Thursday, December 23

Thinking Ahead: Energy (part 2)

In my last post on our future, which dealt with energy and specifically oil production and demand, I had failed to express a positive outlook for our future. In fact, I am not alone in this failing. It does far less good to dwell on what might transpire than to concentrate on a vision of what we might desire for the future. Thereby, fixing that vision as a goal, we might actually come to a place we want to be as opposed to a place we dread. In fact, by concentrating our collective will on what we dread, it is more likely to come to pass if we don't hold an alternative vision in mind. Admittedly this is a common theme of mine, for I hate to knock down and criticize without proposing constructive ideas.

So what do we have to work with? Well, oil and petro-chemicals will be scarcer and more expensive. Unless we go "overboard" with nuclear fission, overall power consumption will be lower. It is true that fertilizers owe much to petro-chemicals, but my bet would be that our biological expertise will be able to fill much of that gap in the coming decades. Petro-chemical based packing materials (!) will be a thing of the past of course, and cheap disposable plastic gadgets will be a thing of the past. Perhaps, in general, our disposable culture may be replaced by one which grinds through less crap. One in which the bottles and containers we buy to throw away are replaced by ones which are refilled and re-used.

Can we make a positive vision of a future in which personal travel and many of our durable goods are more expensive? I don't think that's too hard. In a world where commuting 30-90 minutes is not affordable we must instead live closer to our place of employment. In such a world we have to purchase goods with an eye to using it for decades instead of hours or days. Without the disposable buy, use, and toss cycle driving our economy, without that pump driving our economy on a hi-octane growth cycle, lo we might discover to our surprise that stability is not a bad thing. Alas, I can picture in my minds eye what life might be like, without the automobile and cheap airfare, without a flood of cheap southeast Asian goods which last 6 months at best. That future isn't all dark. But I don't have the writing skills to paint that vision. It's different, but perhaps we need real writers, our novelists and futurists, painting visions of a low energy future that isn't a distopian hell. A future vision that is interesting but doesn't include the same levels of power consumption we now enjoy.