inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #26 of 116: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Fri 4 Jan 08 05:12
    
You've got some other queries queued, but that's never stopped me:

Cities leading the way, surviving in the face of national and international
turmoil -- is that new kid of ad hocracy, or is that really the same as what
we've had?

And, pure predict-the-future bait: what's going to happen in China during
and around the Olympics? What follows in the wake?
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #27 of 116: Cogito, Ergo Spero (robertflink) Fri 4 Jan 08 06:44
    
Bruce, I like the approach you used in post #25.  Among other things,
it brings to light the idea that the plans and deliberate actions of
the past and present are virtually determinate of the future.  

Is there a human need to believe that the levers of existence are
substantially in our hands and/or that we can divine the pattern in
history?  IMHO, indulging such belief too much is a problematic course.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #28 of 116: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Jan 08 07:12
    
I'm finding it hard to go there (#25), but I suppose you've got a
start on your own version of _Man in the High Castle_.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #29 of 116: John Payne (satyr) Fri 4 Jan 08 09:37
    
> apocalyptic thinking and language

I repent my use of the word "crash".  The reality is more likely to
resenble a car that starts spouting steam from under the hood, leaving
enough time to pull it onto the shoulder before it comes to a complete
stop, and which, after cooling off and refilling the radiator, may still be
good for a mile at a time, with long rests in between - very inconvenient,
but not insurmountable.

The big looming reality is the inexorably increasing price of oil.  New
discoveries and known reserves that formerly were too expensive to exploit
can slow that down some, but probably not turn it around.

Oil is important not only because it's a relatively abundant, concentrated
source of energy but because there's a huge infrastructure built up around
it and its derivatives, which are mostly liquid and require insignificant
pressurization, if any at all.  What that infrastructure can accomodate
with little modification skews the playing field for replacement fuels,
making ethanol look relatively easy and hydrogen look relatively difficult.
Nevertheless, hydrogen is gaining ground as a sort of energy currency.

With regard to the stability of society, all other issues pale by
comparison with the rising price of oil, and a sustainable solution (set 
of solutions, really) that guarantees abundant energy supplies at the
equivalent of $3-$5 per gallon of gasoline will go a long way to quiet
apocalyptic predictions.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #30 of 116: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 4 Jan 08 09:50
    
Yup. I read James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency," which
addresses precisely that point, and found it quite convincing.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #31 of 116: Tom Jennings (t-o-m-i-c) Fri 4 Jan 08 10:19
    
> And, pure predict-the-future bait: what's going to happen in 
> China during and around the Olympics? What follows in the wake?

I dunno. But what would have happened if Those Unpleasant People drove
aeroplanes into Chinese tall towers?


I've not yet heard any mention of sex, babies and magic. Even people
who know better talk about babies as "miracles" or the more
scientificalish "miracle of birth". 7,000,000,000 consumers of
petroleum products is the (literal) denominator.

Causal coupling between babies, poverty, education, state/religious
sexism etc is known, not that there's even much motion on it these
days. But it seems such a huge factor to be left out...

I doubt there's any simple relationship to population and the rest of
the system, but it's gotta be a huge factor.


PS: Conspiracies and doomsdays (can you have more than one?): They
sure are exciting, easy exits. Some things ("hydrogen power") are de
facto conspiracies, in that they are gross oversimplifications, and
their success/revelation hinges on a hidden fact (a cost-free lever to
break H and O bonds) that Powers That Be suppress (as opposed to it not
existing).

Both also let the utterer off the hook for any action at all, as it's
either to no avail or will come out in the wash.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #32 of 116: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 4 Jan 08 11:02
    
<With regard to the stability of society, all other issues pale by
comparison with the rising price of oil>

Oil is huge, yes, (as is overpopulation), but it's amazing to me how
the nuclear threat has been repressed by comparison.  Its omnipresent
danger has become too huge a specter for most people to think about on
a daily basis. Except for those occasions where North Korea needs
strong-arming, or Iran's bluff called, the issue is largely relegated
to the realm of the unimaginable.  Compared to the early 60s and the
stores-of-soda-crackers-in-a-bomb-shelter days of "Dr. Strangelove", we
have largely stopped imagining its ugly possibilities.

On the other hand, the hope for humanity has always derived from our
capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.  Less oil and higher
prices for petroleum products will bring economically feasible
alternatives to the forefront.  Localized farmers markets could sell,
not just specialized produce, but more area staples in affordable bulk.
Fresh Chilean strawberries in December in Vancouver will likely cost
too much, so Northwest potatoes and wheat, etc. would be more likely to
keep that city from starving.  The products in grocery stores will
favor regional fare if transportation costs become too high.  The era
of the long automobile commute and the single family dwelling will be
curtailed in North America. 

In emergency situations, people tend to come together.  School
cafeterias would be natural soup kitchens. Barter prevails when
currencies collapse.  This is where I would imagine the City-State to
assert order in the face of anarchy and the Nation-State to be more
irrelevant. The efficiencies of globalization will still be applicable
for those items that can withstand higher shipping costs, but the wild
card is whether political systems will continue to allow the free flow
of goods.


Or will it go completely the other way with information systems
allowing larger governmental systems to control people on ever larger
scales?  Would such big systems of governance be the only viable way to
control large scale industrial pollution and continued erosion of the
global environment? Do we need large scale governmental controls to
counter the downside of the feudalism that might proliferate with the
ascendance of the City-State?

What will it be, Bruce?  Increased centralization or decentralization
in the future, or some weird hybrid of both? Will the "collapse" be
incremental or catastrophic?  Is it too late to avert
economic/environmental/political "collapse"? What does the crystal ball
say?

Thanks for taking the time to engage The Well/Inkwell with this
thought-provoking conversation, BTW.      
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #33 of 116: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Jan 08 11:21
    
(A tip of the hat and big welcome to Tom Jennings - long time, no
see!)

I hear that overpopulation is less of an issue, in that population has
become relatively stable and may even be decreasing. I'm more
concerned with the growing competition for resources as other economies
scale up and hope to extend the US-style excessive standard of living
- I can't help but think we'll see more wars, perhaps a few nuclear
hits. 

High and increasing cost of oil probably isn't a bad thing, because
the increases create a sense of urgency that feeds development of
potential energy alternatives, as well as higher adoption of
conservation/energy efficiency measures.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #34 of 116: Jamais Cascio (cascio) Fri 4 Jan 08 11:43
    
It's way too easy to slip into eschatological discursions. A couple of years
back, I came up with a term for the seductive pleasure of imagining the end
of the world: apocaphilia. It runs thick in the blood of Hollywood
moviemakers, and -- much to my dismay -- of corporate planners.

One of the things I've long admired about <bruces> is his rejection of
apocaphilia -- not in the sense of being a cyberpollyanna sunshine thinker,
but in recognizing that options exist and choices matter, even in the
bleakest of landscapes.

The need, at the moment, isn't to beat our breasts at how horribly we've
screwed up, but to redouble our efforts to figure out how to get out of this
mess.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #35 of 116: John Payne (satyr) Fri 4 Jan 08 19:16
    
> <32> Less oil and higher prices for petroleum products will bring 
> economically feasible alternatives to the forefront.

> <33> High and increasing cost of oil probably isn't a bad thing, 
> because the increases create a sense of urgency that feeds 
> development of potential energy alternatives, as well as higher 
> adoption of conservation/energy efficiency measures.

That's certainly beginning to happen, particularly with regard to
electrical generation, and research into alternative fuels, but I don't
think the average wo/man on the street yet has any sense for how high
prices have to go before being capped by the availability of alternative
sources/supplies, nor any confidence that these will take up the slack as
rapidly as oil production dwindles.  It hasn't helped that the increased
production of ethanol for use as fuel has driven up the price of grain.

When people can see it happening, and have a sense for what the cost of
energy will be when the conversion to renewable sources is substantially
complete and the situation has stabilized, then maybe they won't be quite
so ready to support yet another war to secure access to whatever oil
remains in the ground.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #36 of 116: Tom Jennings (t-o-m-i-c) Fri 4 Jan 08 23:02
    
> One of the things I've long admired about <bruces> is his rejection
of
> apocaphilia -- not in the sense of being a cyberpollyanna sunshine
thinker,
> but in recognizing that options exist and choices matter, even in
the
> bleakest of landscapes.

Yes, and a welcome breeze it is. 

So Bruce, what do you think the Chinese would do if someone whacked
them hard?


re: energy; a new system-think is required... looking for the magic
fuel (alcohol, H2, hemp, ...) is missing the point that overconsumption
itself is the problem, there isn't a thing we can continue to
over-consume that's less harmful. 

Capitalism, socialism, ideologies are part of the problem.  So maybe
medicine, radio spectrum, ocean beaches, ... should be
nationalized/socialized; electronics, clothing, ... let the
capitalistas run amok. Atmospheric carbon, toxic shit inna ocean --
global control backed with UN-like physical warforce. A patchwork of
problem-solving and resources, and robust inconsistencies. Ideologues
are busy making turf instead!

Funny, nukeyoular issues don't really scare me (famous last words :-).
Nuclear winter is overrated. No one but US & Russia have Pu implosion
devices, they're not cost effective and exceedingly hard to make work.
U bombs are easy, though limited to mere myratons. 
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #37 of 116: Thomas Armagost (silly) Sat 5 Jan 08 01:06
    <scribbled by silly Sat 5 Jan 08 01:51>
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #38 of 116: Thomas Armagost (silly) Sat 5 Jan 08 01:51
    <scribbled by silly Sat 7 Jul 12 17:17>
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #39 of 116: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 04:50
    
Well, it's rattling right along here.  Good thing I just went out and
had a couple of bicerin (national coffee drink of Torino).

The reason people aren't panicked over nuclear war now is that the
guys who run nation-states no longer consider it in their interest to
incinerate trading-partners.  Even if you're General Jack D. Ripper,
you can't incinerate Russia; that's where the oil and gas are.  And Red
China?  They supply Wal-Mart; no China, no Christmas.

The actual likelihood of one or two nuclear detonations is pretty high
and getting higher, but the only places likely to receive whole
broadsides of nuclear weapons are easy to number: Pakistan (from
India), Iran (from Israel) and North Korea (from everybody).  

Americans could wake up tomorrow and find Washington or New York
turned by black glass. It won't be a horde of over-the-pole ICBMs that
wipes out civilization.  It'll be one of those black-swan things that
seem "unthinkable" and that people get used to, since there's no
choice.

"So what do you think of the hydrogen breakthroughs, the aluminum in
water catalyst, and the sonic transponder on vials of seawater."

Y'know, I've seen about a million of these miracle new-energy
solutions.  I was really interested for quite a while.  I used to
collect 'em like baseball cards.  Being a sci-fi writers, I naturally
adore the really freaky new-energy schemes, like generating electricity
from the bacterial ooze on the bottom of the ocean.

But there are good reasons that things like these lack real-world
traction.

"Oil is important not only because it's a relatively abundant,
concentrated source of energy but because there's a huge infrastructure
built up around it and its derivatives, which are mostly liquid and
require insignificant pressurization, if any at all."

*Yeah.  Like that.  You hear that?  That was the limpid sound of pure
energy-wonk.  It's great to hear that being expressed so much nowadays.
 To me that feels like the glorious day when people didn't have to
have the word "modem" explained to them any more.

*It's easy to fall into the slough of despair and think energy systems
can't ever-never change.  That isn't so.  Oil was discovered in Texas
as recently as 1900, not  the year 900 AD.  

"Peak oil" societies do not collapse like houses of cards.  Nazi
Germany was a peak oil society -- the Allies bombed the living
daylights out of their pipelines and refineries and the Nazis went on
fighting like furies.  The Soviet Union was a peak-oil society: they
were making ethanol out of wood while physically re-locating the entire
industrial base east of the Urals.   Plus the Soviets were being
bombed, invaded, starved, massively drafted, while all their brightest
lights were in gulags, and they came out of that condition as a
superpower.  Not in a "long emergency," as a superpower.  Actually
Communism pretty much *was* a long emergency -- when I read Kunstler's
predictions, and I do read them, I'm always amazed how accurately he
describes daily life in the Warsaw Pact 30 years ago.  

I wouldn't claim it's a tonic to run out of oil, but it's not an
emergency.  A climate crisis is an emergency.  And even a climate
crisis isn't all emergency everywhere all the time.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #40 of 116: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 5 Jan 08 05:12
    
Actually, running short of oil was certainly one of the major causes
of the Nazi defeat.  Certainly not the only cause, but the idea that
they simply started making synthetic oil instead and carried on with a
smile on their lips and a spring in their goose step is not correct.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #41 of 116: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 05:12
    
"We're awfully late off the starting line.  If we'd read the writing
on the  wall back in the 60s, and taken it seriously, like a looming
imperative  rather than a pipe dream, the world would be greener today,
and the way  forward much clearer."

*Boy, what an awesome opportunity to do something I do too rarely:
quote Kim Stanley Robinson.

http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/comparative-planetology-interview-with.ht
ml

"Robinson: Well, at the end of the 1960s and through the 70s, what we
thought – and this is particularly true in architecture and design
terms – was: OK, given these new possibilities for new and different
ways of being, how do we design it? What happens in architecture? What
happens in urban design?

"As a result of these questions there came into being a big body of
utopian design literature that’s now mostly obsolete and out of print,
which had no notion that the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution was
going to hit. Books like Progress As If Survival Mattered, Small Is
Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, The Integral Urban House, Design
for the Real World, A Pattern Language, and so on. I had a whole shelf
of those books. Their tech is now mostly obsolete, superceded by more
sophisticated tech, but the ideas behind them, and the idea of
appropriate technology and alternative design: that needs to come back
big time."

*I had all those books on my shelf, too.  And yeah, their tech IS
obsolete.  And that's not a bug, that's a feature.  It's a feature of
hairshirt-green thinking.  

*It's not that Thatcher and Reagan killed green technology; Reagan and
Thatcher scarcely had an idea in their heads.  It's that this kind of
design was bad design.   If you focus "progress" squarely on
"survival," it's like rising from bed thinking,  "Boy, I better make
sure I somehow manage to get to the end of this day."  It immediately
bleaches all the whimsy and serendipity out of industrial development.

*It's stupefying to be always conscientious.  That is not how
alternative technologies and new ways of life are successfully
generated.  It's certainly not how good design happens.  Mindful design
bears the relationship to actual design that a socialist allocation
depot bears to a laboratory. 

*If you're serious about design, you can't quote Ruskin and try to
build Gothic cathedrals in your tiny arts and crafts atelier.  You've
gotta prototype stuff, fail early, fail often, and build scalability
into it so that, if you have a hit, you can actually have a big hit. A
success as large as the problem.

*If your point is to live in an ashram because you oppose materialism,
that's your prerogative, but that is not industrialism, that is
spirituality.  You could do that tomorrow.  Go ahead.  You won't be the
first to try it and you won't be the first to quit, either.

*If you think it's great to totter around breathing shallowly and
accomplishing as little as possible, you ought to go befriend somebody 
who's ninety.  Eventually, that's what you will get.  You WILL have a
very strictly delimited life where taking a hot bath is a major
enterprise.   And shortly after that you'll be dead, and there is
NOBODY so "green" as the dead.  Practically every moral virtue
delineated in those books was better accomplished by a dead person than
a live person.  

*So it was no way to live.  And nobody lived that way.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #42 of 116: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 05:19
    
"Actually, running short of oil was certainly one of the major causes
of the Nazi defeat.  Certainly not the only cause, but the idea that
they simply started making synthetic oil instead and carried on with a
smile on their lips and a spring in their goose step is not correct."


*Okey-doke, but running out of blood was an even bigger cause of the
Nazi defeat, and nobody talked much about a Peak Blood crisis.

I'll give you two Russias here; one cuts off your fossil fuels as an
act of soft-power belligerence...
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/european_football/article78424
7.ece

While the other Russia sends Marshal Zhukov to storm Berlin with
entire divisions of Katyusha rockets.  You can tell me which scenario
is more  sincerely worrisome.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #43 of 116: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 5 Jan 08 05:37
    
Well, yeah, running out of practically everything was a major cause of
their defeat, but either way I don't think WW II tells us much about
how well or how poorly our society would weather a peak oil crisis. 
One of the reasons is just what you suggest by your comment about
Katyusha rockets.  The real question is how adaptable or fragile
civilian institutions are to a rapid rise in the price of oil/rapid
decline in supply, not what a society engaged in total war would
experience.  Will the financial system go into cardiac arrest?  On a
mundane level, would people be able to get to work?  Would we be able
to raise sufficient quantities of food and get them to market?

Clearly, $100/barrel petroleum doesn't seem to be resulting in
societal collapse.  Presumably there is a rate of change in
price/supply that society can accommodate fairly gracefully, and no
doubt a point at which the rate of change becomes uncomfortable, and
another point at which it becomes catastrophic.

Which scenarios are most likely?  Is there anything we can do to
influence the likelihood of a better outcome -- and if so, how much
influence can we have?  What about rapidly developing economies like
India and China?  What about the possibility of exporting economies
like Mexico simply consuming all the oil they produce as they grow?

Examining the end stages of the Third Reich doesn't provide us with
much guidance.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #44 of 116: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 05:42
    
"Cities leading the way, surviving in the face of national and
international turmoil -- is that new kid of ad hocracy, or is that
really the same as what we've had?"

*That's a really good question.  Obviously cities aren't really
running things, because otherwise the Conference of Mayors would be a
bigger deal than the United Nations, but I have real problems trying to
separate "a new kind of adhocracy" from the same as what we've had.  
I think the European Union poses this theoretical problem in a
particularly pressing way.  

*I spent a lot of time just outside the border of the EU, and just
lately rather some time inside it, and that transition makes it crystal
clear that the EU is a hugely powerful entity.  But what IS it?  It's
an "empire," or at least it's definitely an "imperialistic" set-up, but
it's not a confederacy, or a triple alliance, or a Holy Roman
Empire... or even a state of any kind.  It's definitely weakening
states and strengthening cities.  

You talk to young Europeans now, they don't say "I'm going to Greece
next week."  It's destination Athens, maybe even a favorite
neighborhood in Athens...  Sometimes people even call the EU
"Brussels," and if you go to Brussels what you see is Belgium trying
really hard to disintegrate.

*It's got a flag and a currency.  The world's dullest flag and a
currency entirely devoid of human beings. Euros have nothing on them
but bridges and architectural hardware.

*The EU is a multinational regulatory trade bureaucracy.  It's pretty
damn far from an "ad hocracy" because its glacial reactions and lack of
spontaneity are legendary.  Its politics are weak, its statecraft is
weaker and its popular legitimacy is close to nonexistent, but as a
bureau, man that thing is second to none.   It's the only empire in the
history of the world that people clamor to join.

*I dunno what its future is.  There are days when I think the EU is
more likely to become Google than it is to become a state.

And, pure predict-the-future bait: what's going to happen in China
during and around the Olympics? What follows in the wake?

*Torino hosted the Olympics.  They're always complaining and moaning
here that they didn't do enough with that opportunity.  You hear a lot
of faultfinding -- the stuff built for the athletes is poorly
integrated, the new infrastructure lacks imagination, etc etc, but
hosting a successful Olympics was very obviously a tonic for the city. 
It was a watershed for them, it was cathartic.  They stopped thinking
everything was impossible and that fate had it in for them.

China's not hosting the Olympics, Beijing is.  Compared to Hong Kong
or Shanghai, Beijing has been a weird, insular place.  Cold and dusty
and forbidding and a site of massacres.  Not a party town or a global
showcase, Beijing.

But if they pull this thing off successfully, yeah, I think it could
turn their heads around.  It'll be a watershed and a catharsis and the
capital of China will look-and-feel like a global city.  "Globalism
with Chinese characteristics," but yeah, globalism.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #45 of 116: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 5 Jan 08 06:03
    
 The real question is how adaptable or fragile
civilian institutions are to a rapid rise in the price of oil/rapid
decline in supply

*I agree, but my problem with Peakists is that they're desperately
eager to prove that civilian institutions are fragile, mostly because
they're weird cranks who've never found one they like.

*If you want to understand how frail civilian institutions are, you
need to study them under conditions of great stress.  Epidemics,
storms, fires, mass evacuations, and, yeah, total war.  That's how you
know how much humanity can bear.

 not what a society engaged in total war would
experience.  Will the financial system go into cardiac arrest? 

*It might, but the financial system isn't the heart of a civilization.
 Communism went into cardiac arrest.  The GDP of Russia dropped
something like 30 percent, the whole shebang was privatized to
mobsters...  The Asian financial system went into cardiac arrest a
couple of years ago.  

 On a
mundane level, would people be able to get to work?  

*No, but when it really hits the fan people find themselves doing
other work.  Guys in the siege of Sarajevo didn't "go to work," but
they had plenty to do.

Would we be able
to raise sufficient quantities of food and get them to market?

*Cuba had a peak oil experience when the Soviets stopped shipping it. 
The average Cuban lost thirty pounds, or so I'm told.  It was a
calamity of sorts, they called it the "special period." Cuba is still
there.  

Clearly, $100/barrel petroleum doesn't seem to be resulting in
societal collapse.  

*Except in Iraq, maybe.

Presumably there is a rate of change in
price/supply that society can accommodate fairly gracefully, and no
doubt a point at which the rate of change becomes uncomfortable, and
another point at which it becomes catastrophic.

*There's also a rate of change of zero when oil is no longer consumed,
and that would be the victory condition.  So, anxiously wondering
whether a loss of oil is merely bad or catastrophic is a little
short-sighted.  Oil has to go away like whale-oil went away.

Which scenarios are most likely?  Is there anything we can do to
influence the likelihood of a better outcome -- and if so, how much
influence can we have?  

*Stop using oil.  Coal is worse, mind you.

What about rapidly developing economies like
India and China? 

*I love those guys, actually.  I'm old enough to remember
when India and China were described in terms of "lifeboat ethics."

 What about the possibility of exporting economies
like Mexico simply consuming all the oil they produce as they grow?

*Texas does that already.

Examining the end stages of the Third Reich doesn't provide us with
much guidance.

*I don't wanna come across all Mike Godwin here, but if you wanna talk
catastrophe, it's important to have a coherent understanding of
genuine historical catastrophes, not make-believe pipe-dream
catastrophes that serve to feed somebody's cornball apocaphilia.

*Or, if you wanna explore the mental space of ALL POSSIBLE
catastrophes, you can try this:

http://openthefuture.com/2006/12/an_eschatological_taxonomy.html

in which peak oil would barely register as a "class zero."
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #46 of 116: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 5 Jan 08 06:09
    
<Funny, nukeyoular issues don't really scare me (famous last words
:-).>

And this coming from a guy named <t-o-m-i-c>    ;=)


And, yes, the global paradox is interesting.  Economic interdependency
creates more incentives for peace [Japan/Germany after WWII & the Red
Chinese/Indian industrial juggernaut now].  At the same time, this
economic growth strains our global resources to the breaking point. 
Something's gotta give, (or morph).
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #47 of 116: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 5 Jan 08 06:31
    
I am indeed a weird crank with a distaste for civilian institutions. 
Or so my wife always tells me.

But I'm also genuinely interested in puzzling out the questions we're
discussing.  And one could easily flip it around and say that the
thinking of those not obsessed by peak oil is clouded by their
attachment to our current social order, when one of the lessons of
history is that sooner or later most civilizations collapse.

One can imagine the conversations in Rome: "Really, I think we're
over-reaching by messing with these Germanic tribes."  "Always with the
gloom and doom -- last week it was the Picts, now it's the Germanic
tribes!"

Of course, another lesson of history is that so far, life goes on, in
some other form.  

In any case, I think by imagining a scenario in which people wouldn't
be able to hop in their cars and get to work, you're agreeing with at
least the more sensible peak oil folks, not disagreeing with them.

If you would pull Joe or Josephine Average out of their suburban
lawyer foyer for a brief chat and say "Well, you won't be able to drive
your car to work" they'd basically view it as (to quote a phrase) the
end of the world as we know it.

And they'd basically be right.  There were the Anasazi, and later on
there were the Pueblo tribes, but from an Anasazi point of view the
drought of the 11 and 1200s brought about the collapse of civilization.

And hey, my first love is geology, so I'm definitely aware of the fact
that peak oil is small beans catastrophe-wise.
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #48 of 116: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 5 Jan 08 07:07
    
<the ideas behind them, and the idea of appropriate technology and
alternative design: that needs to come back big time.">


<You've gotta prototype stuff, fail early, fail often, and build
scalability into it so that, if you have a hit, you can actually have a
big hit. A success as large as the problem.>

Bruce, who is going to fund such colossal failures more than once?

Of course we need appropriate technology (as opposed to inappropriate
ones)--and, of course, we need to explore alternative designs as
solutions to our global dilemma.  Scalability may occur in the quantum
hit-and-miss manner that you suggest, but was everything that came out
of the 60s/70s appropriate tech/ alternative design era "obsolete"?  I
hardly think so.  Your dismissive tone to this historical movement
comes across as though you've don't appreciate or take for granted many
of the transformations that resulted from that earlier activism, such
as a raised consciousness to energy conservation, healthier eating, the
manner in which we use our military resources, etc.  

The first urban recycling program, for example, started in one
bohemian neighborhood in Seattle as a small pilot program in 1975.
Recycling is now institutionally part of the "mainstream".  Recycling,
gradually, became "scalable" and is still part of the global solution. 
Everything is not an instant large-scale success. 

Are we all going to move to Arcosanti-style villages?  Maybe someday
as a reaction to catastrophe, but more than likely not.  Of course,
some of the prototypes of the earlier movement seem quaint now and,
often obsolete, but Reagan/Thatcher were NOT solution-oriented.  They
were figureheads for growth, growth, and more growth and keeping the
skids of the economy greased.  

Whether motivated by spirituality, altruism, disaffection with the
coarse consumerism of the mainstream society, or an enlightened
capitalism, at least those behind the "alternative society" movement
were looking ahead and trying to envision solutions for humanity. 

Yes, it's easy to take extreme "New Age" stereotypes and trivialize a
kind of self-centered escapism, but, Bruce, that is such a narrow look
at this movement. Even if you disagree with the philosophy of
contemporary hip ascetics, I expect that there will be more "models" on
how to live a "good life" in a scaled-back manner from this movement,
than from expecting that we can find instant "scalable" solutions as we
react on the fly to one or another societal/environmental catastrophe.
       
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #49 of 116: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 5 Jan 08 07:23
    
> economic growth strains our global resources to the breaking point

In 2001 I wrote an article on global warming (Being Green in 2001) for
the Bruce S.-edited issue of Whole Earth Magazine. One source of info
for that article was an interview with James White, who was director of
the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado at
Boulder. Here's an exchange from that interview that I've quoted and
referred to often since:

> Jon Lebkowsky: One point that John Firor makes is that with six
billion people on earth, if everyone had the same standard of living
that we [Americans] have, there's no way that we could sustain.

> James White: Yes, that's very clear. I teach a course on energy.
That's just one of the resources that you'd need, and if you do the
calculations, we use thirty times the energy the average African does.
We use ten to fifteen times the average energy that people do in
general developing countries overall. We're 250 million, they're 6
billion people. You bring them all up to our standard of living, and
the multiplication factor for energy, for aluminum, tin, lead, all the
other resources we need is just enormous. It's probably on the order of
a hundred, or something like that - I've never done the calculation.
But there's no way that I could see that we could support six billion
consumers of the American type, or even six billion consumers of the
Western European type, and they use half the resources we do.

(http://www.weblogsky.com/works/Jim_White.html)

Jamais and I discussed this a few years later, probably 2005, but in
that discussion I referred to "our high standard of living." He argued
that it was perfectly reasonable to assume all 6 billion could have a
high standard of living, because a >>high<< standard of living doesn't
*have to be* as resource intensive as in the U.S.  The question then is
how we define a "good life" that consumes fewer resources, with
innovations like eco-balanced architecture and alternative
transportation systems. And how do we get buy-in... how do you convince
citizens of ascendant developing nations that they don't want SUVs,
suburban lifestyles, swimming pools in every back yard, etc. 

There's also the question of accumulation and hoarding of resources by
the very rich: what if you assume that general widespread scaling up
means that they have to scale down, let go of some resources? Will they
fight to hold on?  (It's been interesting to watch the Bush
administration strategy: on the one hand, draining government coffers
into wealthy corporations like Halliburton; on the other hand, nudging
the U.S. toward greater financial and resource dependence on other
countries, especially China, which seems to be buying more and more of
the U.S. - all the while arguing a case for "keeping America
safe/strong." Not meaning to get into partisan wrangling here - I'm not
saying this to be critical of one party over another, it's just what I
think I'm seeing; somebody correct me if I'm wrong.)

Mark - I'm less concerned about peak oil because I've been hanging out
with clean energy business people who are dead serious about energy
alternatives. Austin's already thought through how it'll support
pluggable hybrids, and our utility, Austin Energy, is deep into
thinking about alternative sources. We have guys all over town - all
over Texas, really - who are rethinking energy. For them, global peak
oil is opportunity. Bruce has seen this, too - we were both at a clean
tech conference in Austin that was busting the seams of the local
Hyatt.

(Scott's post slipped in while I was writing mine.)
  
inkwell.vue.317 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2008
permalink #50 of 116: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 5 Jan 08 08:35
    
It's also true that my perceptions of peak oil are affected by my
surroundings -- a mess of clueless people buying poorly built 6,000
square-foot houses and driving 2 hours each way to work in three-ton
SUVs.  And it could be noted that you live in a medium-sized city
that's a Bohemian enclave in Texas, whereas I live in the Capital of
the Free World. ;-)
  

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