If peak oil matters now, what will matter 20 years from now?

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bstar
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For the past decade or so that I've been aware of peak oil, the limits to growth, industrial agriculture, climate change, etc. I've been wondering something: how did I not know about this stuff before?  I'm hoping some of you have wondered that same question.

Of course there are those who were turned onto these ideas early on (say in the 1970s), but by the 1980s when I was born there was little attention paid to them.  I'm fairly sure that these ideas (peak oil, limits to growth) will become popular within a matter of a few years just because reality will force people to reckon with them.

So my question is this: what ideas/books/movements that are still at the fringes today that will matter to our future 10 or 20 or 30 years from now?  This would be say for the 2020s or 2030s.  The seeds of those future ideas must exist now.  Maybe some are seeds that will never grow (just as I'm sure there were ideas in the 1970s that died out), but I'm curious what the candidates are - good or bad.  I could imagine them being anything from something energy related to biotech to geopolitical shifts to astronomical to something I can't even imagine yet.

In other words, complete this analogy: Peak oil/climate change/etc. is to 1970-2015 as ??? is to 2015-2040.

Any thoughts?

Sophie Gale
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A Return to "Natural" Time

I just finished reading At Day's Close:  Night in Times Past by A Roger Ekirch. 

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley

"It's been thus for so many generations that we take it for granted: Night is when we go out, when we entertain, when we read, when -- of course -- we sleep. Yet in the long span of human history this is a relatively recent development. Not until "the period from 1730 to 1830," Ekirch argues in this interesting, original book, did the Western world undergo "such a sustained assault upon the nocturnal realm," and not until the 20th century and its near-universal use of artificial light did nighttime become what we know now. So At Day's Close is uncommonly welcome, for it covers ground that just about all others have ignored."

The book is somewhat repetitious, but it's a very detailed look at nighttime in pre-industrial Europe and America:  work, play, crime, sleep...  Sleep was very interesting.  In the absence of artificial light, the body seems to divide sleep into two periods--historically referred to "first sleep" (roughly from 10 p,m to midnight), then an interval of wakefulness when people would read, meditate, analyse dreams, talk with family, have sex, etc. and then "second sleep" till time to rise.  Time between sunset and sunrise had names:  sunset, shutting-in (locking up the house), candle-lighting, which may have been delayed an hour or two after sunset to save candles, bed-time, which may have been an hour or two before actually going to sleep, midnight, the dead of night--about 2-3 am--cock-crow, and dawn. Before street lighting, people consulted their almanacs to travel by moonlight and told time by the stars...  Not many of us can even see the stars today.

I've been meditating a return to natural time for quite a while.  Most Pagans celebrate the Wheel of the Year:  the Solstices, the Equinoxes, and the Cross-quarter days,  These are not, of course, man-made holidays but reoccuring annual events.  For our ancestors they had agricultural significance:  Imbolc or Candlemas was the time when ewes began to lactate, birds began to lay eggs again around the Spring Equinox...we celebrate three harvest festivals in late summer and fall.  The third one at Samhain or Halloween was the meat harvest.

--Which is something that our descendants will have to learn again:  hamburger is a seasonal food!  It's not naturally available 24/7.  People are starting realize that tomatoes are seasonal, but most moderns have absolutely no concept of seasonal meat!  (Unless it's corn dogs!)  While our ancestors might have had fresh fish or chicken on a regular basis or hunted for the pot, livestock was usually slaughtered a couple of times a year and preserved.  Bacon, ham, salt pork, pickled or potted meat would have appeared far more often than pot roast!

I expect Green Wizards to be ahead of the curve when it comes to relearning natural time, but as communities go off the grid, everyone will eventually fall back into the old rhythms.

Sophie Gale
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Abrupt Climate Change

Watching a Nova episode "Extreme Cave Diving" about blue holes in the Bahamas.  Evidence seems to indicate that at the end of the last ice age, massive sand storms from the Sahara caused a significant rise in temperature and sea levels in the Bahamas in something like 50 years.  And the same conditions seem to be building now in the Sahara...  Watch the video at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/extreme-cave-diving.html#.   The part about climate change is chapter 6 of 6, 45 minutes into the program.  Pretty impressive....!

Sophie Gale
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2 Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030?

I think there is a whole lot of vaporware here, but this is Thomas Frey's summary of the presentation he gave last week at the TEDxReset Conference in Istanbulon.  Subject: employment trends over the next 18 years...which industries will be going away, jobs lost and new jobs created.   For my money, I'd be tempted to bet on iTunes U, BigDog robotics, and 3D printing--at least in during the next two decades.

Sophie Gale
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Reclaiming the Commons

"So much of nature, culture and economic activity utterly depend upon the commons – the atmosphere, the oceans, wildlife and seeds as well as the Internet, scientific knowledge and creative works, among countless other commons.  And yet corporate-dominated markets are doing everything they can to privatize and commodify our commons.  After all, there is big money to be made in mining the deepsea ocean floor, patenting the genes of plants and animals, claiming proprietary control of agricultural seeds, owning new sorts of synthetic nano-matter that can replace ordinary substances, and owning mathematical algorithms that power software programs.

"The great, unacknowledged scandal of our times is the market enclosure of things that belong to all of us.  Instead of having free or low-cost access to the shared resources that belong to all of us, companies are privatizing them and forcing us to pay."

"Can the Commons Move from the Margins to the Mainstream?"

Sophie Gale
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System D

Somebody mentioned System D, the informal economy on TAR, but I just finished The Stealth of Nations by Robert Neuwirth.  I'm going to call it a "must read" book.  Here's an excerpt.

Sophie Gale
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System D: NYC, 1980's
Sophie Gale
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Plastics!

The oceans are full of discarded plastics, the landfills are full of discarded plastics, roadsides and creeks are filling with discarded plastics, our bodies are filling with inhaled and ingested plastics...  Just like the effects of global warming, even if we kick the plastics habit today, we will still be generations cleaning up residual plastic.

See the current issue of Green American for more info.

bstar
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Re: Plastics!

Sophie,

I've been thinking a lot about that lately as well.  I think the permanent waste products we have created in the last few decades, both macroscopic and microscopic, will cause all sorts of strange effects we haven't even begun to imagine.  There are so many effectively permanent toxic substances now in every river, ocean, landbase, and animal (human and nonhuman).  We put them there, and we have no real way of getting rid of them.  It's like trying to gather up all the grains of sand on the beaches of the world and reassemble them back into some rock monolith from which they came.  It's not going to happen.

While there's some awareness of how plastics and toxins in general affect humans and nonhumans on an individual level (books like Garbageland, High Tech Trash, What's Gotten Into Us, as well as classics like Silent Spring), I don't think we have any clue how they'll have society-scale effects on us.  But if you know of any books looking into such macro / large scale questions about plastics / waste / toxins and their long-term impact, I'd be interested in reading them.

Cathy McGuire
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The commercialization of green

I think a possible blind spot is the consequence of commercializing "greening" - I'm very glad to see recycling and reusing becoming a bit more trendy, but I have seen before that when merchants sniff "profit" they are quick to block avenues for amateurs. For example - I am thrilled that some cities in Oregon have curbsite pickup of food waste to be composted... but might that lead to the repression of backyard composting ("One, you don't need to and two, it's smelly")? And we've all seen the proliferation of "greenware" - shopping bags, worm farm kits, etc. - and those who can out-advertise and make a profit from cheap merchandise are already doing that... so I worry that a blind spot is: once the profit becomes the key motivator and the enthusiastic amateurs are shouldered aside, we will only have pseudo-green at a higher price. Look at the food industry, if you don't think it's possible. Sad

kieran
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Ageing population and urbanisation

I'm just now following Bruce Sterling and John Lebkowsky's annual State of the World discussion (which is well worth reading through for those interested in various upcoming issues, both technological and otherwise).

 

http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/430/Bruce-Sterling-and-Jon-Lebkowsky-page01.htmlBruce

Sterling has mentioned two issues that I had pushed to the back of my mind: urbanisation and age demographics. Urbanisation is continuing at a quite steady pace globally, and doesn't show signs of abating. 

The age gap is already a problem in most developed nations, with many uncertain of how they will care for a growing population of retirees.  I think it's likely that a major vector of depopulation will be the same thing as is driving the age demographic shift (falling birth rates in response to hard times -- just look at Russia), so the problem shows no sign of abating. Thus, a potential problem in the future will be the question of who will care for us when we are old, the economy has evaporated our pension funds, and the younger generations blame older generations for the state of their world.

Things to mull over, anyway. 

kieran
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Other ecological disasters in the making?

Some issues that get lost in concerns over fossil fuels include overfishing, habitat destruction and long-term pollution (heavy metals, etc).

As McThick pointed out, it's quite likely that the ruling class will continue its "unrelenting pursuit of natural resources at home, regardless of environmental damage".  At some point the underclass will have had enough of the impacts this will have on them, but it will likely get pretty bad before it gets better.

Oh, and the other thing you will likely see is an expansion of the surveillance state, particularly on the Internet. People in the IT world are often quite aware and active in protesting developments along these lines, but they only occasionally spill out into the view of the general public. And I expect that this will continue even as resources for computer technology shrink -- states will likely hold on to the remaining tech with a deathgrip, particularly if it can be used to maintain the status quo.

bstar
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persistent pollutants

I've been reading more about persistent pollutants of all sorts, and it is really amazing how much toxic stuff we've released into the air, water, and soil.  I've become convinced that the consequences of these substances will be felt and they may be one of the things that's an answer to my question.

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The Cloudwalking Owl
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Fixed Nitrogen problem and Desertification of Populous Nations

I heard a talk by the director of a scientific institute years ago.  (I work at a university and sometimes get to the free lectures.)  He said that global warming is such a big problem that it tends to overshadow other problems.  One thing he said we should probably be concerned about was the global concentration of fixed nitrogen.  He said that there are a lot of ecosystems that where the "limiting factor" is available fixed nitrogen.  If you pump a lot of nitrogen into these systems, the increased plant growth quickly depletes the soil of micro-nutrients and then the plants fail.  (I'm probably balling all of this up, but I think that that was what he was saying.)

I heard Gwynn Dyer talk about another potential problem.  He thinks that global climate change is going to cause huge problems between Pakistan and India, whicch might result in an atomic war over water from the Tibetan Plateau.  He also said that the same issue (the elimination of the Tibetan glaciers.) will result in huge areas of China changing from food growing areas to deserts.  Again, very bad for all and sundry.

McThick
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I think that peak oil will

I think that peak oil will remain a 'big deal' for far longer than an additional 2-3 years.  There are a number of things that I believe are going to become more prominent that they are now:

  1. Immigration and ethnic violence
  2. Militarization of police forces
  3. Further polarization of political viewpoints resulting in federal paralysis
  4. More frequent and more effective 99% type movements eventually resulting in violence.  Think "The Mob" from the French Revolution
  5. Unrelenting pursuit of natural resources at home, regardless of environmental damage
  6. Further criminalization of poverty
  7. Further disenfrachisement of minority groups and youth voters

In all respects, I believe that anything that you can put on the spectrum of a journey into a police-state or dictatorship clothed in free-market and democratic ideals, the more likey you are to be correct.

-McThick

  • There's a lot of wisdom in a pint, and a lot of stupid in a quart.
  • bstar
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    Interesting...

    Interesting...

    These seem to all have strong cultural / social / political components to them.  Do you think there are any ideas / movements that have strong conceptual / scientific / etc. components (as does peak oil)?

    McThick
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    For conceptual movements I

    For conceptual movements I believe that virulent strains of overt and agressive Christianity will become more and more prominent.  Certain brands of mysticism will probably become more mainstream as well, some as a response to Agressive Christianity.  Homeopathy of all kinds will become more popular as 'modern' rememdies become more and more difficult to afford.  Similarly, scinces like Psychiatry and Psychology will experience a significant boom as people attempt to escape reality and blame their problems on a 'condition.'  This boom will be replaced by a bust that will see both professions almost disappear as people realize that paying to address the numerous maladies they have been using to avoid reality is no longer feasible.

    Science is a tough one because the biggest discoveries and movements have almost nothing to do with the social and political climate of the time. Furthermore, the US does not enjoy a monopoly on scientific achievment, it is a truly global effort, making it even HARDER to project forward.  I imagine we could see some further advances into genetics. Computing is essentially done as a scientific and technological endeavor, further increases in capability come at too great a cost.  In general the trajectory of shattering new scientific discoveries will be downward. Labs for advanced science do not come cheaply.  Super-colliders, for instance, run into the billions of dollars to move two helium atoms at near light speeds and consume huge amounts of energy to do so.

    We may see a new crop of charlatans selling N-Machines (or nearly so) on the internet, taking advantage of peoples ignorance and desire to continue watching TV regardless of cost.

    I also think that what we're working at here, low-tech green wizardry will become more and more common.  Old solutions to modern problems that use minimal fuel input.

    -McThick

  • There's a lot of wisdom in a pint, and a lot of stupid in a quart.
  • Sophie Gale
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    The Next Big Pow

    I am lousy at prognostication, so I venture that anything I mention here will automatically be wrong.

    I think that in twenty years we will definitely be seeing widespread migration due to climate change/environmental degradation.  They were saying on network news the other evening that the drought in Texas is officially the worst in a century, and when it inevitably persists into next summer, it will be the worst drought on record for that state.  I don't know how long Texans can hold out before they start  moving to greener pastures.

    Likewise, rising sea levels will start hitting people in the U.S. as insurance companies refuse insure future disaster sites.

    Look for a convergence between climate change, shifts in insect- and animal-borne diseases, super drug-resistant infections, and drug shortages.

    And maybe read "The Long Now Blog", if you don't already.  I am sure the next big Pow! will appear there soon--if it hasn't already been discussed.  Like the new Center for Postnatural History.

    bstar
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    Interesting...

    Sophie,

    Interesting.  I will check that out.

    It does seem that something biological (both good or bad) could be among the new important issues.  For example, if the Land Institute manages to create perennial grains, that would be a huge breakthrough.  On the other hand, if we saw the spread of a plant or human disease whose occurence is due to our current practices, that could be a huge downside risk.

    I guess more broadly my hope is that this list won't require prognostication - that instead the goal is to collect all fringe-y but maybe plausible memes / ideas / etc. that exist now that might have some relevance 20 years from now, and then sift through those ideas slowly.  So no need to forecast what will be important or popular - just trying to figure out a set of candidates.

    Sophie Gale
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    Oh, My!

    It sounds like you are asking about blind spots on the forum, LOL! 

    Urban Homesteading, for one thing.  People keep talking about getting out of the cities, buying acreage in the boonies, etc. etc.  And preparing for the The Future.  Learning skills for The Future.  There are almost 1500 people registered here on GreenWizards.  On Facebook "Take Back Urban Home-steading(s)"  has 10,043 fans.  Know why the page has such an odd looking name?    About 10 months ago:

    About
    Take Back Urban Home-steading(Drunk began as a protest to the trademarking of the words "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading." We have evolved into a large diverse group of urban homesteaders.http://www.takebackurbanhomestead.com/
    Description
    The main goal of this page is to organize for action to have the trademarks removed from terms "Urban Homestead" and "Urban Homesteading." We are also an urban homesteading community, but since we are attempting to re-gain these terms for our community this page is also an urban homesteading activism page.

    Mid-summer, a member posted that she had received a citation for putting a vegetable garden on her front lawn; she dared them to take her to court and now she was facing jail time if convicted.  I don't know how many 100's of people emailed or called her village administration, law department and local news outlets.   This is a busy group of people!  Living in the moment!  Sharing pictures this week of their hens, ducks, and even an ostrich...  I expect these folks are going to be significantly impacting urban zoning codes all over the country in the next decade or two.  What do you mean, I can't have chickens in my back yard?  Why can't I sell raw milk?  Hey, compost happens!  Tell Monsanto to stick their GMO's where the sun don't shine!

    Yes Magazine has received a mild sneer, I think, on TAR for its too ebulient "resilient communities" but I think their idea of restoring "the commons"  will catch hold.

    Indigenous people reclaiming their sacred lands and fighting back against environmental exploitation...

    The cooperative movement and the Fair trade movement...

    Read Utne Magazine's 2011 list of "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World."

    I don't know, is this what you are asking?

    Sophie Gale
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    I Can't Grow a Single Tomato...

    But I am a font of the odd, the curious, the underground whatever...!

    Just now, the local news announced that area pawnshops are the hot stores this year for Christmas shopping.  Owners are saying that people are lined up before the doors open in the morning to get quality merchandise at low, low, prices.  There are a lot of people  bringing in merchandise, too, so they can get cash to purchase Christmas presents.

    A really slick online magazine appeared this week:  Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy.

     

    And then there's  The Dark Mountain Project:  "– a new cultural movement for an age of global disruption.

    "We are a growing global movement of writers, artists, craftspeople and workers with practical skills who have stopped believing in the stories our civilisation tells itself. We believe we are entering an age of material decline, ecological collapse and social and political uncertainty, and that our cultural responses should reflect this, rather than denying it.

    "We are not an ‘activist’ movement seeking new ways to ’save the world’, but neither are we interested in ‘apocalyptic’ fantasies about the future. We are simply seeking to respond, as workers with the imagination, to the reality we see unfolding around us.  We aim to question the stories that underpin our failing civilisation, to craft new ones for the age ahead and to reflect clearly and honestly on our place in the world. We call this process Uncivilisation.

    "Winter 2011

    "We are seeking submissions for our third anthology of Uncivilised writing and art. Here is what we are looking for. We are keen to hear from new people and old. Deadline is the end of 2011."

    bstar
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    blind spots

    Definitely - that's a great way of putting it: I'm interested in identifying potential blind spots in our thinking today, in the same way that the early peak oil pioneers (Hubbert of course, and then Campbell and Deffeyes and others) identified a blind spot that turned out to be a big deal while other blind spots at least for the moment haven't hurt us in the way they were forecasted to (Paul Ehrlich, etc.) or were much less severe than thought to be by some (Y2K, etc.).

    I think we like to think of ourselves as having no blind spots since we're in-tune with something (peak oil, resource depletion, limits to growth, etc.) that is a blind spot for most of society.  But we do have blind spots, and I think it's worth trying to identify what they might be.  We'll only know which ones turn out to be important in the fullness of time, but some self-examination now would do us some good.

    For example, I feel that health / biology are areas I'm very unaware of, and could have both positive and negative things that could impact our future...

    dtrammel
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    I would hope

    that one of the next big cultural changes is urban farming. I don't see there is any other way to keep the population level at current society expectations, that is declining due to lower birth rates, not a massive die off from famine and disease, short of a large portion of us having some sort of gardening or local farming helping to feed us.

    I expect it will be one of those things that suddenly becomes the "IN" thing to do. When you start seeing more and more gardening how to segments on morning talk shows, like we do now about cooking, then it will have gone main stream.