Monday, November 15, 2010

Why private industry will not save us from peak oil: A Fifteen Minute Writing Exercise

It is a common belief that technology and private industry will save us from dwindling resources and peak oil by developing flex fuel or battery power vehicles. However, when analyzing other industries, the private sector has made certain technological advances, but not necessarily for the public benefit. Private sector businesses are often solely focused on profit, and other endeavors, to benefit the public, fall by the wayside.

For example, how the pharmaceutical industry seeks likely illnesses and diseases to develop curative medicines. There are countless blood pressure medicines on the market, or drugs to treat depression. But what about rare cancers that people still suffer from, what are industries doing for those individuals? Research and development is often spent in areas likely to reap a reward.

Similarly, our food industry has fallen victim to private sector profit mongering. Highly processed foods are more profitable and food makers are pulling all the stops to increase profit and drive down quality. Hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics are all used to keep our food systems “productive,” but what is the value in producing food that makes people ill? All the side effects from this system are placed outside of the economic model. The fact that highly processed foods are likely to cause diabetes is never a line item on the balance sheet.

Likewise, why would private industry automobile and energy companies go out of their way to produce alternative fuel vehicles for the common good? They would be taking a risk, even though peak oil is upon us, they have a profit margin to worry about. In this instance, capitalism is not pushing competitiveness, it is a lame duck with each company daring the other to take the leap and “pave the way.” In these economic times, who is going to reach out and be the Ford of the new century?