Taking on the belief that technotoys will allow the status quo to continue
James Howard Kunstler, dyspeptic critic and peak oil Paul Revere, nails the people whose approach to the twin calamities of global heating and peak oil is to spend all their time trying to cobble together the McGyver solution that saves the day, rather than trying to adapt to the new, low-energy imperative.
My belief is that the more time we spend trying to find the McGuyvers, the more likely we are to respond poorly when we find that no amount of McGuyvers are going to allow us to maintain the carburban dreamscape.
Most particularly, I fear that the more energy (psychic and economic) we invest in trying to maintain the status quo, the more likely we are to decide that the skull-and-crossbones markings on the “coal to liquids” box really is just “doom and gloomerism” that really doesn’t apply to us, because hey, we really need that liquid fuel …
Kunstler says it better than I do:
It only made me more nervous, because this longing for “solutions,” strikes me as a free-floating wish for magical rescue remedies, for techno-fixes that will allow us to make a hassle-free switch from fossil hydrocarbon power to something less likely to destroy the Earth’s ecosystems (and human civilization with it). And I think such a wish is, in itself, at the root of our problem — certainly at the bottom of our incapacity to think clearly about these things.
I said so, of course, which seemed to piss off a substantial number of my fellow festival attendees.
My position on this can be easily misunderstood. I don’t want civilization to collapse (I like Mozart and access to root canal). I don’t want Homo sapiens to go extinct, or the planet to parboil. I certainly don’t believe in doing nothing in the face of this emergency. But I also don’t believe we are going to make any hassle-free switch in the way we run things — or that we should want to. Would the USA be a better place if we could run Wal-Mart and Las Vegas on wind power? I don’t think so. Would the public benefit from another hundred years of suburban living — and an economy based largely on creating ever more of it? All the Prozac in the universe would not avail to offset the diminishing returns of that bullshit.
In my travels, I have noticed a disturbing theme among the educated minority of eco-advocates: they are every bit as dedicated to the status quo (in their own way) as the NASCAR morons and shopping mall developers. The eco-advocates want cars, too, and all the prerogatives (like free parking and country living) that go with them, just like the WalMart shoppers. If this were not so, then why do the eco-advocates cream in their jeans whenever somebody presents a snazzy new vehicle that runs on a fuel other than gasoline? Indeed, why are some of the eco-friendly pouring all their efforts into the invention of such things instead of into walkable communities and the reform of our stupid land-use laws?
I encountered this ethos most strikingly a few years back at Middlebury College in Vermont, where angry biodiesel advocates assailed my lack of enthusiasm for their particular “solution” — which seemed geared mainly to allow them to continue to drive their dad’s old cast-off SUVs to the snowboarding venues of that progressive little state. But the wish to keep running all our cars permeates what little public discussion there is of the global warming / energy crisis issues at all levels. Even the elder statesmen of the eco-movement talk it up incessantly. The first great victory will come when they shut up about it and put their minds to other tasks.
The eco-advocate community is still hooked into the Faustian bargain of technology with little consciousness of its diminishing returns, and to some extent have made themselves unwitting tools of the truly clueless and wicked who run business and politics in our land. With this particular group in Telluride, which was composed heavily of Boomer eco-adventurers (mountain climbers, trekkers, kayakers), the infatuation with ever-cooler adventuring techno-gear extended naturally, it seemed, to their uncritical view of magical techno-fixes aimed at “solving” the climate / oil mess.