Columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times, a stalwart advocate for reinforced infrastructure  and an eloquent defender of the unemployed , of over-stressed and under-supplied soldiers , and other victims of neglect, is usually moderate in temperament as he shows concern for the subject at hand. But in a recent column titled “Our Epic Foolishness ” he’s hot under the collar—the frustration steams from his ears—and with good reason. We’re right there with him.*
For a nation that can’t stop bragging about how great and powerful it is, we’ve become shockingly helpless in the face of the many challenges confronting us. Our can-do spirit was put on hold many moons ago, and here we are now unable to defeat the Taliban, or rein in the likes of BP and the biggest banks, or stop the oil gushing furiously from the bowels of earth like a warning from Hades about the hubris and ignorance that is threatening to destroy us.
Then Herbert gets to the action part (that means us):
However and whenever the well gets capped, what we really need is leadership that calls on the American public to begin coping in a serious and sustained way with an energy crisis that we’ve been warned about for decades. If the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history is not enough to bring about a reversal of our epic foolishness on the energy front, then nothing will.
What can we as individuals do? Conserve more. Turn thermostats down, or up, depending on the season. Walk or ride a bike when possible. Conserving energy, says Herbert, is “a way of combating the pervasive feelings of helplessness that have become so demoralizing and so destructive to our long-term interests.” He also recommends a carbon tax .
A New Manhattan Project
Above all, I’d like to see the creation of a second Manhattan Project  that would lead us in a few years to an environment in which alternative fuels are abundant, effective and affordable. We are a pathetically weak player in that game right now.
Instead of staring mesmerized at the tragedy in the gulf, like spectators at a train wreck, we should be trying to regain that innovative can-do spirit that made America the greatest of nations.
All around us is the wreckage of our failure to master the challenges confronting us. We see it in the many millions of Americans who remain out of work and whose hopes are not rising despite all the talk of economic recovery. We see it in the schools where teachers are walking the plank by the scores of thousands because of state and local budget problems.
We see it in the shrinking middle class and in the black community where depressionlike conditions are fostering not just a sense of helplessness, but despair.
What’s needed is dynamic leadership (it doesn’t have to come from the top) to reinvigorate the spirit of America and turn that sense of helplessness around.
We’re Screwed, But We’re Not Helpless
Hear that, dear readers? Leadership doesn’t have to come from Washington. Don’t wait for the president or Congress to act. Don’t wait for the mayor or governor. Educate yourselves. We have quoted before (and we shall again) the labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837–1930) who used to advise, “Sit down and read. Educate yourself  for the coming conflicts.” We recommend, for starters, these basic guides to on alternative and sustainable energy, which we ordered from Amazon today:
Alternative Energy for Dummies  by Rik DeGunther (gotta start somewhere, right?) and
And while you’re waiting for your books to come in, contact the White House and Congress  and any local official you can reach and demand starting now a shift away from oil and coal toward electric cars, public transportation, high-speed trains, and renewable, alternative energy technologies such as wind power, geothermal, possibly clean nuclear (the French use it safely), and so on.
Read up on the Waxman-Markey energy bill  passed by the House last May (the American Clean Energy and Security Act) and senators Kerry and Lieberman’s American Power Act . (with contributions from Lindsey Graham). Push the Senate to pass it soon, and tell the President to stand up and fight for it.
* One of the bloggers  we follow often introduces a well-made point with the heading, “I wish I could write like —.” That’s how we feel today about Bob Herbert. Write like him, think like him . . . And this won’t be the last time.