July 30, 2015

“Better late than later.”


I've been thinking about this paragraph:

In 1915, as the American economy boomed, the huge supply chain that supported horse-drawn transport—harnesses and horseshoes, wagons and buggies makers (13,000 of them), farriers and blacksmiths, hay balers and feedmills—looked like a robust and vital segment for deploying capital. 1920 was the year of “Peak Horse” in the U.S.. By 1940 it was gone. This was not “low-cost”, incremental progress. It was an economic disruption so fierce that the phrase “buggy-whip maker” became a business simile for loser.

(It's part of the conclusion of Carl Pope's article: Get Ready for Ugly as "Free Markets" Begin to Deal With Climate Crisis.)

1915 was one hundred years ago. Is it possible that by 2040 oil will seem like a thing of the past?

There is this feeling that things are moving too slowly, or not at all. But, at the same time, I also have the feeling that when things do change sometimes they can switch really fast, like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

I don't think this change will in any way save us. Wars over oil will be replaced by wars over water. And the environmental degradation that is already underway will bring along with it more flooding, hurricanes, typhoons, migration, famine, disease, mass species extinctions and, as previously mentioned, war. But if oil were to become out of bounds, or even greatly reduced, in my lifetime it would be really be something to see.

The phrase “Better late than later.” comes from a Christiana Figueres speech. And whenever I hear people say 'It's already too late' I think the exact opposite is true in any given situation. The true motto of all activism is that there is always something to be done, it is never too late. And you don't yet know what is or isn't possible until it happens.

Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."

Albert Camus: "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

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As an addendum I thought I'd return to a section from an earlier post entitled Stories I started but couldn't finish:

I have been thinking so much about solar energy, about how much of what I read, especially from a mainstream perspective, seems misplaced. When I read that we will not be able to generate enough energy using solar and wind, I feel they are completely missing the point. The points are:

1) That these new, sustainable technologies will force us to use less, will demonstrate – on a real, lived, experiential basis – that resources are renewable but not infinite.

2) That there is more autonomy, and less greedy profit, in a decentralized power grid.

3) That the many exorbitant expenses of polluting the air and water are simply not being factored into the standard calculations. Environmental devastation is expensive on every level.

But it is mainly the first point I obsess over. Let’s say you have solar panels on the roof of your house. Each day, you will use only as much energy as these panels generate. When it runs out you go to sleep and wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. The energy is not infinite, not available twenty-four hours a day. There are limits and you learn, out of necessity, how to live within them.

This, for me, is the main lesson of sustainable technologies. They would force us to live differently, to be aware of daily limits, to find solutions that acknowledge real limitations. They do not make life easier in every way. They make life harder in some ways, ways that force a fundamental shift in how we see the world and our place within it. I also suspect that working within a series of concrete, reasonable limitations would bring along with it a kind of reality and even joy.


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