November 02, 2013

Saturday Morning Essay: The Big Duh

Gail Tverberg begins her latest essay on the "Our Finite World" blog as follows:

 "A few years ago, I had an ah-hah moment when it comes to what we as humans would need to do to live in a sustainable manner. It is very easy. All we have to do is leave our homes, take off all of our clothes, and learn to live on the raw food we are able to gather with our own hands. We have a built-in transportation system, so that is not a problem."

Such a viewpoint has a lot of implications, of course.  On a casual reading, without studying other essays she has written on Peak Oil, energy and resource scarcity, and overpopulation (and the impotence of alternative energy to overcome all of these problems), her ah-hah seems like the somewhat dotty raving of a cranky Luddite.  But Gail's not like that at all.  Mrs. Tverberg is an actuary and trained in the careful use of mathematics and probability.  She's run the numbers.  Modern industrial civilization is unsustainable, and switching to alternative energy sources to maintain 7 billion people at anything like the lifestyle of modern Western countries is not possible.

A lot of people are edging up to this conclusion.  Take Russell Brand, for example, in this funny interview which has gone viral:

When you get a feel for such things, you realize it is the interviewer who is being preposterous.  You begin to ask yourself a question (you begin sounding, in your own head, like David Byrne in "Once In A Lifetime"):  Where does the interviewer get his serene confidence in the status quo?  What is he talking about?

You may ask yourself:  How did we get here?  I would not presume to assess Mr. Brand's depth of understanding.  He seems like an extraordinarily intelligent person who has thought about the plight of the modern world, and his generation, at great length.

There are many points on the circumference of the circle with radial vectors toward the same center.  Jerry Mander's The Capitalist Papers, Clive Hamilton's Growth Fetish and Requiem for A Species, Craig Dilworth's Too Smart For Our Own Good (which Gail cites numerous times in her latest essay): The Big Duh is coming into focus now. The threat to our existence comes from the way we live.

It was pretty easy, even 40 years ago, to laugh off the Club of Rome's The Limits to Growth and Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb, along with Herman Daly's Steady State Economics and the thermodynamic analysis of Barry Commoner.  Guess what, Fat Cat Capitalists, all you real-life Scrooge McDucks:  the joke's on you (and thus on us, too).  They were all right, and you were all wrong.  Dead wrong.

Naomi Klein (not to be confused with Naomi Wolff, the subject of a different interview, this one by Da Ali G), has turned her attention to global warming (tip o' the hat:  Dan).  It's a great essay, and I look forward to her book and movie to follow.  I am fascinated by such topics in the same way I would be fascinated to know, standing on a railroad track and feeling the first tremors in the rails,  whether the engine bearing down on me is a steam locomotive, an electro-diesel, or a TGV powered by good honest French nuclear power.

Revolution. Revolt.  Take off all of your clothes and live like a root-grubbing primate.   I suppose that's an approach that will make all human beings part of the One Hundred Percent.