“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan

One oft repeated idea at the moment is that despite the environmental crisis we will find ways to maintain [or find replacement substances for]  our current addictions to oil and oil based products, energy consumption and a host of other things.

We are told not to worry because some sort of morphine is on the way [biofuels, hydrogen cars etc etc] and that ‘our’ way of life is not going to change in the face of the environmental crisis. Strangely we are told this at the very same time that we are being told it must change because of the financial crisis.

However, a quick look at history will tell you that the idea that this mode of operating is not going to change is a completely bizarre one. Society changes often and repeatedly.

That said, the relationship of the people in general to those who control them is slower to change. So how different are our lives as part of the oil bubble from those just a few generations before?

There is a thought experiment that Douglas Adams once talked about that should illustrate just how different lives are now from just a short time ago. ..

Imagine two detectives investigating a murder in London. One of the detectives is from the late 20th century and the other is from the late 19th century. Now tell them that the main suspect was spotted in London on the day of the murder and Buenos Aires the next day. The 20th century detective might not know exactly what flight or plane the suspect took but there is no fundamental mystery as to what happened. The 19th century detective however would be completely flummoxed and might believe that this was impossible or that there must be some form of magic involved.

This little illustration shows how much ‘ways of life’ and [even more so] perspectives can change in a short time.

The idea that this kind of society is forever and not up for negotiation etc has its roots in fear and arrogance. As Orwell said in his newspaper column…

It is not very difficult to see that this idea is rooted in the fear of progress. If there is nothing new under the sun, if the past in some shape or another always returns, then the future when it comes will be something familiar. At any rate what will never come — since it has never come before — is that hated, dreaded thing, a world of free and equal human beings.

In fact, there are new ideas. The idea that an advanced civilization need not rest on slavery is a relatively new idea, for instance; it is a good deal younger than the Christian religion… Ideas may not change, but emphasis shifts constantly.

Simply asserting that things are going to stay this way regardless of the state of the planet is a completely insane way to think – only suitable for an era in which people are  for the most part insane.

Furthermore, I remember people used to talk about how much better things would be 100 years in the future. I haven’t heard anyone discussing that for years. The idea now seems to be that this is as good as it gets and we just have to try to maintain this mode of operation in spite of all the evidence that it can’t continue.

The Mayan society collapsed because they used up their energy source. The same thing happened on Easter island. How did these groups respond to the looming environmental disasters?  They built more pyramids and more statues, used more resources unnecessarily and simply sped up their own demise.

At the very least, those societies left some remarkable monuments to their folly.

I think it is time for me to go out and celebrate the richness of the culture of now. I think I will go christmas shopping. What to buy? Hmmm, maybe some heated towel rails, some liposuction for the dog [he is getting fat] and maybe a plastic fish that sings Al Green songs  [badly].


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