Beyond Quick Fixes

We seem culturally opposed to long-term solutions.  Our healthcare system is dramatically underperforming, as is our education system.  Perhaps an infusion of targeted incentives would fix things.  It hasn’t and won’t. 

The consequences of climate change and global warming include fires, storms and flooding that are massively destructive.  We provide billions of dollars in disaster relief and resources to rebuild.  We wait for the next disaster and then invest again.

Can’t we get ahead of these problems?  Not in a 1-2 year budget cycle.  We need long-term solutions that are well planned, resourced, and executed.  We need to be concerned with the health of the country, not how best to distribute bandaids.

What is holding us back?  The highly fragmented nature of our political system keeps us focused on “we” versus ”them.”  Winning is much more important than addressing real problems.  Winning gains votes.  Solving real problems takes time.

We need a massive educational effort to enable all citizens to understand the true natures of problems and realistic approaches to addressing these problems.  We need a coalition of stakeholders committed to the realities of the challenges we face.

Why will this be supported?  It has been found that shared experiences of health calamities, educational outcome deficits, and environmental disasters will eventually increase support, as people’s experiences greatly affect what they believe.  So, once sea level rise, and its consequences, destroys Houston, Miami, New Orleans, and New York City, many more people will believe these outcomes are happening.

These new believers will join with other believers in an outcry that we need to do something.  This will, of course, be quite difficult once these cities are under water.  The blame game will follow, with each side of the aisle in Congress pointing at the other side.  The outcry will be sufficiently strident that newly arrived threats will be ignored, drown in the rhetoric.

What new threats?  Well, we do not fully understand the possibilities that will result from global warming.  Will we have to invest many billions of dollars to rebuild Florida – every year?  Are we going to build very expensive seawalls around the cities threatened by seal level rise?  How will we address the public health consequences of repeated assaults on water supplies, waste water treatment?  Too much water in the wrong places can have pervasive consequences.

Having spent considerable time in both places, my sense is that The Netherlands and Singapore are really good at anticipating and planning for these types of problems.  They expect to invest now to save in the long term.  We need to get much better at thinking this way and investing accordingly.  Otherwise, near-term crises will repeatedly deplete our budgets and preempt doing anything else.

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