Saturday, August 29, 2009

Doomsday Is Not Necessarily Doomsday

Assuming I live as long as my grandparents have lived, I may live to see some very interesting changes indeed.

Life as it is currently lived, the way we distribute and exchange things now, depends on resources that are running out. I am not willing to bet a dollar we are going to make meaningful changes before there is a crisis. Heck, the crisis is already getting underway. The effect of climate change alone (whatever one argues about its origins) is exerting its effect on the economy -- which of course means only now is it a 'real' issue.

So when the oil is finally scarce enough that its price balloons, and gas prices explode; as coal becomes too costly to produce to be cheap; to the extent we have lagged in backing up these resources with renewable energy technology; things are gonna change drastically.

There is much talk of improving efficiency now, but the notion of reducing use is still verboten. It reminds me a bit of the way Los Angeles deals with traffic congestion by expanding the freeways. The effect is a bit like controlling your obesity by letting out your pants: the tendency is to expand when you open up more room.

So it is with efficiency. There was a very good article about this concept this week by Don Fitz of the Green Party:

Energy efficiency is like putting energy on sale. If you insulate your home, get a fuel efficient car, or buy an appliance that runs on less electricity, then your energy costs go down. This makes it cheaper to use energy. Just as making energy more expensive means people will use less, making energy cheaper (or more efficient) leads to the expectation that people will use more.

The doomsday scenario is that we are reaching the end of our petri dish and, like a culture studied by high school biology students, we will inevitably expand and consume everything until we suffocate in our own excrement.

More likely, methinks, is that we will reach the end of our imagined petri dish. We will have to make choices that previously have been unimaginable to us, to radically change our relations and our arrangements once the choice is no longer ours to make.

Talk about revolution from the grass-roots! That would literally be revolution forced by the grass roots.

The Fitz article, as you will have seen if you clicked the link, is pro-rationing, and examines some theories about equitable ways to do that. Carbon rationing will be a difficult sell in a nation that values consumer liberty -- don't tell us how much energy we can use, just send me the bill and shut up.

The notion that we have already passed a tipping point, or an "oh shit moment," vis a vis our climate is not new. But it isn't really an "oh shit moment" until human beings feel what is happening and conjure the changing of an era by saying, "oh shit!" and doing something. Until then, we are still in a stage of denial. We put funny-looking light bulbs in our lamps and dutifully sort our trash and otherwise carry on as we have. This of course makes the later confrontation more dramatic and difficult.

If it comes to rationing, I hope the system put in place is equitable and fair. That's going to depend on who says, "Oh shit" first, and what they do. It might be a lot easier if we start discussing our options sooner rather than later, and start envisioning what changes we might have to make in the way we get stuff, the way we sell stuff, and the way we share it.

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