Something I said on June 11 has been working on me since I first wrote it. In the story I did on the 1,400 mile Big Inch pipeline that was built from Longview, Texas to Linden, N.J. during World War II in only 54 weeks I said,
“We Baby Boomers are the children of people who got things done. And we have been living off of those accomplishments ever since (without really having to put ourselves out much).”
The truth of that statement is startling. Our parents and grandparents were doers. We have devolved into a bunch of talkers.
We Baby Boomers began taking the reins about 30 years ago. We inherited a nation that worked. The bridges, the highways, the refineries, the electric generating stations, the electric grid, the natural gas network, the telephone network, the hospitals, the military, the schools, the airports, the seaports, and the water treatment plants were all in place and functioning well. To the extent that we have provided any contribution to any of these things since, our contributions have been incremental.
By the time of our coming of age, our parents had created a world in which prosperity and lack of want had become the norm. Unlike those that went before us, we have never worried about getting enough to eat. In fact, we have to worry about eating too much. When we order something on Amazon, we get it one or two days later with the help of the Interstate Highway System — 46,000 miles of roads that network the entire nation — built by our parents.
We flip a switch and the lights come on. We pick up the phone and we’re connected to any phone of our choice out of tens of millions in seconds.
Our parents went from zero to walking on the moon in only ten years. Our parents freely took risks and we’ve been living off the rewards for the past 30 years.
And curiously, 30 years is a number that keeps coming up.
We all are unhappy with the high price of gasoline. Besides the high price of crude oil, one of the biggest factors in gasoline supplies is the lack of refining capacity. The last refinery built in America was built just over 30 years ago.
Many think we’re going to replace gasoline cars with electric cars. Not without more electric generating capacity we’re not. And guess when the last nuclear generating plant was licensed. That’s right, about 30 years ago.
We Baby Boomers, safely ensconced in the comfort provided by our parents, have refined our ability to talk and analyze and demagogue and litigate as a substitute for actually doing something. Construction on the World Trade Center began in 1966 and was completed in 1973, a total of seven years. It was just announced that the completion of the buildings to replace the World Trade Center has now been pushed back to at least 2013 with every likelihood that it will take even longer and cost even more than the latest revised estimates. Seven years for the originals. Twelve years and counting for the replacements.
We’re paying outrageous prices for gasoline because we’re not willing to run the risk of spilling some oil on the way from the well to the refinery. Our parents took that risk and gave us mobility – which is another word for freedom. We’re now unwilling to assume any of our own risk to keep that freedom.
Speaking of refineries, no one will build one today. Only the plaintiffs’ lawyers profit from the attempt to build a refinery. After the lawsuits are defended, there’s no profit left for the refiner.
Consider any major undertaking, such as those of our parents, and you are immediately confronted today by the omnipresence of environmentalists and their legion of attorneys.
It’s primarily environmentalists that stand in the way of increased oil drilling in the United States. Barack Obama defends that obstruction by saying that such drilling is pointless anyway because it won’t bear fruit for ten years. First, I don’t believe it will take ten years. Second, the fact that we became proactive would impact oil markets immediately. And third, that was the excuse ten years ago. Democrats talk about far-in-the-future energy technologies as an excuse for doing nothing about energy supplies today.
We’re at a tipping point. If we are to hand our kids a functioning, prosperous economy, we need to address our energy supply problem (along with many other problems too numerous for this column) and we need to address them now. We’ve been talking energy to death for 30 years. It’s now past the time to actually get something done.
Tom Brokaw wrote a great book about our parents called The Greatest Generation. If we don’t get to work and actually accomplish something before we’re too old, the book they write about us will be called, The Do Nothing Generation: How Baby Boomers Squandered Their Inheritance and Left Their Kids with Posturing Politicians, a Mountain of Debt and an Army of Plaintiffs’ Lawyers.