Tuesday, March 14, 2006

do no harm

Reader Bill drew my attention to this comment of mine a while back.

You said:
"The impediments human battle in maintaining civilization are mainly cultural
not technical...
I found this an amazing statement to be found on a discussion of Peak Oil where most folks seem to be talking about physical survival and techno-fixes or the lack thereof. Can you expand on your statement? How I understand it is the centerpiece of my work (www.sacredearthnetwork.org) so your comments would be appreciated.

I strongly believe that we have a cultural problem, not a technical one.

Here at the peak of available energy, immersed in a culture of waste, an industrial civilization when presented with a large problem will try to solve it with a larger problem.

For example, the imagined nuclear paradise that will “bridge us” to our abundant energy future. Huh? Manufacture poison and store it at random around the continent so as every household in America can have five televisions stored at 72 degrees Fahrenheit? Can we just conserve and switch to wind power instead?

Consider agriculture. Without cheap oil at hand, North America will hopefully take her cue from Cuba. The good white collar jobs in 2015 will all be in high yield organic farming, not “information technology”. There won’t be enough energy available to engage in risky, bullshit ventures like switchgrass ethanol on a widespread scale. The most efficient use of plant energy will be to feed the people who tend the plants.

This would seem to be beneficial in the long run for a culture. Kind of a bright green future. Some people seem to think they can do the bio-sphere better than what exists, a splice here, a glowing frog there. Maybe. I’d like to start by preserving the working system that exists.

Industry must be scaled such that they become provably sustainable. I am not advocating for Amish style communities here. I don’t think the way any individual group lives and sustains is important, simply that the largest cities take care in sustaining, likewise the smallest communities.

As a starting guideline, engineering should focus on the least toxic alternatives for every task, and when toxins are generated by man (as they also are by nature) they should not be shunted through public sewers and into the oceans. This is exactly what happens presently. The result is that bio-additive heavy metals, drugs, and toxins are sold to farmers as “fertilizer” and end up in your tomatoes. Once applied to a layer of soil, heavy metals will stay put for thousands of years.

I could go on for quite a long time with examples, but I think the point of separation between the culture we have now, and what we must do to survive with grace and style are pretty clear.

Our boot is so heavy on this planet that the feel good myth of America, a little capitalist plot we can each call home, has failed. It is pointless to subdivide the world and engage in the stupid, stupid tragedy of the commons when we are elbow to elbow with our neighbors. When fishing boats jostle in the same waters for declining ocean fish. When forests are leveled so catalogues can print words like “teak” and “mahogany”. So you can eat beef every day. Delicious, tastes like water table.

Instead of dividing and shuffling wealth, the world has been rendered small enough that it should be apparent to all civilizations on this planet that there is a collective burden and the responsibility to fix the damage done. To repair what we’ve broken. It certainly is physically possible, unless perhaps we’ve broken the carbon cycle. (Hope not.) Not only is it physically possible, but it is a perfectly valid “industry” for humans to engage in.

The failure is one of imagination. The failure is in thinking that wealth stolen from other parts of the world is sustainable. No. The world is finite.

If you own a computer, you live in a bubble of stolen wealth with me.
Where do your responsibilities lie?
This is not a guilt trip.


4 Comments:

At 2:19 PM, March 15, 2006, Anonymous JB said...

How do you propose to change culture sufficiently quickly to avoid the collapse of modern society? The Great Depression created a culture of frugality, but that was lost a long time ago. I don't see how any amount of education will effect the sort of changes of which you speak. Only hardship and necessity will do that. I wouldn't mind being proven wrong, but I think culture is more difficult to change than technology.

 
At 6:57 PM, March 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is needed is another great depression to re-teach it.
as for agriculture, it's natural gas that is used to make the fertilizer not oil. though it realy doesn't help that natural gas is in just as bad or worse shape.

 
At 7:18 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger KCAA said...

jb said, "Only hardship and necessity will do that."

Yes, and we'll have hardship and necessity or there will be no change. Without hardship, it will not be possible to convince people to change anything. The largest generation in American history has grown up with energy opulence. You can't expect them to give that up for no reason.

Recall that the Civil War baby boom also grew up in financial boom times. They were crushed in the Great Depression, but their children learned how to be frugal and work hard and got the nation through World War II.
High energy consumption "modern society" is a relatively new creation. People lived well enough before it, and while it would be disruptive, we can wring a great deal of energy use out of our lives. It may feel like we personally are going through that wringer, but I fully expect Americans to eventually come around and make whatever changes are needed - after screwing up just about everything in a vain attempt to avoid making the needed changes.

I'm saving my prayers for the third world, our young people who are now and will be sent to die in hostile countries to secure the oil that's available, and the people who will die trying to stop us from stealing that oil. Like any other addict, America will be willing to steal and kill to get that oil fix. That's already begun.

 
At 10:58 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Thanks for the comments.

I think I have a hope that the oil will disappear slowly enough (but not too slow..) that the belt tightening will be painful, but not catastrophic.

I certainly agree with jb in that culture is more difficult to change than technology. Technology is often just a gloss on a way of life that started with the abundant oil wealth of the twenties.

 

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