Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Something as simple as the pleasure of a hot shower induces melancholy in me nowadays. I can't help but wonder how many of these I have left in store. How much longer will I be able to burn through dwindling energy reserves in order to comport myself like a monarch? The high speed internet access, the lights at night, the trains, buses and automobiles: how much longer can all of us live so comfortably? Coal and nuclear may well keep me warm till the end of my days, but that the endowments of coal and uranium give us another 200 years of plentiful energy, tops. And these two resources won't make up for dwindling natural gas fertilizers that feed the human six billion. Ironically, the inevitable die off may destroy so much demand that the remnant can remain warm and well fed with the remaining resources. Overall, however, the world will be an increasingly cold, dark, dangerous place for all of us. It begs the morality of reproduction. What kind of sadistic jerks would bring children into a world like this? Your descendants will almost certainly never live as comfortably as you have. They won't have the easy access to energy to power machines that provide basic comforts like heat and light. Then again, more than 99% of humanity never had these comforts in their lifetimes because they didn't have the good fortune to live in the industrial era. The idea of reversion to the mean is so hard to digest, however. We've all been infected by the idea of eternal progress and the notion that all those who follow of will never have it this good can make for ill feeling. This doesn't alter the fact that the humans of 2250 would be lucky to live as well as the humans of 1250.

In many ways I firmly believe the non-industrial world is better. I've read arguments that anything other than a tribal foraging existence is an insult to nature, but I refuse to take things that far. Humanity has accomplished as many admirable things with civilization as it has abominable things. I don't hope for the perfection of man and the complete renouncing of all the evils that start to accrue with agriculture, yet I can't help but believe that civilization will develop into new and slightly improved forms. That's how natural selection works. It's a cruel process that culls species to extinction, but the biosphere keeps bouncing back and getting richer. The freeing of the buried energy of hydrocarbons turned out to be an extinction level event, like a slow-motion comet strike, but the process of speciation and evolutionary specialization will restock the world with abundant biodiversity. I expect a richer, wiser and much tinier human civilized culture will somehow be a part of that.