Wednesday, February 16, 2005

ideas don’t cut wheat

I am a big fan of the crew at World Changing and technically savvy optimistic futurists in general. At the same time, I would like to know, with what energy are we going to build our bright green future? Literally; that is not rhetorical; I want to know.

Tech friendly optimism is the basically the culture I soaked in throughout the latter nineties, during which time the bubble economy fed webocrats such as myself nipple piercings and a sense of entitlement. This philosophy perhaps reached its apex in 1999, with The Long Boom, published first in Wired magazine and then fleshed out as a book. It described progress and the world economy as a straight line to heaven with the twentieth century as the midpoint.

Sites like World Changing disgorge endless positive ideas for the future-as-a-verb, thinking which encompasses the best of the past while sloughing off the worst. To the extent that this may be a utopian endeavor, it is likewise a valuable one. Consider the popularity of Star Trek, which imagines a future where money is abolished as a necessity of life. This humanist dream is achievable if free energy is achievable.

Unfortunately there is no free energy just yet. We’ve got to weigh ideas against energy at hand. We’re on a budget. It may be “raining soup”, but our soup catchers are not up to snuff. Our cheapest energy sources today, oil and natural gas, will rapidly become more expensive in the coming years as they deplete. This constrains our future every day into a tighter and tighter collection of possible outcomes, a nuclear-coal broulet.

Bruce Sterling recently said, talking about climate change:

Envisioning mayhem is not much of a challenge for us pros.
Though some fools and naifs may remain ignorant of the causes of their growing distress, everybody will have to deal with that dark vision becoming reality, because we'll be left with no choice. Envisioning a way up and out of that, now that's the true challenge to the contemporary imagination.

This applies to Peak Energy as well, no surprise as climate change is the energy doppelganger. It is dead easy to imagine the mayhem that Peak Energy will cause in our civilization, hard to imagine solutions. At the same time, I take umbrage at the notion that we can wish these frightening scenarios away, and then pat ourselves on the back for being visionaries. Every techie geek toy I might wish to take with me into a bright green future is presently manufactured with, and transported by, petroleum. Ideas don’t cut wheat.

It is not enough to assert that the mayhem of Peak Energy in particular will not apply to our future world, simply because a bevy of alternatives have been considered. Reality and urgency should be the foundation on which we build our future. We’ve got to include the negative implications to generate positive solutions. Peak oil is two years away, by the very best numbers we have, if it didn’t happen five minutes ago.

Despite the gloomy scenarios spun by the peak oil sites, I believe we must strive take the best of our culture with us into a bright green future. This might seem contradictory, yet is not. It is all part of the process. Diagnosing cancer means you have a shot at a cure.

I want a renewable future, and I ain’t talking horse and buggy.
I think the Amish suck, and their way of life is boring.
We’re running out of time to do better.


At 2:35 PM, February 16, 2005, Blogger Phila said...

I think you're asking exactly the right questions, and that your sense of the dilemma we face is correct. My short response is that the positive viewpoint is, above all, an essential rhetorical stance...a matter of framing, basically.

My long answer is something I'll have to think about, and post over at my place.

At 10:25 PM, February 16, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

I look forward to it. Framing is important, using words, images or thought. The rubber will meet the road, if not vice versa.

At 12:08 PM, February 18, 2005, Blogger Phila said...

By the way, I laughed out loud at "I think the Amish suck." I want a bumpersticker!


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