When I posted about sustainability lessons from the Great Depression, Proud Nimby argued that one of the biggest lessons is the value of hard work—and we must be wary of creating a sense of dependency and entitlement through an overly large or poorly designed social safety net.
He/she has a point. While looking out for our neighbors and fellow citizens is a moral imperative, there is always a fine line between assistance and enabling dependency.
But entitlement culture isn't just about social security, health care or other Government assistance. In fact , as witnessed by the whining over high gas prices, one of the biggest manifestations of entitlement culture is this idea that cheap, abundant energy from fossil fuels is a birth right and a prerequisite for the American way of life.
Why shouldn't we pay the true cost of the resources we use?
I was musing on this point while reading an excellent article by climate scientist Vicky Pope over at the Guardian. Her central thesis was that asking whether you "believe" in man made climate change is a silly question. It's a matter of empirical evidence not belief or faith, argued Pope. And while I couldn't agree more, it was the resulting discussion of why people still doubt the scientific consensus that I found more fascinating.
Among the reasons posited by commenters was simply that there is cognitive dissonance between the lifestyles we lead, and the knowledge we now have about their impact on our climate and the well-being of future generations. We all (and I do mean all of us) have a hard time reconciling the fact we "want" to go on a road trip; eat that steak; fly to the Bahamas; or crank up the air conditioning with the knowledge that these actions are collectively harming our ability to thrive, and possibly even survive, as a species. (The UK-centric discussion brought up people's incredulity that they may have to adapt their water usage to the ongoing British drought—something the Great Depression generation would surely have seen as the self-centered whining that it clearly is.)
But as I noted in my post about why environmentalists DO want to restrict your freedom, we must develop a more nuanced understanding of what freedom, well-being and responsibility really means. In a world where even conservative economists have shown that coal costs the economy more than it contributes, and in which our thirst for more and more cheap oil and bigger cars has created the tar sands monster, an industry so destructive its own workers are quitting and blowing the whistle, it's time for us all to reflect on what really are "needs", and what are "wants".
The entitlement culture of cheap energy at any cost must end. Nothing is free.