Getting Good and Scared, by John Ostrander
Have a nice Hallowe’en? Was the Great Pumpkin good to you? Did you grab a few treats, pull a few tricks? Watched a nice scary movie or two? Seen a few Saws? Are you ready to get back to the real world?
The real world has gotten a lot scarier than anything Stephen King is putting out or that Hollywood is dreaming up. Crude oil is hitting record highs. Drinking water is drying up on both a national and an international level. The American housing market is in the toilet and likely to remain there. About a year from now we’ll be electing a new president and a new Congress, which means that we’re about to hit the hardcore election season during which little or nothing of substance will be done in Washington.
“Old news,” right? Heard it all before. Maybe we should summarize what it all means quickly and simply, the way Americans like it. Unless there are drastic changes made, America is going into its decline. Unless you’re in that upper small percentile of Americans that are really rich, the quality of your life is going to decline as well and not get better.
Fact? Not yet. By the time it’s a fact, it’ll be way too late to change. No, this is a projection based on facts. When I was a teacher at the Joe Kubert School, teaching writing to artists (an interesting task), one exercise I would give teams of students was to create a future based on facts derived from the research. The scenario had to be a reasonable extrapolation from existing facts or events and they had to explain the reasoning.
The cost of oil was one such factor. It’s a given that oil as an energy source is finite; it’s a non-renewable source and sometime within maybe the next ten years, we will pass a tipping mark in that we, as a species, will have taken more oil out of the known oil fields than there is now left in it. Add to that the fact that demand of oil is going to increase especially from the growing economies of India and China.
The price of oil per barrel of crude reached $93.00 this week, driven by the weak dollar, low oil reserves in the United States and speculation and fear based on U.S. saber rattling regarding Iran. Higher oil prices hit you not just at the gas pump. The cost of transportation of everything – food, clothes, whatever – goes up and that always gets passed on to the consumer. Oil is also used to produce plastic. Imagine the ways you use plastic – cel phones, iPods, computers, clothing, components in cars, CDs, DVDs, its use in medicine as well as too many other uses – and then imagine the impact on your life if the price of plastic goes up or plastic itself becomes scarce as crude oil becomes more difficult to obtain.
How’s that for a bite to the jugular?
Oil and water don’t mix, we’re told, but let’s add water concerns to oil concerns. A recent article on MSNBC states: “The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.” The existing conditions that they cite: “An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions. Florida doesn’t have nearly enough water for its expected population boom. The Great Lakes are shrinking. Upstate New York’s reservoirs have dropped to record lows. And in the West, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting faster each year.”
The melting polar icecaps will raise the sealevels which will cause the saltwater to further invade fresh water sources. This will be felt more deeply along the coasts but will still affect the heartland. According to Infoplease, six of the top ten fastest growing cities in the US between 1990 and 2000 were in Nevada or Arizona – desert communities where water has to be piped in.
And the water shortage is being felt wordwide. Again, from the MSNBC report: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of scientists, said this year that by 2050 up to two billion people worldwide could be facing major water shortages.”
A vampire’s thirst for blood is nothing compared to our coming thirst for water.
And now for something a little more immediate and maybe less apocalyptic but certainly no less of an impact on your wallet or pocketbook – treasury Secretary Henry Paulson last October 16 on the housing market was quoted in MarketWatch: “The ongoing housing correction is not ending as quickly as it might have appeared late last year,” Paulson said in remarks prepared for delivery at Georgetown University. “And it now looks like it will continue to adversely impact our economy, our capital markets and many homeowners for some time yet.”
“Let me be clear,” Paulson said, “despite strong economic fundamentals, the housing decline is still unfolding. … The longer home prices remain stagnant or fall, the greater the penalty to our future economic growth.”
On Yahoo.news, it was noted that new housing starts fell 10.2% in September to a 14 year low and added: “Over the past 12 months, US housing starts were down 30.8 percent and permits [to build] down 25.9 percent. The massive declines highlight the fact that builders have a big inventory of unsold homes that are keeping prices down. With credit conditions tightening and mortgage delinquencies on the rise, the financial sector is also being affected.”
The reason this will impact you is that nothing happens in the economy in and of itself; it happens in relationship to any number of variables. Money is spent in creating new houses – spent on wages for those doing the work, on the supplies, on the land and so on. There is a ripple effect that goes out into the community. While housing represents only a small percentage of the overall US economy, its significant enough that it could trigger a recession.
The interplay of housing and mortgage crises – there’s a real Frankenstein monster.
A major horror that we’re facing is the upcoming election season which virtually guarantees nothing of substance will be done about any of these or the other problems facing us. Why? Because none of the solutions to the problems are simple or easy and even talking about them is political suicide. Because We, the People, just don’t want to hear about it. It’s just too depressing. Coping with it would mean change, permanent change, in our lifestyles.
The Bush Administration has set the standard for this – from what I’ve read, one of the standard complaints of the troops in the field in Iraq is that they are being asked to sacrifice perhaps everything but the folks at home are asked to sacrifice – nothing. In Ken Burns excellent series about WW2, The War, he showed how the home-front was very much tied to the war effort. During the Second World War, people at home sacrificed to support the troops in the field. With the Bush Administration, even the cost of this fiasco is being fobbed off on future generations through the use of loans. It appears We, the People have had to give up nothing – save some of our freedoms, our international standing, and the lives of our soldiers.
Newton’s Law of Gravity – what goes up must come down – can be said to apply to history as well. A simple reading of history reveals that no nation, no empire, sits atop the world forever. It must decline and that includes the United States. No amount of chanting “We’re #1!” will alter that. The question is not will things change but how will we adapt to them? That which cannot/will not adapt will die.
Look at it this way. In horror movies, who is usually the one to first fall victim to the mask wearing killer with the machete? The one who doesn’t think there is a mask wearing killer with the machete. You have to acknowledge a problem exists before you can hope to deal with it or its consequences. The ice caps are melting. The climate is changing. Water shortages look inevitable. Fossil fuel is going to run out sooner than later. All this will force change upon us.
Our own sage, Denny O’Neil, was talking about comics some time ago when he said there is no reason WHY comics must survive. Things become obsolete or extinct all the time. Why not comics? To extend his question – why not We, the People? Why not We as a Species?
Scared yet? To quote another philosopher, Yoda – “You will be. You will be.”
John Ostrander writes GrimJack: The Manx Cat, new installments of which appear every Tuesday here on ComicMix, and much of Munden’s Bar, new installments of which will reappear anon here on ComicMix. Both for free. Can’t beat that. His new Suicide Squad mini-series is out there from DC Comics, and his Star Wars: Legacy is out there from Dark Horse, both at finer comics shops across the galaxy.