Scapegoat-in-Chief: The Race for the Oval Office
By Richard Heinberg /

The first two U.S. presidential debates have been painful to watch. Both candidates are running on platforms constructed from verbal hallucinations about the nation’s past, present, and future. And the American people are being asked to choose between those hallucinations in order to select the best available scapegoat for the next four years of national economic decline. The race is burning up billions of dollars in advertising money, yet few citizens seem genuinely excited about either candidate, with households evidently viewing the proceedings as a prime-time ritual combat in which it is the winner, rather than the loser, who will ultimately receive the fatal thumbs-down. 
Most of the delusions and fantasies that pervade the debates can be grouped into three baskets:
Energy. In the second debate, a questioner from the audience asked president Obama if there is something the latter can do to lower gasoline prices. The ensuing fiction-laced candidate dialogue featured assertions like the following:
·      America has a century’s worth of cheap natural gas. (It doesn’t, and production levels will probably begin declining within the next couple of years.)
·      Oil drilling in North Dakota will soon free the U.S. of the need to import oil. (It won’t, and production there will similarly peak and start to wane in the next 2-5 years.)
·      The president of the United States should be held accountable for high gasoline prices. (In fact, aside from temporary gestures like opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, there’s almost nothing a president can do to reduce gas prices, which mostly track the global price of crude oil.)
The reality is that America faces profound energy challenges. The “Beverly Hillbillies” era of cheap oil is over, and with it the decades-long spate of economic expansion that both candidates appear to believe is the birthright of all citizens. Oil production costs have skyrocketed in recent years, and out of desperation drilling companies are using costly techniques like hydrofracturing to wring crude from low-grade reservoirs. The energy world portrayed in the debates—in which coal is “clean” and oil and gas companies will lead the U.S. to a new era of energy abundance if only they are unleashed or regulated properly—is a stage set carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry PR professionals and political consultants. Once viewers have dutifully mistaken this painted scenery for reality, it’s the actors’ job to raise the audience’s adrenaline levels with taunts and sneers. Meanwhile, outside the theater, the real world is hurtling toward an energy supply crisis for which no one is being prepared, and whose impact will not be blunted by sensible policy.
Summon the scapegoat.
The economy. Why hasn’t the American economy recovered? Why are so many people still unemployed? What policies will re-start the nation’s engines of growth? Anyone who watched either debate will know that these questions provoked lengthy and heated exchanges between Obama and Romney, precisely because they are the matters of greatest concert to voters. Probably only a few viewers bothered to examine the assumptions on which both candidates appear to agree: that ongoing economic stagnation is a temporary glitch that can be fixed, and that growth is normal and can continue perpetually.
Here president Obama is fighting with one hand tied behind him. As long as he feeds the delusion that the economic crisis is a solvable problem, he must find some way to deflect the demanding query: “Well, then, why haven’t you fixed it?”
In reality, the crash of 2008 resulted from the bursting of history’s biggest credit bubble, together with the simultaneous rupture of the decades-old regime of cheap oil. These are not “problems” that can be “fixed.” The global economy will inevitably contract during the remainder of this century, and success will be measured by the ability of nations, communities, and households to adapt to the new reality of declining mobility, expensive energy, and scarce credit.
If Obama were to even begin explaining this situation to voters, he would immediately be tarred as a pessimist, even a doomster. The best he can do is to argue that it was a Republican who got us into this mess, so it would be a mistake to choose a Republican using similar policies to get us out. Both candidates conspire to mislead their audience as to the cause and nature of the crisis, and both stoke unrealistic expectations of recovery and growth once they are elected. Since recovery is not in the cards, that just means that whoever wins will reap the blame.
Who wants to be the scapegoat?
Climate change. In this case, delusion is a species of blindness. In the real world, impacts from global climate change are showing up faster than forecast in even the most “alarmist” scenarios published just a few years ago. Most of the U.S. is still suffering from a devastating drought that has already ruined billions of dollars’ worth of crops. Altogether, weather anomalies are increasing in frequency and severity—exactly as the climate models predict, only faster. The north polar ice cap is disappearing before our eyes. This is potentially a crisis of truly apocalyptic dimensions. Yet, during the debates, president Obama has offered only one brief mention of climate change while governor Romney has avoided the subject altogether.
At some point in the not-distant future—quite likely, during the next four years—the mushrooming impacts of climate change will rudely demolish the complacent edifice of denial that characterizes current political discourse. At that point, Americans will be asking questions like, “Why haven’t you done anything about this?” or, “Why is God punishing us?”
Send in the scapegoat.
Under the circumstances, picking a favorite in this race is a sucker’s game—even if one of the political parties is in some ways more delusional and opportunistic than the other, and even if one of the candidates seems more intelligent and public-spirited than his opponent. Choosing the better president won’t prevent further economic decline. Nor will blaming the scapegoat-in-chief offer any tangible relief when prosperity doesn’t return. The only way we can make things go better is to acknowledge reality and adapt to it. Since we’re not likely to get much help along those lines from our political leaders, it’s really up to us.

Get The End of Growth | Watch the animation Who Killed Economic Growth?

Like this post?

Keep the information flowing: Donate to Post Carbon Institute
Stay connected: Receive our monthly e-newsletter

4.0 · 1
What's Next
Load Comments
Trending Today
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 3,890 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
3 min · 3,653 views today · Woman learns to like herself even when others don't always act like they like her.  lyrics: I LIKE MYSELF  so you don't have to  I LIKE MYSELF  i'm down with me  I LIKE...
The Demand to be Safe in Relationship Inevitably Breeds Sorrow and Fear
J. Krishnamurti · 3,370 views today · This seeking for security is inviting insecurity. Have you ever found security in any of your relationships? Have you?
'Agrihoods' Offer Suburban Living Built Around Community Farms, Not Golf Courses
Joseph Erbentraut · 2,646 views today · The model takes the idea of farm-to-table to the next level.
Seven Everyday Things Poor People Worry About That Rich People Never Do
Carmen Rios · 2,565 views today · It isn’t just poor people’s lives which differ from rich people’s lives – it's poor people's thoughts that differ from everyone else's.
An Indigenous Approach to Healing Trauma
Jonathan Davis · 1,682 views today · The Healing Power of Listening in Stillness
HumanWorld - Where the Cetaceans Use People for Entertainment
2 min · 1,624 views today · Satirical take on the exploitation of whales and dolphins. For more serious info visit Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use To Change The World
Films For Action · 1,156 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Another Way Of Seeing: We Don't Own the Land. The Land Owns Us.
6 min · 1,137 views today · Bob Randall, a Yankunytjatjara elder and traditional owner of Uluru (Ayer's Rock), explains how the connectedness of every living thing to every other living thing is not just...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 1,104 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
Why Some Companies in Sweden are Shifting to a 6-Hour Work Day
Bec Crew · 1,073 views today · Despite research telling us it’s a really bad idea, many of us end up working 50-hour weeks or more because we think we’ll get more done and reap the benefits later. And...
Beautiful 1 Acre Small Scale Permaculture Farm
13 min · 1,039 views today · A tour of Limestone Permaculture Farm in New South Wales, Australia. The 1 acre property has been developed into a productive permaculture farm that is currently feeding around...
Capitalism Can't Be "Less Greedy" - the Greed Is Baked In
Stephanie McMillan · 876 views today · More people lately are identifying capitalism as the underlying cause of our current global troubles and crises. That’s certainly positive: the first step toward cure is a...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 839 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Henry A. Giroux · 787 views today · Ten people were killed and seven wounded recently in a mass shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. Such shootings are more than another tragic expression of...
Dirt! The Movie (2009)
80 min · 755 views today · DIRT! The Movie takes you inside the wonders of the soil. It tells the story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility--from its miraculous beginning to...
The Coolest Nature Video Ever!
2 min · 698 views today · Beautifully edited by Roen Horn this slice of natural wonder is set to the music of Karen O.
Watch a Really Cool Tiny House Get Built from Start to Finish for $2500
8 min · 662 views today · Watch a tiny house get built with a lead lighting geodesic dome window! The 10 square metre tiny house cost around $2500 to build and was mostly made from recycled...
Falling in Love with the Earth: The Revolution That Needs To Happen Starts From Inside Each Of Us
Thich Nhat Hanh · 591 views today · This beautiful, bounteous, life-giving planet we call Earth has given birth to each one of us, and each one of us carries the Earth within every cell of our body.
10 Pieces of Political Graffiti You Can Recreate Yourself
Andrew Butler · 586 views today · The world is your canvas, use it.
Load More
Like us on Facebook?