“USA does not have a planning culture.”

The headline for this post is taken from a news item this morning in which Robert Nicholls, a professor of coastal engineering at the University of Southampton, is quoted. The subject: climate change and its impact on coastal cities around the world. 

nyc_underwaterThese cities, most climate scientists now believe, will have to be either abandoned or fortified with massive and massively expensive seawalls in the face of irreversibly rising sea levels. The Netherlands, one of the lowest-lying nations on earth, has set aside 1 billion Euros to ratchet up its already formidable fortifications. It is thinking decades, even centuries ahead. Meanwhile, one of our two major political parties refuses — en bloc — even to acknowledge the truth of climate change for purely political reasons. They view their near-term political fate as more important than the future of the human race in its entirety. Purely Ayn Rand selfishness carried to its ultimate.

For many years, the United States has earned a reputation as a nation with no interest in long-term planning. While Japanese industrial giants were looking five, seven and 10 years out, American corporations could seldom be bothered with anything more long-range than this quarter’s 10K report. “Long range planning” meant figuring out with whom and where to have lunch Friday.

The problem, of course, is that we have an instant-gratification culture that moves at an incredible speed that does not allow time for reflection or contemplation. “Damn the environment. Full speed ahead!” seems to be a battle cry of our businesses. But this same disinterest in long-range planning affects every other area of our society. The failure to adopt a living wage. The offshoring of jobs. The refusal to engage in meaningful retraining of our work force. The reductions in budgets for social safety net programs. The opposition to universal health care. All of these issues and many more have massive long-term consequences of which we have been amply and ably warned. But we choose to focus instead on this quarter, this month, this week, this morning, this moment.

That short-term thinking will be the eventual undoing of, at the very least, Western civilization, if not of the entirety of humanity.

And as the global leaders, it will be primarily the fault of the United States when it starts to come undone.


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