In the annals of didactic cinematography, where the antics of wise and/or screwball characters amuse while tricking us into learning some sort of life lesson, all the highbrow Shakespearean puffery and Hollywood writing/casting skills take a back seat to the resonating human-condition life-lesson provided by Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have lived through the show (on tiny fuzzy TV screens that a three-year-old would lose it if forced to watch), Ralph and Sam were blue-collar-type cartoon characters trudging through life. Ralph was a wolf, hence the name, and Sam likewise, and every morning each would punch in for their job at 8 am sharp. Ralph’s “job” was to catch sheep and eat them, and Sam’s job was to guard the sheep. All day they battled in the usual cartoon way of the era, dropping anvils on each other’s heads and blackening each other’s faces with ACME dynamite. At the end of the day, each punched out their time card and they trudged home, chatting like old friends about how their days went.
Do you ever get the idea that we live in that world ourselves, to an almost similarly comical extent? Think about it for a second. Around are examples of such behaviour, where we do what we do during the day, regardless of the consequences, then head home at night oblivious to the very essence of what we did during the day. We keep heading right back into the fire. Here are three examples.
Back in 2008, the financial world was brought to its knees by an excess of cheap money and systemic abuse of leverage. The worst culprits were “CDOs”, Collateralized debt obligations, where bundles of mortgages/car loans/whatever debt were packaged, sliced into layers of differing quality, and, through some strong-arming and sleight-of-hand, were stamped as “investment grade” by publicly-traded ratings agencies that abandoned their integrity in the pursuit of quarterly profits. It was an obscene scene, and shockingly no one went to jail.
Fast forward a dozen years and, thanks once again to a ridiculously low-interest-rate environment, here we go again. The same culprits are at it again, though these folks aren’t dummies – they’ve changed the name to CLOs, or Collateralized Loan Obligations. Same sh*t, different pile, and we’re off and running to another financial problem again: according to an article in Harvard Business Review, between 2015 and 2019, 58.4 percent of the primary leveraged loan origination in the US was funded by CLOs. Had coronavirus not appeared, we’d likely be hearing about car loans to NINJAs (No Income, No Job or Assets) again. The financial wizards go back to doing what they do, in an endless loop.
Climate activism has become the same. 2019 saw a blitzkrieg effort by climate organizations to force change on the world. They were everywhere, protesting on every street, XR shutting down bridges, every word uttered by Greta was treated as scripture, and governments tripped over themselves to rush into policy pledges that they had no idea if they could pull off (such as promising to ban internal combustion engines by some short-sighted date). Where’s the parallel? Well, at the end of the day, the climate activists simply punch out their time cards and head back into the world of massive hydrocarbon consumption just like everyone else. Tomorrow, they’ll return to fight the good fight, punching in at 8 am sharp to begin another Groundhog Day of attacking the foundation of the way we all live. They keep doing this right through coronavirus, a sure sign that they are on autopilot or simply fulfilling the requirements of their jobs, because it is crystal clear how much the world relies on hydrocarbons for existence; it is not possible not to see that.
A third example is a counterweight to the second, not chosen for that reason but just because it is an example of how this tendency is so pervasive. CAPP, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, recently was in contact with the federal government to plead for relief for the beleaguered hydrocarbon business in western Canada. Nothing wrong with that; that’s what any other organization would do for its members, and in general CAPP is wise enough to make sensible recommendations. The problem is how this all went down. According to a Global News article, “someone leaked a copy of the memo to one of their [climate activists Environmental Defence] staffers on Wednesday and they were shocked by what they saw.” The article went on to state that CAPP requested industry be allowed to “delay the reporting of their lobbying activity until the end of July.”
What’s so egregious about this, you might ask? What’s terrible is the way it played out. CAPP treated the communique the way they always had, seemingly oblivious to the way things play out in today’s media. The aura of secrecy is like drinking arsenic for an industry that has so badly lost the PR wars. That old-school direct-access-to-the-top mentality simply won’t go away, and as a result, the representatives of our hydrocarbon industry are making the jobs of the Greenpeace hit squads so easy they probably knock off work by ten in the morning, after starting at 9:30.
The lesson out of all these situations is this. There’s a lot of role-playing going on through simple inertia. We get locked into what we do, and get vested in positions and habits, and they just go on past the best-before date. In the vile slop bucket that social media often becomes, these positions get amplified and hardened, and we lose sight of the fact that we could very well spend the day hating and fuming and arguing on social media with someone yet stop to help them change a tire on the side of the road at the end of the day if we had no idea who they were, and maybe we would even if we did.
These tendencies also point to how our world will recover. It may be wonderful to see clear skies and clear water in Venice, but the human lifestyle has an emissions footprint. We need to work to reduce it, but it won’t disappear unless human activity does like at present.
There is a lot of speculation about how people will decide they can all work from home. Some speculate that we’ll never go back to our previous ways, that we’ll become accustomed to cooking at home and entertaining ourselves on our devices.
That might be true if we stay in lockdown for eight years, and forget about anything prior. But that seems rather unlikely. We’re going to come out of this extreme self-isolation, and in all likelihood, go back to doing what we did before. We’ll start flying again, we’ll go on holidays again, we’ll fill bars and restaurants and concert halls and sports stadiums. We’ll go back to consuming like we always did, because we’re humans. That is what we do. A few won’t return to old ways, but most will, in all the substantial ways.
We’re going to get back to work, and it will go back largely to normal, eventually. If we pay attention, maybe we can break some of those old tendencies or at least question if there is a better way to do things, in ways that work for humanity and for our industries. The financial industry, climate advocates, and CAPP all surely can, and I’m sure I can too. If I’m not too busy watching cartoons.
When you’ve watched every single thing on Netflix, you’re not at the bottom even if it feels like it – there’s still great books! Pick up a copy of “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Indigo.ca, or Amazon.com.