While Rome (and the Western US) Burns…

It’s officially election season, and (surprise) we’re off to a terrific start. There are plenty of very real short and medium term issues for the candidates to mold their ideologies around. Most notably, like much of the so-called “developed world,” the US has a jobs crisis, both in quantity and quality, that challenges modern capitalism for answers it does not have.

Yet at the same time, there is of course the undeniably accelerating crisis of human civilization, looming ever more visible on the horizon.

Isaac was no Katrina, but this year’s heat records and subsequent drought across the Western United States give new meaning to the phrase “red state,” as this map nicely illuminates:

Of course drought leads to fire, so the 2012 political conventions can literally be described as “fiddling while the West burns”, as this recent map from NASA depicts:

Mitt Romney is not stupid, and he understands risk and certainly risk with potentially catastrophic consequences threatening not only his handsome sons and beautiful grandchildren, but the freedom of the entire world as well. What did Mitt Romney have to say about climate change risk and the leadership role he would play in tackling it as the President of the free world?

He ridiculed – ridiculed – the current President’s woefully inadequate leadership on the challenge while reasserting Americans’ right to the self-interested (in the short run) individualism that is in direct conflict with his own faith, and in conflict with the example of self-sacrifice demonstrated by the greatest generation he praises later in his speech.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.”

That’s pathetic.

Tellingly, his reference to the greatest generation is in reference to an America that they “won for us” – not for all future generations, just “us.” Psychologists report that there is a rising trend of Americans scoring higher on tests designed to detect narcissism. No, Mitt Romney is not dumb. Is this just another piece of a clever, if highly cynical election strategy designed only to tell people what they want to hear? Our democracy is in grave trouble.

I began by calling the threat of climate change “undeniable,” but of course there remains a camp in America – one of the few places on earth – firmly in denial. Much ink has been spilled on the causes of climate change denial, including my own rough estimate that there is at least $20 Trillion of economic value riding on the avoidance of our day of reckoning with continued dependency on fossil fuels as our primary energy source. Where you stand depends on where you sit. I suspect America’s climate denial and Americans’ growing narcissism are related.

What remains a total mystery is why a man as capable and connected as Mitt Romney, whose experience is grounded in the private sector, and who is smart enough to see the clear and present danger that other credible free-market leaders ranging from Michael Bloomberg to Richard Branson can see, doesn’t jump at the opportunity to lead the great transition of capitalism itself into a new era.  Sitting right in front of us is the urgent need to transform our energy system from dirty oil and coal to clean renewables, to transform our agricultural system from unsustainable and health-destroying industrial to organic and sustainable, and in the process, to renew our economic vitality which will create the critical masses of jobs we desperately need.

There is no better individual to lead this transition than a political leader with the power of the presidency, who also understands first hand how the private sector and investment really works from first-hand experience. This is the largest private sector investment opportunity of all time, but one that will require supportive public sector resources and policies, and for sure will require legacy-defining leadership from the bully pulpit if we are to pull it off.

Looked at from a different perspective, how can Mitt Romney reconcile his apparent deeply held religious faith that holds life and God’s creation sacred, with a political platform that does not call for the bold leadership of a transition to a truly regenerative economy?

I don’t care about Mitt’s tax returns; I’ve got the picture. I know what founding and running Bain Capital means, and what it most certainly does not mean. What I want to know is how can a man of Mitt Romney’s accomplishments, who wants to be President of the United States, totally ignore the most pressing challenge facing mankind, and worse, actually mock his opponent’s attempts to address it – feeble as they were relative to the scale of the challenge.

Now, on to the Democratic convention. Oh joy.