Don’t Fear the Future

Whenever our country goes into an economic downturn we have outbreaks of Chicken Littles crying the sky is falling.  In today’s New York Times there is an article “Imagining Life Without Oil” by John Leland.  Leland profiles new groups claiming the end is near because oil is running out.  Kevin Kelly gives all Chicken Littles a modern name,  Collapsitarians, which is a good enough word for me.  Science fiction has always loved Collapsitarian stories.  While some people like to plot a future where everything gets better, other people like to plot a downward slope for civilization. 

These end of oil is near folks will love The Windup Girl, which just won a Nebula and has a good chance of winning the Hugo in a few months.  But bleak stories of the future should only be lessons in teaching us what to avoid.

We have a weird national psychology, when things are booming on Wall Street everyone thinks they’re going be billionaires, but when stock prices head south, everyone thinks the USA will become a set for Mad Max chaos.  Few people see life as merely a bumpy road.

Our world has only depended on oil for a little over a hundred years.  Even if we’ve reach peak production like the Collapsitarians claim, it doesn’t mean all our tanks will go empty on the same day.  It will take decades to finish off the global supplies of petroleum.  We should have plenty of time to transition to new energy technologies.  Oil disasters like current Gulf Coast nightmare, and the evil Avatar like rape of the Amazon, only illustrates it’s time to give up the oil habit.

The problem is not oil, but people.  What the Collapsitarians fear is society going through withdrawal from it’s oil addiction and how painful that will be.  The Gulf Coast oil disaster only teaches us how painful living with oil is, like a heroin addict realizing their drug is destroying their body.  What we need to do is man up, admit our problem, go on a global 12 step treatment program, and change our lives.  That will certainly be less painful than what the doomsters are predicting.

Many Americans have embraced Big Oil like evangelicals embracing Jesus – they put all their faith in the word of Big Oil.  Whereas, the Big Oil companies should merely transition to thinking of themselves as Big Energy companies and embrace alternative forms of energy themselves, rather than trying to stomp out alternative energies as heretics of the faithful.

Just applying conservation techniques and energy efficiency should match the rate of oil production decline for a few decades.  The eight Bush years has nearly ruined our chances of becoming the world leaders in green technology, but we could still catch up if we stop running around crying the sky is falling.  We must fight the Drill Baby Drill desire with Build Baby Build competition of constructing massive green energy producing sites.  We have to transfer our faith in oil and coal to wind, solar, bio-fuels,  geothermal, nuclear and all the other emerging technologies.

Actually, we have two major addictions, oil and coal, like heroin and cocaine, that we need to throw off.  The way to fight negative addictions, is with positive additions, like a alcoholic who goes on the wagon and takes up running.  Things might look bad now, and bad on numerous fronts, but there are lots of positive fronts too.  Too many people see the gloom in each scenario.  For example the health care crisis.  Yes, it’s costing us too much.  But on the other hand, modern medicine is working miracles.  Oil is running out, but technology is inventing numerous alternatives.  The sky is not falling.  It’s just a little cloudy.

The key is always us.  The future only looks dark when millions get scared.   When those same millions find hope, people start seeing the return of good times.  We need to be realistic Pollyannas, because when we get depressed we’re our own worst enemy.  Don’t listen to the Collapsitarians.   

JWH – 6/6/10

2 Responses

  1. I thought this line from that Collapsitarian link was funny: “The stock market has been falling steadily for a year and not even the usual optimists are claiming it has bottomed out.” That was posted Feb. 19, 2009, and we were indeed VERY close to the bottom (which occurred in early March). But people tend to project near-term trends into the future even when you get ridiculous results from it.

    I’m more pessimistic than you about the energy crisis, mostly because so many of us stick our heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge any need to change. It’s not so much that we can’t do it as that we won’t – not until things get really, really bad.

    On the other hand, I worry about our pervading pessimism, since nothing good ever comes from that. When society’s mood becomes pessimistic, we tend to become more bigoted, more insular, more authoritarian, more extreme. The Tea Party is a good example of what pessimism does to us.

    We need to recover the old “can-do” American attitude, but I don’t think that will happen until we become optimistic about the future again. But, of course, the solution isn’t to ignore our problems, or to deny that they exist. Unfortunately, I don’t really know what the solution might be…

  2. I think we need to look for other ways to produce energy as well, not because I believe all the “oil is almost gone’ claims…that may or may not be so…but because I’m tired of being at the mercy of speculation and fear when it comes to prices being set. We need to find a way to be dependent on ourselves and our own resources rather than having to negotiate deals and fight wars in order to keep living the way we want to live.

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