Thursday, February 26, 2009

First Economic Triage, Then Pursue the Clean Energy Economy

America’s hurting. Patient USA is suffering a serious economic trauma and has for a while. And, instead of healing, it seems to be getting worse. The symptoms are obvious on every newspaper front page; with each new low of the stock market; at the top of every nightly news program; on streets with as many “for sale” signs as mailboxes. The less obvious pain is seen on monthly 401k statements, empty food shelves, lonely retail merchants and wrap-around lines at unemployment centers.

Our country needs economic triage more then ever. As a result, no matter how worthy, all the ideas and programs to promote the carbon-free, clean-energy economy of the future may be, they should be put on hold. They are hopeful luxuries that we cannot afford right now and that are distracting the nation from the triage that needs to occur.

I am not a medical expert, but I have extensive medical TV show watching experience going back decades to M*A*S*H, and more recently SCRUBS, ER, Grey’s Anatomy and, of course, House. And, what I have learned is that, when confronted by a medical trauma doctors pursue a three-step process: First, they stabilize the patient, addressing the trauma like stopping the gushing blood, restarting the heart, controlling the seizure or clearing airway passage, etc. If it is a big event with multiple traumas the doctors perform “triage,” where they sort out the injuries according to the severity of their trauma.

The next step is to identify and treat the cause of the trauma. Sometime this is easy like removing the bullet, fixing the fractures, sew-up the lacerations, etc. In other times it is very hard, as the symptoms point to conflicting or multiple causes…liver damage, cancer, diabetes, allergic reaction, bug bite or some very rare disease. It is this search for the mysterious cause that makes House and even PBS’s Medical Mysteries so interesting.

Once trauma causation is established the doctors then prescribe recuperative therapy to make sure the trauma doesn’t reoccur, repair the patient’s physical health, and restore their psychological well-being. Of course, these elements blur depending on the trauma….how doctors treat a car accident trauma is different from someone afflicted with a cancer, but the 3-step “stabilize-treat-recovering therapy” is the common approach.

Unfortunately, the nation’s economic doctors are not implementing the medical three-step process in reverse. Yes, the problem is so big, growing and has so many moving parts. But that’s why doctors work through the three steps. Instead, our economic doctors are skipping the first two steps and rushing forward with bailouts, policy plans, stimulus packages, lopsided budgets that claim the cure is a carbon-free economy, low carbon fuels, California car standards. But the problem grows more severe.

In the mean time people are being thrown out of work and retirement accounts are getting pummeled. This seems like treating a gun shot patient arriving at the ER with a visionary lecture of how great their life will be if they start eating better, get more sleep, doing yoga and begin taking Omega-3 for their heart.

Don’t get me wrong…just about everyone should probably eat better and get more sleep, and I do enjoy my yoga….and I truly do think we must pursue green jobs, renewables and reduce our carbon footprint…but that time is not now. It is not what the patient, the state or the economy needs at this moment. It’s time for real economic triage; its time to help people put food on their tables; its time to restore confidence in the financial systems. Only once we have done that can we return to implementing the needed carbon-free, clean-energy restorative therapies.

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