So, what went wrong?
People are like sheep; they do what they see others doing, and don't do
anything very different even when they are aware that they should be.
They follow fashion.
We got addicted to cheap energy.
Quite a few people are are willing to work toward solving small, local,
problems; fewer are willing to tackle larger, regional, problems; hardly
anyone is willing to do anything about the great, global, problems; these
are seen to be too big, too daunting.
The sheep problem
The first point above is illustrated by some research done by a team led
by Noah Goldstein
(Scientific American) did.
Large hotels waste millions of litres of water, lots of detergent and a
substantial amount of energy in washing towels that could be reused
by the same guests.
Signs were put up telling guests that if they throw their towels on the
floor they will be laundered, if they hang them up they will not.
Guests were asked to do the right thing environmentally and reuse their
Few people hung their towels up.
The sign was then replaced another saying something like 75% of guests
want to save energy, detergent and water, and hang their towels up to
indicate that they didn't want them laundered.
This was much more effective.
If people thought that most others were being environmentally responsible in
this way they were willing to follow the crowd.
One of the main reason people don't try to do anything about the really big
problems like climate change
is that they don't see other people trying to do anything.
In the words of Handle's Mesiah: "For we like sheep have gone astray".
Addicted to cheap energy
Three hundred years ago our energy came from our own muscles and from those
of our draught animals.
A significant proportion of a farm was required to produce food for the
draught horses, perhaps a eighth (I have read it, but not been able to find a
Our energy and the energy of our draught animals was valuable.
Around the end of the ninteenth century the motor car with its internal
combustion engine was invented.
According to Autoblog
the engine of the Model T Ford, released in 1908, developed about 20
Energy became more accessable and cheaper.
Autoblog tells us that by 1955 the average car was developing around 140
horsepower and by 2009 it was up to 247.
So long as we could pump oil out of the ground and burn it for energy we had
a plentiful supply of energy, and we became addicted to it.
A similar story could be told about the development of electric power, but
this was often (especially in Australia) generated by burning another fossil
fuel: coal rather than oil.
In the early twentyfirst century we need to kick the cheap fossil fuel
energy habbit, but we can't.
The "It's too big a problem" problem
Climate change is the obvious case-in-point
It is going to change that world as we know it, and not at all for the better.
Yet very few people are
trying to do anything about it.
If there is a small, local problem, chances are there will be a number of
people who will push for something to be done about it.
If there is a regional problem, many will think "this is too big for me, I
can't do anything about it, someone else will fix it".
If the problem is global, even more will 'pass the buck'.