The “coulda-woulda-shoulda” excuse

It’s really mind-boggling to me how easy it is for people to exclaim “Why didn’t someone do something?” As if individually we aren’t each “someone.”

I suppose it’s code for the head-in-the-sand approach we take to assuming that someone is looking out for us, and that the benevolent “Someone” wouldn’t consciously let us come to harm. It’s a way of letting ourselves off the hook for our complicity in creating a crisis by our action, inaction, lack of willpower or courage to see that today will, eventually, become Someday.

We’ve heard it plenty in recent months. Why didn’t Someone do something to stop the banks from making all those mortgages? Same story with Bernie Madoff. For heaven’s sake, why didn’t Someone do something to stop him from stealing those people’s money?

Who wanted to listen to warnings of a real estate bubble or those who questioned how we might unwind those newfangled packaged mortgage loans upon which so much prosperity was dependent. The ratings agencies said those assets were good investments. They were the Someone looking out for us and they said things were fine. Greenspan and the free-market capitalists said the market would regulate itself and people would never use the market to do something against their self interest. They urged us to “Continue on as usual.” And, we did. We continued on, despite the mounting warnings. We didn’t want to hear them.

Now, in the middle of the Great Recession, we cry – “Why didn’t Someone do Something?!?” That’s the way we’ve been, assuming that Someone is watching out for us. We’ve discovered that the Someone we were relying on fed us a big fat line. One we swallowed hook, line and sinker because we loved the taste of it and we couldn’t stand the smell of the reality warnings we were getting. We shook off our own good judgment and believed that Someday would never come.

We have been selfish and lazy enough to be fooled by companies who are willing to say anything to put their profit first. Yes, even if it kills us. We believed Big Tobacco when they said they had no idea smoking caused cancer. Turned out, they lied. So did the oil companies by telling us that oil had no limits and global warming is a farce. The coal companies are doing it now with their “clean coal” scam. Why do we trust these companies? They are not the Someone who will protect us from the consequences of our actions. Each of us, individually, and all of us, collectively, is the Someone we are waiting for! The real question is, are you courageous enough and strong enough to do what it takes? Or will you be one of the chorus of the masses singing that worn out refrain, “Why didn’t Someone do Something?” when it is too late on yet another crisis. A real one, that no bailout will solve.

For over TWENTY YEARS – the scientific community has been warning us about global warming, climate change and its catastrophic impact. Not just our money, our very physical survival is at stake this time. It’s been politicized. That what companies do when they put their profit before your well-being, they make you wonder whether there’s a way you can continue your risky behavior without having to pay the consequences.

Let’s face it. We’ve liked it that there’s been controversy around this topic. It means we can continue on “business as usual” with a blind hope that Someone will do Something when it’s serious enough, but that we won’t have to give up anything or face any real consequences for our refusal to face reality now. Historical statistics told us that housing prices couldn’t sustain 30% year over year growth. We ignored the facts, hoping things would be different for us.

Statistics tell us that, unless we make hard decisions and change our carbon producing behavior and its impact on our atmosphere, we will face devastation. Will we ignore those warnings too, simply because Someday seems so far off? Melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought, deforestation, ravaging fires, too many people using too many resources that are disappearing all too rapidly. Please! Avert your gaze, hold your nose. After all, it’s not a crisis – just all the signs that one is coming. No reason to really act, our kids can deal with the eventual consequences. We’ve already ensured that they will be managing our collapsed Social Security system and the weight of several trillion dollars in deficit. I’m sure they can also mop up climate change, too. It’s good for them, it builds character – so party on, dudes, not our problem, right?

Whether you agree with me or are a confirmed denier, our economy is suffering – badly. We have become a consumption based, not a production based, economy reliant on foreign oil and that’s bad for our future. We need to get serious about moving from low-growth, high-pollution industries to high-growth, low-pollution industries that can get the millions of people in this country back to work. Climate change policy will drive investment into the high-growth clean energy sector creating millions of real jobs. To maximize the economic benefits of climate change legislation, we need to ensure the legislation is effective and efficient. That’s what will rebuild a strong US based and US produced renewable energy industry and it’s the way to begin rebuilding our economy immediately. A necessary by-product and benefit will be improvements in the environment, air, water and global sustainability.

Stop looking away and hoping Somebody does Something. Stand up. Be Somebody and do Something. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Be part of the debate. Call your Senator and Congressman about the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) which is set for debate this week in Congress. This Wednesday is Earth Day. Get involved like I have with groups like, Defenders of Wildlife, or or be prepared to hang your head in shame when your kids cry “Why didn’t Somebody do Something?” and your answer is “I CouldaShouldaWoulda.”

Denise Palmieri is Director of Client Relations for Pinnacle Group International and a resolute air breather.