Peak Oil Anarchy

Peak Oil is indisputable, inevitable and -- probably -- imminent. As the Cheap Oil era ends & oil supplies grow ever more scarce, our consumerist, earth-eating economy will go into convulsions & industrial civilization will teeter on the brink of collapse. Best be prepared! Peak Oil could herald a Golden Age of Anarchy. In Leviathan's ashes, we could create new decentralized communities of mutual aid, solidarity against oppression, & egalitarian harmony. May this be a map to the terrain ahead!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Visioning the Future -- Design Your Own Superhero!

(from Transition Culture) In recent posts I have been chewing over the idea of visioning, and its central importance to Energy Descent work. As part of a presentation I am preparing for a talk next week, I hunted down various images from the 1930s of how people then thought we would be living today. One of the best is a character called Captain Future.

Captain Future (Wizard of Science) is clearly a guy you don’t want to mess with. He’s powerful and strong, with a funny gun thing that hopefully for him, given all the aliens he has to deal with, is more powerful than it looks... He has some great clunky space boots which presumably allow him to fly. He has a very tight fitting mask which amazingly doesn’t steam up, and little tiny leather pouches on his belt for carrying those essential knick-knacks you need in space (penknife? chewing gum?).

For us now looking back it is laugh at some of the visions of how our cities would be that were formulated around the same time.Each of us flying to work in our own aeroplane, living on the 300th floor, having hoverbikes. Talk of going on holiday to the moon, living in space cities. None of which of course has come to pass. The world’s energy constraints, even in the last 50 years of outrageous wastefulness and gluttony, have not allowed it. Similarly, when we look at visions for the future that are put forward now, we should be equally sceptical.

Will this scenario actually be possible in a depleting energy scenario, in an economic crash even? We have to change our dreams from being of moon cities, hydrogen economies, hovering cars and free energy machines to more realistic and achievable, and, I would say, desirable ones. Can we not get as excited about harvesting locally grown apples or building acob shed as we can about the idea of having hovering boots? It is a mark of how far removed we have become from nature and from reality that we imagine that we can get through energy descent with clean hands and just with the skills we have at present.

In the 1930s technology was a bright new world of possibilities and people had no sense of its limitations. Now we ought to be a bit more realistic. Most likely all the technology we will have available to us for our downward journey from the peak is already with us. As Kenneth Deffeyes said, “there is no time for scholarly research. There is no time for engineers to develop new machinery. We have to face the next five years with the equipment designs that are already in production. It’s not going to be easy”.

Our job as peak oil activists, permaculturists and post carbon folks is to create and diseminate a new vision of the future. Perhaps we need a new Captain Future. One equipped to lead the way down from the Peak. Of course it needn’t be a man, like our 1930’s traditional Captain Future. He/she would have a stylish hemp bodysuit with wooden buttons, and wellies. He’d have the brains of David Holmgren and the body of Desperate Dan, “capable of turning a compost heap at the flick of a fork and mixing cob faster than a digger”. She’d be a great poet and teller of tales around evening fires. He would know the plants of the hedgerows and the birds in the trees. He would make great wine and the worms in his worm bin would thrive. She would be able to make fantastic solar panels out of old bits in the garage (how come the A-Team never came bursting out of garages with great solar panels that they’d cobbled together instead of weapons and tanks?) and be capable of inspiring her neighbours to mulch their lawns. He’d be great with kids and would cruise to any emergency on his pushbike.

My sense is that our success in dealing with the next few years is going to depend in no small part on our finding the Captain Future in each of us. We have nothing to lose from that, and everything to gain. When we think about the future, the old saying keeps returning to me, “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”.

Please feel free to use this page to share your own visions of what a new Captain Future might look like. I’ve set out my mental picture of him/her, let’s hear yours. Descriptions, drawings, poems, all are welcome. Lets build a new superhero for extraordinary times!


  • At 11:38 AM, Blogger FARfetched said…

    We might have had the space cities and so on, had the US and Russia not thrown away so much money and effort on the Cold War. With an established presence in space, it's likely that "upstairs" energy sources would have been harnessed and fed back to Earth — and much of the technology (I'm thinking vastly better solar panels and the like) would have come home as well.

    But it's a moot point. Given the current and past reality, I think we're hosed. But I'm supposed to be talking about superheroes for a coming age of energy scarcity, right? OK, how about...

    Team Windmill!

    All those SUVs stranded by unobtainable fuel are merely a source of raw materials for this intrepid band of heroes. Marvel at The Bender as he skins sheet metal from those old gas-guzzing monsters and forms it into blades and vanes. Electric Sam, meanwhile, yanks the battery, alternator, lights, and wiring for their 14.4-volt goodness. Stand amazed at Rosie the Riveter (as she brandishes a fist and says, “I got yer power right here!”), who strips the frame and unibody to build a rooftop tower and puts everything together.

    While Electric Sam is handling house wiring, Bender and Rosie are not neglecting the rest of the SUV. Besides turning the seats into comfortable furniture, they make sure that none of the steel, plastic, glass, rubber, aluminum, etc. go to waste. By the time they're finished, all that's left is the oil stains on the driveway.

    Anyone doing useful work is going to attract villains, although I'm a little fuzzy about what form they would take. Perhaps they would be homeowner-association control freaks who have their own energy sources, and use their evil Covenant Powers to keep regular people from having their own windmills?

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