Sunday, November 19, 2006

Doomers and Ecotopians

The Peaknik movement is naturally fracturing as it rolls along. Among those who understand that future hydrocarbon availability will start an irreversible decline in the near future there are a spectrum of views from resulting sustainable ecotopia or extinction-level collapse. I detest the End-of-Worlder rationale of solitary survivalist plans. I revere the idea of human civilization as an evolving thing and something for which we have tens of thousands of years of pre-carbon examples. Plus, I think a small town or village is a better option than an individual or small family against roving brigands. The ecotopians who imagine a well-planned and fairly smooth "transition" to sustainability strike me as maddeningly optimistic. The fact is civilization can and probably will survive and if it does, it will greatly resemble the pre-carbon age models with smaller population centers reliant on nearby food production: lights and hot water optional. The other salient fact is that many of us parading around our mega-industrial cities and exurb/suburb sprawl are not going to make it into this saner, sustainable world. Yes, humans will adjust, but I am not being an apocalypse-obsessed doomsayer by saying that adjustment will include significant depopulation.

As I said in an earlier entry, I used to think that Peak would mean scaling back: trains instead of highways, small towns and farms replacing suburbs. But Peak means so much more than that. No amount of what Jim Kunstler correctly dismisses as "perpetual motion" claptrap (hypermileage cars, alternatives to oil, etc) will sustain our modern megacity/suburb arrangement or the number of humans on the planet. The folks over at WorldChanging have a great time getting on Mr. Kunstler's case, but they really are missing the point. No amount of alternative fuels and urban gardening are going to allow the big city and its suburbs to drift gently into a lower energy world. That billions have to disappear from the face of the earth in short order seems so inescapably obvious that I wonder that anyone familiar with hydrocarbon depletion would argue that point. Again, fact: the metroplex and its growing populations are a direct result of hydrocarbon exploitation; these phenomena will shrink in near lockstep with diminishing hydrocarbon availability. We are not all going to be struck with lucidity and resolve to have no children or just one. Rather population is going to continue to run away even as we crest the top of the hydrocarbon summit. We'll probably get between 7 and 9 billion hungry mouths before the starvation starts and then it will be that much more painful than when we just had 6 billion.

The further along we get in this drama, the more I feel like smacking around the ecotopians. Predicting a die back (instead of a die off) isn't gloom and doom; it's acknowledging the unassailable facts of overshoot and its results. I leave them to their urban gardens between the skyscrapers, highways and raised ranches. Best of luck.