71. HATCHING OUT OF THE EGG
I believe that our human destiny lies in space, and that we can and should make the next step to space mirrors (#51), LSP (Lunar Space Power, #33), space power satellites (#5) etc.
I see two ways the future can turn out:
1) We get through peak oil, synch into nuclear, and then unlock fusion or realize that space power isn't as hard was we thought. We have some tough times, but there is no severe plateau or trough in the growth curve. Fusion or space power saves the day, and we smoothly switch to harvesting space energy and resources with our current economic and consumer mindset intact.
2) Cars really are a virus (see #45). Not just a nuisance, but actually a lethal threat which has infected us, and could kill us while we're trying to hatch out of the egg. First we raise up the poor, so they can have an American standard of living, i.e. cars. Chinese peasants are driving en masse. Oil peaks, but we handle it by liquefying every hydrocarbon (gas, coal, unconventional, oil shale) left in the earth to fuel an exponential explosion of cars. Then gas runs out, so now we're running on nuclear electricity, and mining coal and uranium like mad to fuel private automobiles. We're also liquefying huge amounts of food to fuel cars, and paving over agricultural land for parking, roads etc. There's a lot of stress in the system, and a lot of fissile material in the world, and a nuke or two get blown off. Massive fuel stockpiles are sucked dry by pointless wars. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is getting all fucked up from car emissions, and the green house effect is kicking in for real. Eventually, the strain is so great that we don't get out into space, because we wasted too much of our resources making cars.
I disagree with the doomers who think this sequence of events is imminent. I think, if we just let it run its course, it might take 70 years or more. I personally expect to die before society seriously questions the car.
No matter which scenario is true, we should learn from the poor:
Case 1) People living in a sealed space colony will need to live a lot more like the indios or Chinese peasants than like us. Growth capitalism isn't going to work inside a sealed space colony. What is needed is the ahistorical mindset of cyclic man, who enacts the same ritual every year, and regards deviation from the cycle like an error or a sin. (Mircea Eliade has written at length on this topic, see The Myth of the Eternal Return: or, Cosmos and History.)
Space colonists will also need to recognize their own excrement as a resource, just like the poor Chinese did (do?) and the poor Indians (in India) who grow fish in ponds fertilized with sewage (see #72).
The most important thing we can learn from "primitive" people is how to exist in a condition of economic stasis. I am not anti-growth. The destiny of humanity is exponential growth into space. But to do that, we've got to learn how to control and stabilize growth, when necessary. In a space colony, you don't want anybody sitting on their ass and megaconsuming, no matter how much money they have. Resources are too critical to allow any form of parasitism. Ayn Rand doesn't work inside a space capsule.
Case 2) Here we need to learn from the poor so we don't kill ourselves. I'm not talking about powerdown where we shun technology and money etc. I'm talking about about power-stabilize, where we synch into a graceful stasis or powerdown so we don't foul up the step into space. We need to conserve our resources and restructure because metamorphosis takes a lot of energy.
The cornucopians are right. We can, and probably will, stall off dealing with the car problem for a long time. But in the long view, we only have two options, space or death (see #2), and wasting energy on cars and other frivolous bullshit makes death a lot more likely. The doomers are right on that point.
Unfortunately, I think Kunstler is wrong. Peak oil will not kill the car, and its going to take an excrutiatingly long time dying. Peak oil is not going to be the deus ex machina, and we're going to have to kill the car ourselves. I regard that as virtually impossible, but I think it's a good idea to be optimistic, and try anyway.