Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Coming of Deindustrial Society: A Practical Response: "With the coming of Peak Oil and the beginning of long-term, irreversible declines in the availability of fossil fuels (along with many other resources), modern industrial civilization faces a wrenching series of unwelcome transitions. This comes as a surprise only for those who haven't been paying attention. More than thirty years ago, the Club of Rome's epochal study The Limits to Growth pointed out that unless something was done, a global economy based on fantasies of perpetual growth would collide disastrously with the hard limits of a finite planet sometime in the early twenty-first century. The early twenty-first century is here, nothing was done, and the consequences are arriving on schedule. The road that would have brought industrial society through a transformation to sustainability turned out to be the road not taken. The question that remains is what we can do with the limited time we have left."

"There are specific practical things that can be done, right now, to deal with the hard realities of our situation. The problem is that most of them are counterintuitive, and fly in the face of very deeply rooted attitudes on all sides of the political spectrum.

"The first point that has to be grasped is that proposals for system-wide, top-down change - getting the Federal government to do something constructive about the situation, for instance - are a waste of time. That sort of change isn't going to happen. It's not simply a matter of who's currently in power, although admittedly that doesn't help. The core of the problem is that even proposing changes on a scale that would do any good would be political suicide.

"Broadly speaking, our situation is this: our society demands energy inputs on a scale, absolute and per capita, that can't possibly be maintained for more than a little while longer. Sustainable energy sources can only provide a small fraction of the energy we're used to getting from fossil fuels."

"Quite a few people nowadays are insisting that it's not true, that we can continue our present lavish, energy-wasting lifestyle indefinitely by switching from oil to some other energy source: hydrogen, biodiesel, abiotic oil, fusion power, "free energy" technology, and so on down the list of technological snake oil. Crippling issues of scale, and the massive technical problems involved in switching an oil-based civilization to some other fuel in time to make a difference, stand in the path of such projects, but those get little air time; if we want endless supplies of energy badly enough, the logic seems to be, the universe will give it to us. The problem is that the universe did give it to us - in the form of immense deposits of fossil fuels stored up over hundreds of millions of years of photosynthesis - and we wasted it. Now we're in the position of a lottery winner who's spent millions of dollars in a few short years and is running out of money. The odds of hitting another million-dollar jackpot are minute, and no amount of wishful thinking will enable us to keep up our current lifestyle by getting a job at the local hamburger joint."

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