Friday, 13 March 2009

Transcript of Transition Town speech 2 - The Darker Vision

As awareness of these issues has spread in the last few decades, I don't think it's a coincidence that our visions of the future have become almost exclusively horrifying. Most video stores have a single section for science fiction-and-horror – if it shows the future, it will be obscene. Except for Star Trek, a holdover from an earlier era, I can't think of a single book, television programme or film in my lifetime that depicts a positive future. Think about what that does to a generation.

Part of that, I suspect, was that starting in the 60s and 70s, some people began to sense what was happening. Remember, much of what we know today about climate change and peak oil was available then, just not widely publicized. The greenhouse effect was discovered by Irish scientist John Tyndall in the 19th century, and others have predicted for more than 100 years that human emissions would cause global temperatures to rise.

I have on my shelf a popular science book from 1955, “The World We Live In,” which states quite casually that carbon dioxide from our cars and factories were radically changing the Earth’s climate. The first presidential address to Congress that mentioned the dangers of human-caused climate change was from Lyndon Johnson on February 8, 1965.

The same is true of peak oil -- M. King Hubbert first proposed his peak oil theory in 1932 and in 1956 publicly predicted the U.S.’s eventual peak. Even after he was proven right, and went on to predict that the world would peak around 2000, he was ignored by all but a few people – one of the only thoughtful articles on the issue, in 1976, came from a Wisconsin angler’s magazine called Fishing Facts. It was not until the 1990s, shortly after Hubbert’s death, that a few retiring petroleum geologists took up his cause and publicized peak oil across the young Internet.

This Green movement – which has really been going on for several decades, but received a boost in the last few years as knowledge of peak oil spread -- is the largest movement in history, a global network of people who are abandoning the fashions of their peers, re-adopting the frugal lives of their grandparents’ generation, thinking soberly about where their water, food and power come from.

The most widely-publicized voices in peak oil, though, are also the most dire, and as awareness of these issues hits a tipping point, people like Michael Ruppert, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg and others are often the first points of entry. These people are heroes, they are probably largely right, and their doomsday warnings are something everyone needs to hear. They are not the only things people need to hear.

At a conference in Cork last year, I met a man from Australia who was attending for his teenaged son. His son, Tasman McKee, had learned about peak oil in 2005, read Michael Ruppert’s works, and became more and more convinced that everything that lay ahead of him would be a desperate and despairing future in which most people would die. After he had studied peak oil obsessively for a year, he vanished, two years ago today. Only when his parents went through his computer files did they discover his interest in peak oil. His body was found two months later. He was 19.

Tasman McKee learned about peak oil in 2005, when relatively few people had heard of the issue. Now hundreds of times more people have learned about such issues, and predictions like volatile oil prices and economic disruptions are coming true, and my fear is that many more people will see a future as bleak as the one Tasman saw.

This is not what we need. Just as a Depression-era panic could crash a bank that would not otherwise have failed, so a widespread belief in a violent and hopeless end could actually make people less likely to work together during the next outage or shortage.

There are a lot of other futures besides Star Trek and the Zombie Apocalypse, outcomes that are not as interesting to Hollywood but might be much more realistic, and we might have some power to choose between some of them. That’s what I hope to get people thinking about tonight.

Photo: Tasman McKee looking over the sea.


yooper said...

Perhaps it's this "doomed" vision of the future, that might lead to beginning of the end for this civilization?

Brian Kaller said...

I hope it won't end completely. I do think that widely-held apocalyptic beliefs can make things much more difficult during a crisis.

People can be braver and more sensible than we credit them, though, and I remain cautiously optimistic.

Thanks for following.

smokehaze said...

brian - you are a new breed of philosopher - an "energy philosopher" reflecting the times in which we live. thanks for this piece of prose that was a pleasure to read even though it dealt with some bitter reality.