After hearing that I was on the front page of the paper last week, I checked and my first reaction was “Who is that fat old man dancing with my wife?”
In his new book, “The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life,” Robert Trivers, arguably the most influential biologist of the late 20th Century, explains my reaction; we convince ourselves that we are better looking, smarter, more skillful and more ethical than we are, because it helps convince others that we have these traits. The downside is that overconfidence and related psychological mechanisms also make us susceptible to selective perception, ignorance and delusions about reality.
Consider some of the delusions used to attack our county energy wise plan: the United States has oil for hundreds of years; energy regulation is costly and kills economic growth; the plan includes a mandatory energy audit and retrofit program, etc. Right.
First, claiming that any economy, especially ours, can survive another hundred years on petroleum is like saying that the Industrial Revolution could have gotten by with the horse and buggy. The days of cheap and plentiful oil are over. It costs more to exploit hard-to-get reserves (like U.S. shale oil) and it costs more to refine it and clean up the mess. It’s outdated.
Second, saving energy saves money and creates jobs. Efficient buildings slash gas and electric costs, in the same way that higher fuel standards have improved our gas mileage (and cleaned our air). Here in San Luis Obispo County, our economy is growing through investment in renewable resources. Beyond our borders, those “heavily regulated” states of Germany and northern Europe are pursuing energy independence more aggressively than the U.S., and their economies are outperforming ours.
Finally, you can look for that “mandatory audit” in the plan: www.slocounty.ca.gov/assets/pl/cap-luce/theplan.pdf.Can’t find it? That’s because it’s make-believe. Reality is more complex. After consultation with the real estate industry concerning foreclosures, short sales, and how they complicate covering the costs of energy audits, the approved plan calls for “exploring of options” and “collaborating” with stakeholders (including incorporated cities) in developing a workable approach to reduce emissions and increase efficiencies. In other words, county supervisors are looking for a flexible and common sense solution to reducing pollution and generating greater efficiencies, saving more money.
Of course, there will always be widely held delusions; it’s in our nature: one in four adults believe that the President of the United States is not a U.S. citizen. Forty percent of Americans believe that average global temperatures have not increased over the last four decades. Nearly 70 percent of Americans once believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. It’s the folly of fools.
Michael Latner is a citizen of Atascadero and professor of political science at Cal Poly.For the complete article see the 03-14-2012 issue.
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