Being responsible for my actions is one of the core values that frames how I view current issues. When we are part of a large group, we often displace our sense of personal responsibility onto the group and ignore issues that need our attention.
The U.S. national debt is over $21 trillion – larger than our gross domestic product (the amount of goods and services we produce in a year). For me, $21 trillion is a hard number to understand – it is easier to understand that if we were to divide this debt up between the 126 million households in the United States, it is as if each household owes a debt of $160,000. And the debt continues to grow. We keep borrowing more money to run government instead of being responsible and spending only what we can afford. Year over year we are unwilling to tax ourselves the same amount that we spend on programs and benefits. One important difference between this and personal debt is that we pass our federal debt on to our children and our grandchildren. We also appear unwilling to talk about the real expenses driving our national debt – increasing expenditures on Social Security and Medicare. We have known about these issues for years, and we choose not to address them.
To be responsible, I believe we need to address our budget deficits, align spending with how much we are willing to tax ourselves, and start reducing the debt we are passing on to our children.
We also need to accept responsibility for climate change. Our actions – collectively around the globe – have caused the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air to rise by almost 50 percent. We continue to rely on the same fuels and practices that caused this change and the concentration in the air continues to rise year after year after year. We have had solid science available to us for years indicating that this will have consequences, especially for our children and our grandchildren. Yet we are not willing to make changes to be responsible for our actions. And, like our debt, we do not hold meaningful conversations about the causes, the consequences or the actions we can take to change.
There are solutions for climate change. We have technology solutions for alternate sources of energy that do not emit CO2 – like wind, solar, hydro and nuclear. We have technology for more energy efficiency – probably the best tool in our basket for short-term gains.
We also have solid policy proposals that will encourage our changes while still providing people the freedom to choose how they respond and allowing people to creatively pursue new technologies instead of having government bureaucracies pick winners and losers. Policy options like the carbon dividends plan from the Climate Leadership Council or from Citizens’ Climate Lobby would create meaningful change, allow the United States to lead in international negotiations, and would foster market-driven solutions and advances. And these solutions would not hurt the US economy.
It is time to be responsible. It is time to talk more about the problems we are passing on to our children and to work toward implementing solutions – for our financial national debt and for our climate debt.