Monday, March 02, 2015

Bruce Wilder 03.01.15 at 8:17 pm

Lee A Arnold @ 182: What is your practical response to realist assessment?

Personally, I think I’m insignificant, so no ego involvement on my part.

My concern about left activism on the issues of climate change/energy change/environment/economic development is that we’re not “tough” enough in framing the limits. I think any realistic path forward has to involve a substantial constraint on energy use, a program of fairly radical energy conservation involving the outline of an infrastructure that would accommodate that. So, for example, I think we should be envisioning rail instead of airplanes and automobiles. All the advances in computing technologies can be applied to make rail even more energy-efficient than it already is, and it doesn’t involve much of a hit to anyone’s lifestyle or welfare. Rail permits much denser living, much less land-use by sprawl, while also leaving economic development possibilities for small towns and villages that simply aren’t there for air travel (which flies over a lot of people). I fear that people put way too much faith in the shiny tech of people mover systems that are not really all that practical or in electric cars that do not have anywhere near the order-of-magnitude potential for resource conservation in energy (both transport and structures) and land-use. We can maintain a high degree of specialization and scale of production with a rail system. But, without a collective commitment to rail infrastructure as a constraining device, I think the Jevons effect dominates and most of the potential of technological advance to reduce energy and resource use while maintaining a high level of human welfare and productivity will be lost.

Given the increasingly hard limits on resource use, an elite will continue to increase its profligacy and masses of people will find themselves cut off by depression and deflation and failed governments and war.

What I think is happening right now, in the absence of a collective consciousness of the need to radically conserve, an absence fed by unrealistic optimism about both the plug-compatibility of solar or wind electricity generation and the upfront investment requirements for renewables, is that the global plutocracy is putting the screws to marginal populations. I don’t buy the Clash of Civilizations rhetoric: I think the Arab Spring was mostly about masses of people being cut off from economic resources by a remorseless neoliberalism. Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Greece — global resource consumption is being reduced by pushing the lemmings off the cliff. I’m not saying there’s a global conspiracy, though some of those orchestrating this are pretty cynical; I’m saying that in the absence of a realistic vision of collective, inclusive, socialized efforts of sufficient and realistic scale, what we are going to get from neoliberalism is oppression through abandonment and war.

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