The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who discount the future, and those who don't. Those who live for today, and those who worry about tomorrow.
Unconcern comes about because either the unconcerned do not believe the future will actually exist - i.e., Jesus is coming back tomorrow, so why worry about the day after?
Or because the unconcerned believe that man, and man's technology, can surmount any challenge, imaginable or not.
Both are, of course, faith-based positions and, like all positions based on faith, fundamentally irrational.
Irrational, and reckless. If you believe that Jesus is gonna come back long before the maturation date of a 30-year Treasury note then why the heck not finance a war on the national credit card, instead of out of tax receipts?
After all, you're not passing on a humongous debt to the next generation. By the time the credit-card bill comes due, you and the next generation will be riding the elevator to Heaven. No harm, no foul.
Or if you believe that technology, and human ingenuity, can solve any problem, then what's the point of worrying about any problem? When it gets bad enough, we'll just make a machine that will fix it. Even if machines were what caused the problem in the first place.
As I said, both are fundamentally irrational.
The reality-based community
That leaves the rest of us, who do worry about tomorrow and understand that past is prelude to future. We're left looking for guidance as to where the present is, now, and what trends can be discerned about tomorrow.
We're engaged in a rational little exercise called planning.
The Enlightenment brought humanity great gifts. Science. Deduction. Mathematics.
And from those great gifts was born modern liberal economic thought - the thought that like nature, human organizations could be understood within a rational framework.
That markets existed, guided by the invisible hand of a million individuals all aggregating information into a cohesive and symbiotic whole, allocating resources optimally and doing so by making accurate predictions of what the future would hold.
In a word: capitalism. Accurately predicting the future is so fundamental to capitalism that it's developed an entire discipline dedicated to nothing else. A discipline called futures markets.
Futures markets deal in commodities: corn, pork bellies, gold, silver, oil. They work by bringing buyers and sellers together, where each agree on what the price of a given commodity will be in the future. Both agree on where the future is headed by agreeing on that future price.
And, when both buyer and seller agree that the price of a commodity in the future will be higher than the price of the commodity today, the markets call that contango.
When futures markets predict contango for a commodity, they are predicting increasing scarcity of that commodity.
Where's the silence button?
For the past half-decade or so, the futures markets have been in contango with regard to many, if not most, of the fundamental commodities on which civilization depends.
Copper. Gold. Oil. All of those things, say capitalism's crystal ball, will be more, not less, available in the future. They will be more, not less, expensive.
This is realized by most of us, although usually unconsciously.
We see gasoline prices going up, and we do not expect them to fall. We understand limits to growth, and we react with plummeting surveys of consumer confidence.
And we react as a species. A month ago I wrote about sustainability and received more feedback than I do from most. People get it. They understand that sustainability is synonymous with security, that it means building a foundation for a positive future.
Not discounting the future in the first place. Not being irrational.
A bird in the hand
Unfortunately, our moves toward sustainability have, so far, received little more than lip service. As Buff Brown, in his excellent op-ed in the July 28 Herald-Times points out, all of the city's rhetoric about sustainability is empty in the face of city policy made concrete in its downtown infrastructure plans.
Likewise that of our community's other great institution, which is waving the rainbow flag of a sustainability task force while simultaneously clocking to the usual tomorrow-will-be-just-like-today-only-more-so march of suburban development - the kind of development dependent on those commodities that the futures markets are telling us won't be there.
"The mayor, who continues to express his commitment to sustainability and global warming, has recently, with the blessing of the City Council, promulgated ordinances and described plans that will, upon implementation, encourage downtown patrons to switch from preferred modes of transportation (bicycling, walking and transit) to driving." - Buff Brown, "City decisions contributing to environmental problems" (H-T, 7/28/2007)
It's time to end irrational discounting of the future, and it's time to end giving rational planning for the future, sustainability, nothing more than lip service. Demand that those advocating for business-as-usual produce their work, showing why business-as-usual has a future.
If they do not, or cannot, then demand a change. Demand rationality.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .