Do you remember Acid Rain and No More Nukes? 

When I was in high school a couple of decades ago, there was significant political and media attention paid to the potentially disastrous impacts that acid rain would have on the environment.  Acid rain, it was proposed, would cause untold damage to wildlife, vegetation and mankind if left unaddressed.  I remember seeing print ads promoting the issue by showing rusted out car hoods and dying wildlife.  When I was in grade school, I also remember fearful discussions of nuclear war and the potentially deadly effects of nuclear based energy programs.  Demonstrations abounded and as a youngster it was easy to get caught up in the fear of it all.

Now, twenty years later, I hear very little about acid rain or Russian nukes.  The only thing I hear about nuclear energy is actually a positive one.  I read about how forward thinking the French have been now that they get the majority of their domestic energy supplies from nuclear sources.   Whether or not these changes in focus are  related to effective policy or a simple shifting in populist winds I know not, but the fact remains that they no longer seem to be the issues of the day.  

Following the 1980’s energy and inflation scare, my father, a now retired dentist, built an incredibly energy efficient stucco office building with few if any external windows.  He also purchased a diesel Volkswagen Rabbit which got over 50 mpg and could do zero to sixty in a blistering 43 seconds.  Later in the car’s life, it was delegated to “kid car status” and became an incredible chick magnet, at least in my dreams.  Here’s a picture of a couple of my buddies and I posing with our hot rods (now known as cash for clunkers) circa 1986. 

A year or so ago when gas prices hit nearly $4 per gallon, I heard alot about hybrid cars and even saw a few tiny Smart cars traveling the streets here in Hudson, Ohio.  Now, I hear of few car sales at all, let alone energy efficient ones, but cash for clunkers is all the rage.  Whether or not this change in attitudes is related to lower gas prices, a tougher economy or simply changing populist winds I know not, but the fact remains that it no longer seems to be the issue of the day.

Today, of course, there are new major concerns, including climate change, global warming, and the bankruptcy of GM.  The government is proposing a cap and trade based system for carbon emissions, one which would supposedly use market forces to curb carbon footprints and hopefully save the earth from spiraling global warming.  The system is an elaborate one, with both its supporters and its detractors.  As a related aside, if you missed the Rolling Stone article this month on Goldman Sach’s, please check it out.   

At the beginning of the year, billions of dollars were spent bailing out GM because of the fears over what a bankruptcy might mean for the company, the industry and the economy.  Now, only a month into bankruptcy, CNBC is reporting that the company may be set to emerge from those proceedings and go public once again.  On another note, those attuned to global stock markets and the economy have seen the fear of hyper inflation be supplanted by fears of global deflation in a few short weeks.  

Maybe what I’m getting at here in a round about way are two basic observations.  First, rare events sometimes do occur, but it’s rarely those that are wildly expected or politicized.  And two, when pressed by personal incentives or motivators, mankind is incredibly adaptable.    

Whether or not fear is a useful catalyst for change or simply wasted energy I know not, but history, at least to me, suggests that we should have a little more faith.