At last, here by popular demand! The original text of the amazingly prescient essay on Flaubert and the Internet from 1994!!
About a year ago, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made some statements in an article in Vanity Fair magazine about energy, the economy, and the future of the world. So many people make predictions, so few are checked. In the excerpt below, he didn’t fortell – he just assumed the future would resemble the present and the past. Such statements accumulate in the great dead-letter file of improbable prognostications in the sky . I have highlighted a few statements that struck me as sadly, or amusingly, out-of-date given the news as it stands in June 2009.
Today, we don’t need to abolish carbon as an energy source in order to see its inefficiencies starkly, or to understand that this addiction is the principal drag on American capitalism. The evidence is before our eyes. The practice of borrowing a billion dollars each day to buy foreign oil has caused the American dollar to implode. More than a trillion dollars in annual subsidies to coal and oil producers have beggared a nation that four decades ago owned half the globe’s wealth. Carbon dependence has eroded our economic power, destroyed our moral authority, diminished our international influence and prestige, endangered our national security, and damaged our health and landscapes. [I guess he saw the crash coming. Forget about derivatives, it’s carbon’s fault.] It is subverting everything we value.
We know that nations that “decarbonize” their economies reap immediate rewards. Sweden announced in 2006 the phaseout of all fossil fuels (and nuclear energy) by 2020. [Let’s take some bets on whether or not they will come close to this goal!] In 1991 the Swedes enacted a carbon tax—now up to $150 a ton—and as a result thousands of entrepreneurs rushed to develop new ways of generating energy from wind, the sun, and the tides, and from woodchips, agricultural waste, and garbage. Growth rates climbed to upwards of three times those of the U.S. Iceland was 80 percent dependent on imported coal and oil in the 1970s and was among the poorest economies in Europe.
Today, Iceland is 100 percent energy-independent, with 90 percent of the nation’s homes heated by geothermal and its remaining electrical needs met by hydro. The International Monetary Fund now ranks Iceland the fourth most affluent nation on earth. [Iceland is now bankrupt. Affluent, perhaps, but not exactly a growth model to imitate closely.] The country, which previously had to beg for corporate investment, now has companies lined up to relocate there to take advantage of its low-cost clean energy.
It should come as no surprise that California, America’s most energy-efficient state, also possesses its strongest economy. [I believe RFK is related somehow to the Governator, who could give him an earful.]