth drops so encourage more people to have children or relax restrictions on the same.

In China the low fertility rate is a more serious problem than the aging population. Since 2012, the ratio of working age people in the total population has continuously decreased, leading to a gradual decline in the human resource advantage and population dividend that supported China’s rapid economic growth since reform and opening-up.

This from an article illustrating how the Chinese Government sees having a large population as a competitive advantage.

Europe is also concerned about ZPG and low birth rates and see the solution as more migration to those Countries from areas with high population growth rates. In other words the economic systems in place only function when there growth in the populations.

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its another “tragedy of the common” situation - both individuals (easier to drive than to walk or bike, enjoying a steak, putting on the heat rather than wearing a sweater…) and countries (trying to boost population to have more power, influence, consumers, soldiers…) acting in their rational self interest because of almost everyone else reasoning the same way are ruining the planet for all. And we are still adding another billion people or so in about 12 years so its only going to get worse and harder to stop. There is no sustainability on a finite planet without tackling the population growth issue and the sooner the better. Yet political forces, pandering to rising religious and nationalistic and ethnic zealots are going backwards!


The major trouble with the steering is the market economy. Decisions that do not get made based on quarterly profit and loss projections get punished by a reduction of power and influence.

Secondary problems with the steering come with cradle-to-grave propaganda that reinforces and rationalizes the above system and its ethos–to an extent, through direct political propaganda; more extensively through persistent advertising to suggests that the new Acme Whatever will bring love, admiration, respect, and a good night’s sleep.

As a result of such propaganda, most people believe that humans are at base supported by an economy, in some sense somewhat akin to what is declaimed by economists or taught in economics classes. This is straightforwardly false. People are organisms. We are supported by an ecosystem. Economics plays some role in our calculations between ourselves of which people receive what part of that support. It’s not unimportant; it’s just unsupportive.

Because people imagine that they are supported by economy, they imagine that releasing the drivers of profit and growth will inevitably bring suffering. This gets reinforced because it actually happens, but largely because people continue in support of systems that go staggering and stumbling on their inherent contradictions. This is not altogether a matter of individual folly, but happens because the failing system suppresses the development of alternate systems.

What we need to do, then, is create mutually supportive systems that can federate and supplant the current globalist economy. Part of that will be achieving some sort of federated solidarity between a tremendous hodgepodge of small groups, so that we are not each individually squashed by the flailing giants.

Systems that have worked well to date include many that we have used to try to ease life in market economies:

  • food coops
  • housing coops
  • consumer groups
  • childcare and alternative school educational facilities
  • unions and guilds
  • credit unions
  • scrip and alternate currencies
  • libraries
  • church-based or other charities and outreach groups
  • non-profits and trusts and holding companies
  • non-profit and for-profit corporate pairings
  • special-interest and local-interest clubs
  • transition towns
  • neighborhood groups
  • alternate political parties and interest-based organizations

These can enable mutual support in times of need and opportunity and stop resources from cycling back into the mordant systems of the international economy. Given sufficient participation, they can create a society that can survive the relative collapse of its larger institutions.

It ought to.


We’re definitely a society of drivers distracted by the problem of other drivers rather than by our own addiction to driving and lately distracted by the prospect of self-driving cars making car dependency and traffic havoc worse. The GOP under Trump have a plan: Abruptly cut off the fuel supply so that millions starve to death. No need for a safety net.

thanks for that link. That is seriously disturbing!

Referring to what “we” do as “we” drive the planet is misleading, because there are two "we"s to deal with. One is you and me, the common person, who often feels impotent because our individual actions have so little impact. This is why many people, for instance, don’t vote. Second is the “we” who are the upper class, the plutos, the one tenth of one percent, the ones who buy elections, gradually alter public opinion by misdirection on TV and public relations campaigns, etc. This “we” is not the same “we” as the first. Unfortunately, the second group has manipulated the first group into believing that to mention this truth is to foment “class war”, so the first “we” is reluctant to do so, or when it does, its voice is lost in the roar of the ocean tide going the other way. The truth is that the second “we”, motivated by fear of loss of power, has an agenda that is short sighted and harming the first “we”. Unless we address the split and acknowledge that the the classes exist and that the class war has been going on for a long long time, with the plutos quietly grinding the rest of us into the dust, there will be no way out. We are like children given those toy cars whose steering wheels turn, but there is no linkage to the drive chain, and thus they do nothing but provide the illusion of action. Meanwhile, the plutos are driving the planetary “car” off the cliff.