I’m listening to a book that reminds me how I helped cause the financial collapse of 2007-2008. (Maybe you did, too.) I just finished a book that reminded me how I helped cause the oil crisis of the 1970s. (You’re probably too young to share that blame.) And of course just about everything I read of late reminds me how I’m helping to cause climate change. (Yes, you, too.)
It’s one thing to read history from before you were an adult; it’s just not your fault. But once you are an adult — especially in a country as free as ours — you get a degree of responsibility for the way your culture develops and your political leaders act — even if you voted against them.
My current book is All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. Ever since I found out that the house my wife and I sold with surprising ease in 2001 went into foreclosure only a few years later, I’ve figured we were among the “winners” in the great mortgage racket of the past generation, even though we’d never heard of such a thing at the time.
As for the oil crisis, The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East by Andrew Scott Cooper took me back to the days when Western economies were on the brink of collapse because we consumed so much oil and prices were rising. My wife and I had driven our new car 36,000 miles just before the first oil embargo, and we didn’t cut back all that much even when prices soared. If that big old sedan got 20 miles a gallon, I’d be surprised.
And, of course, we continue driving and driving, like other Americans. One of my sons and I even drove out to Oregon this year. We drove a hybrid, but we still burned a lot of gas. Maybe I don’t bear as much responsibility for climate change as the members of Congress who vote against higher fuel efficiency requirements, but I don’t ride a bike. One of the new books I ought to be reading is What We Think about When We Try Not to Think about Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action by Per Espen Stoknes.
Few of us are big-time decision makers, but how each of us lives adds to the total picture our leaders use when they make decisions that will affect us and our descendants. We may be products of our culture, but we all help create it as well.