Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pre-Millenium Tension

Before I dive in to my next intractibly large post that weighs in on themes to broad to possibly sum up in a single short essay, let alone some academic article, I would just like to say this: Freedom From Blog is fucking awesome. Take this post as one example. Put it on your list of daily things to read, so that you can say you liked them before they were cool.

I'm in the process of reading The Long Emergency, James Kunstler's apparent rebuttal to those Julian Simon-inspired Long Boom missives from the age of soon-to-be-realized global prosperity. If I am already sounding skeptical of warnings of coming doom and/or clarion calls of coming utopias, it's because the various histories of the future have proved to be invariably and utterly wrong. The whole bio-/eco-/socio-/whatevero- system in which we exist is a chaotic amalgam susceptible to infinite factors small and large, and you're likely to have as much luck predicting the future by observing the flap of butterfly wings as global peak oil production.

I do, generally, find Kunstler's arguments pretty persuasive: our way of life, in America and more generally the developed world, is based on the fact that oil is cheap and readily available. We can live in the suburbs, eat fruit from California, wear nylon, raise mega-cattle on mega-farms, and buy lots of cheap plastic things because power from burning fossil fuels is extremely easy to get. The second point is that running out of oil is not the problem so much as the fact that once we reach the point where we are pumping out the maximum amount of oil that will ever be produced, we're screwed. Demand will keep increasing, but supply will never again be able to catch up (this is the so called "Peak Oil" point). Kunstler goes on to argue that none of the current alternative energies will be able to take the place of oil. He further argues that, therefore, there will be a bunch of wars and terrible conflagrations as our societies, built upon fossil fuel burning, fight to the death over the dwindling supply of it (and all of this is, of course, quite apart from global warming).

It's not, then, that I don't believe in the dark nature and/or stupidity of humans to kill a whole bunch of ourselves in order to merely put off something that's going to happen anyway (and maybe I shouldn't call it stupidity--we have an animal nature and it's apparently hardwired to protect our own genes at the possible cost of all others, such that it should not be surprising when we try to kill a bunch of Them so that We can live long enough to reproduce again. Maybe that's just as far as we're capable of seeing). (Question: what has to happen so that this urge is bred out of us? Will the Red In Tooth and Claw parts of us always survive because, well, they are what made us survive in the first place? Discuss). It's more that I am highly skeptical of the argument that we are living at The End Of Days. This argument has always already been made, and it has always (already) been wrong. "Repent, the end is nigh" is oft repeated. So far, the end has yet to be nigh. I'm sure a recession is coming (GWB has made sure of that) and there's probably a depression right behind it, made more likely the longer we insist on trying to milk the petroleum lifestyle. And, if we elect our Red-in-Tooth-And-Claw nature into office again, there'll be some more wars. It'll probably suck. It probably won't be the End of The World.

Next: Less Gloom! More Doom!
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