Friday, February 8, 2013

Intermediate Hope

hoohah was wonderful enough to anticipate the next in the series, so we'll begin with his comment on The Basics of Hope. Rather than the standard "you is wiccan stooge!" stuff, he offers the levelheaded critique of naively following pamphlets from solar power installment teams*:
Well, this is an un-typical oversimplification. I certainly agree that the message of hopelessness is very dangerous, and should be resisted. Further, the resources indeed exist to ensure decent survival for every single human on the planet - but only IF the current socioeconomic system is abandoned entirely, so a rational approach to resource management is possible to adopt.

But it will *have* to be at a lower rate of resource consumption, and this is where I obviously disagree: just because the total output of solar energy is indeed enormous it certainly doesn't mean that we can actually use it. Solar energy (as it reaches the earth) is an extremely high entropy source. Which means that in order to use it, you also need to *expend* enormous amounts of energy and materials (unlike, say, coal, which you only have to dig out and light on fire).

There is no doubt that ultimately humanity has no other energy options, however our ability to actually use it is *centuries* away in the future, and will still require lower rates of energy consumption.

Further, there are limits on energy production increase - it cannot go on indefinitely. the amount of energy produced by humanity is already comparable to the energy emitted by the earth's core (!).

And of course, there is the issue of the other - far more limited - resources and systems collapsing before our eyes, most notably deforestation, soil erosion and depletion, ocean pollution. These are also possible to fix, but certainly not within the current framework.

So, again, while I certainly agree that the message of hopelessness is a useful tool for domination, the opposite does not necessarily hold true.

* Not a joke; elite-owned solar energy companies are deliberately pie-in-the-sky about the potential for solar energy, setting up fantasies of solar utopias that, like Dubya's AWOL papers, are meant to be revealed as fakes.

hoohah: "Further, the resources indeed exist to ensure decent survival for every single human on the planet - but only IF the current socioeconomic system is abandoned entirely, so a rational approach to resource management is possible to adopt."

High Arka: Not necessarily. Even post-Black Death, when resource scarcity and dying serf populations increased serfs' bargaining power with regards to selling labor to elites, elites were able to not only recover the upper hand, but develop more intrusive systems of social domination and resource exploitation. The next major phase of energy consumption could be directed by the same elites currently running this show, with or without a mass peasant die-off. Obviously, this one hopes for the victory of decency, but as soon as a new energy technology is released, elites may use their capital networks to patent it, parcel it out in measured quantities, and maintain similar (or increasing) levels of social control.

In a way, doing it without the mass die-off would be worse. If the environment continues being ravaged, people continue starving, and wars continue occurring, and elites then release a new energy/farming option, end hunger and war, and unify the world under a super-benevolent police state, the statistics of it would look good--but it would be an even more horrible future. Starving Somali refugees, fleeing Obama's drones with their families, know that something is wrong, but contrast those families with a bunch of low-income American drones eating partially hydrogenated potato chips while they snort in delight at the Superbowl commercials. Which sight is a scarier vision of the future? The Somali in the example still have hope, human connection, and a visceral, real perception that something is wrong with the world, while the Superbowl fans may take their loud TV and crunchy chips as "proof" that they're surrounded by luxury. The refugees are preserving something of a free humanity--the fans may have already lost it.

hoohah: "But it will *have* to be at a lower rate of resource consumption, and this is where I obviously disagree: just because the total output of solar energy is indeed enormous it certainly doesn't mean that we can actually use it. Solar energy (as it reaches the earth) is an extremely high entropy source. Which means that in order to use it, you also need to *expend* enormous amounts of energy and materials (unlike, say, coal, which you only have to dig out and light on fire)."

High Arka: At current technology, yes. Basic hope is realizing the infinite (or call them "massive," for purposes of discussion) resources available from the verse, which we are scarcely beginning to access. Intermediate hope is realizing that, out of all the potential ways of exploiting resources, a few baby steps forward in our technology might be as world-changing as photosynthesis, internal combustion, or applied light chrysalises. Our legions of chemists, engineers and physicists are encouraged to work incrementally, improving "the car" year by year, to get slight efficiency jumps and more usable up/down buttons on the windows. Even a farsighted capitalist could turn thousands of minds toward more distant vistas.

Centuries away? Maybe, maybe not. "Hope" is not in the sense of "this one's life." Thinking of life by life is what keeps capital investment focused on short term, and unconcerned about pollution. That's why concepts of absolute death, or even absolute worldly death, are so useful: if you're going to vanish forever within seventy years, then improving your department's efficiency by pumping that sludge into the ocean is the sensible choice. Ranting about "future generations" is the action of a lunatic, in a world of those kinds of absolutes.

(There's an interesting quirk, there, about capitalism: capitalism, and an invisible hand, might work much better in a culture that didn't believe all negative externalities could be escaped by physical death. Let's put that aside for now, though.)

hoohah: "Further, there are limits on energy production increase - it cannot go on indefinitely. the amount of energy produced by humanity is already comparable to the energy emitted by the earth's core (!)."

High Arka: Whether or not there are limits in a galactic sense, Earth's current usage of the sun is so low that we're nowhere near questions of limits--just one of efficiency. The technology we now call "solar" is great, but might be viewed in a few centuries as equivalent to--no, not to starting a fire by using a pointed stick; nothing so simple. Equivalent, rather, to opening clams by bashing them upon one's own forehead.

"I can imagine killing that lion with just a stick."

"I can imagine flying higher than that bird."

"I can imagine using a 0.001 second strobe from a 2 watt laser to cascade an indigo beam through a solar tension array to magnify its output fifteen million times and boil a thousand gallons of water, turning the turbines that power the electron decouplers that synthesize our dwindling stock of landfill fuels into the tortillas for the Asian branch of the free tortilla program."

Continued in Hope, Part 3.

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