This is the first in a series of occasional posts I’m writing to grow an idea I’m calling “Deep Accountability.”
Currently, fossil fuel industry lobbyists, flacks, allied pundits, and government officials are far too comfortable dismissing concerns about what their pollution does to other people. In their minds, it’s a big country, there’s plenty to use, and pollution is no big deal as long as it creates problems for other people. Permanently contaminate water tables with gas drilling’s fracking fluids? Just cart in water for those other people.
The problem is, we really don’t have a big enough country to trash it like we’ve been doing. In fact, we can’t afford to trash it much more at all. But fossil guys operating with a time horizon of a quarterly earnings report or an election cycle can still nurse the illusion that the status quo is OK. That’s because the effects are still falling on just a few other people. They think anyone who speaks up about the problem must be silly, wimpy, unpatriotic, or not living in “the real world.”
With global pollutions trend lines escalating in the wrong direction, it’s pretty clear that by the time the fossil guys wake up to the realities of what they’re doing to the rest of us, it will very likely be too late to reverse the damage. According to some experts, it might be already.
Simply put, it’s been too easy for the pro-pollution crowd to ignore the realities of what they are advocating. The accountability-free zone needs to end.
So, here’s an idea: What if we had a system that required those who are advocating, defending or producing large sources of pollution to be one of the other people? What if they had to drink the dirty water, breathe the polluted air, and have their livelihoods compromised by (their) status quo industries. It wouldn’t be fun for them. But they’d be accountable, deeply accountable, for what they are doing.
I think it’s time to explore what Deep Accountability would look like. I’ll start here, with this Modest Proposal for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor Karl Smith. He’s the newest addition to the crowd that believes global climate disruption isn’t a problem because we can all move to the top of the world.
Minister of Justice of Russia
Address: 4 Zhitnaya Ulitsa, Moscow 119991
Telephone/fax: (495) 955-59-99
Dear Minister Konovalov:
I received your name from contacting the Russian embassy in Washington. I apologize in advance for not having the resources to translate this unusual proposal into Russian.
I am the owner of a United States public relations firm, Tigercomm. We represent renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses both here in the U.S. and internationally. In our company’s view, renewable energy and energy efficiency represent a path toward economic revitalization in many countries, as well as addressing the threat of global climate disruption.
In that context, I wanted to bring to your attention the recent, remarkable writings of Professor Karl Smith, Assistant Professor of Public Economics and Government at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Smith recently received attention with his assurance that global climate disruption isn’t really a big deal because a good chunk of the world population can just move to the northern part of your country if things transpire as most scientists fear they will.
Specifically, Professor Smith’s argues in his article, “In Praise of Dirty Energy: There Are Worse Things Than Pollution, and We Have Them,” that “a large part of the harmful affects of climate change will be mitigated simply because so many people move to North America and Siberia over the next 100 years.”
Needless to say, if you believe Professor Smith’s predictions are correct, then there is going to be an influx of tens or even hundreds of millions of people to the northern part of your great country. This would likely be a significant change for Siberia, from a region with a current population density of just 3 persons per square kilometer, to one of the most densely populated places on earth in a few decades.
I thought you and other Russian leaders might have some views on the merits of this assertion, because Professor Smith isn’t alone in saying global climate disruption is no big deal. Some, such as Peabody Energy Vice President of Government Relations Fred Palmer have asserted that we will benefit from global climate disruption.
With that in mind, I’d like to raise with you an idea I’ve had for a while, one that I call “Deep Accountability.” Under this concept, the foolish and the reckless in American punditry – and they seem to increasing, even as the climate science gets more damning – would be forced to actually sample the realities they advocate for others.
Therefore, I am trying to confirm the viability of an unusual proposal. Would it be possible for my company to pay for the rental of unoccupied space in any of the estimated 476 former Soviet prison facilities, particularly those in northern Siberia? If such space is available, we would like to pay to house Professor Smith for a year or more as a guest of your great country. We are seeking to provide him with a direct experience of the vigorous Siberian climate firsthand, and see for himself what the future home of tens or hundreds of millions of global climate disruption refugees would be like.
We would, of course, also want to also fund several months’ initial food stores at a subsistence level as Professor Smith learns, through trial and error, how to forage for food and find potable drinking water. And no such experience would be complete without the complete absence of state services, including police protection, which will likely be scarce in the nightmare scenario of collapsed nation states and tens of millions of desperate people migrating uninvited into your great country -- almost all on foot. In addition, we would appreciate your advice regarding a passable, but not necessarily easy or safe, overland route for Professor Smith to follow on foot en route to the aforementioned accommodations. As part of this experience, Professor Smith should certainly experience the same trek of hopelessness and despair that tens if not hundreds of millions of climate refugees would be forced to take if his vision comes to pass.
Because we are not a company of great means, we are making this preliminary inquiry not just to make a point, but as a business proposition. As a public relations professional, I see the possibility of a mutually advantageous arrangement for both your country, people such as Professor Smith (and Fred Palmer), and for our company. Let me explain.
First, while Professor Smith might be a fool, we surely do not want him to be a hypocrite as well. Our proposal could save him from such a fate. Second is the opportunity Professor Smith’s experience could provide for a reality TV series based on his experience, one that could call attention not just to an important policy issue – anthropogenic global climate disruption – but also to the vast and beautiful region of Siberia. People such as Fred Palmer could take a break from the boredom of professional influence peddling in Washington and join Professor Smith as part of the show’s cast.
These shows are immensely popular in our country. If they are popular with Russian audiences as well, my company stands ready to handle the promotional work for this program at a reasonable price.
Regardless, I am grateful for this opportunity to bring to your attention this unusual proposal. I understand a man of your responsibilities is unlikely to have much time to devote to it, but I would be honored if you would give it even the briefest attention.
For his part, I can only imagine that Professor Smith would enthusiastically participate in such an endeavor if this proposal were to become reality. He could be the first to be deeply accountable, through his personal experience, for the reckless things he is saying in the public realm regarding energy and pollution matters – and where current trends are leading us all.
Thank you for reading my correspondence. I wish you a very happy holiday season.