Saturday, 24 May 2008

We're all going to die!11!!!!1!

The BBC Radio Listen Again service is amazing and wonderful and useful, but in this instance, it is frustrating, because although I can find the programme I want, the section of it I want to highlight is not available to be heard again. But this proves that Dr Elaine Storkey was the speaker on Thought for the Day on Thursday last week, and you'll just have to trust me when I tell that what she was saying was broadly this:

In a time of global economic uncertainty, government policies are performing an about face. Up to now, our economic concern has been with expansion, acquisition and globalisation. It's all about having more. Dr Storkey's argument was that we need to learn to be satisfied with enough. She talked about "the economics of enough" saying that we had to change our economic model to one of contraction, rather than expansion and that this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

She didn't go on to make what I think is the next logical point, that we have to change our entire lifestyle if we are to have any hope whatsoever of avoiding self-destruction. My boyfriend is an engineer who designs interior heating, lighting and plumbing systems, while trying to make them as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. He specialised in renewable technologies in the final year of his degree and tells me it's impossible that all our current energy needs will be met by renewable energy alone. It will have to be nuclear or nothing, unless we're prepared only to use computers when the sun is out or when it's particularly windy.

Driving back from an assignment yesterday, I was listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 and while I've noticed that Jeremy Vine doesn't always go in for the most nuanced of discussions, it was hard not to listen to his studio guest who said most of the usable oil would be gone in 30 years and Vine's own comment that he'd heard somewhere that the planet could actually only support 3 billion of the current global population of 8 billion.

If any of this can be accorded any significance, we need to start changing our lifestyles now. I know we're all going to die anyway, but I'm feeling increasingly millenarian about the whole thing. One of my worst nightmares is that civilisation will collapse and I'll be forced to eat those around me to survive. II honestly don't think nuclear power is either a safe or sensible option given the current political tensions across the globe that show no sign of diminishing.

We should be building big wooden sailing ships so we can still travel when the only power we have is the wind. We should be slowing down our drive for economic growth and start doing things because they are the right thing rather than because they will make us money. We need to live in smaller communities with facilities close by so we can walk and cycle. We need to, as they do in Ludlow, collect all food waste separately from everything else and compost it and use it as biofuel. Locally, we also recycle cans, paper, cardboard and plastic. One of the best things about where I'm living at the moment is that practically everything is recycled. My flatmate and I get through one black binliner of waste that isn't recyclabe or reusable a month. We need to get used to the idea that things will take longer, that travel takes time and the pace of life will have to change.

And then yesterday evening, I drove to my boyfriend's house in Birmingham all alone in my diesel-powered, air-conditioned car. I felt guilty every step of the way. I still did it. I use energy saving lightbulbs, unplug everything when I'm not using it, walk to work and back, shop in the local butchers, grocers and bakers and avoid going to the supermarket at every opportunity. But I think we're still doomed.

(cross-posted to An immedia reaction)


TheTelf said...

I guess the question is whether life without technology (and, more specifically, the internet) is worth living at all. Why not enjoy our last 30 or 40 years as best we can and leave it to the next civilisation to solve the problem.

The problem is that it's such a global issue that without proper international adherence, there's really nothing we can do. Not that we shouldn't cut down and set an example ourselves, personally, but even if we stopped producing carbon emissions altogether, China's expansion would close the gap in something ludicrous like 12 days.

It's always seemed to me that the real solution is to put as much money into developing efficient, economical green technologies as we can, and getting developing industrial nations to start using them. Otherwise it's kind of all for naught.

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

the problem is that most companies prefer to make a profit than do the right thing, so really we don't stand a chance.

I'm all up for being as green as possible, and I try to be, I could be better though, but really this isn't enough. Society will probably have to collapse (or be on the verge of collapse) before anyone will realise that there's anything wrong. People = stupid!

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

take heed from the game fallout, vaultboy may be giving the thumbs up, but there was still a nuclear apocolypse... in the game.

Atleast if that happens we'll get to play with guns and shoot radioactive ghouls, hurrah!

G said...

In answer to thetelf - I see the answer coming from technology.
Ray Kurzweil has some interesting ideas of how solar power will improve in cost/performance. He reckons that solar power will double in capacity and halve in price according to Moore's Law.
If this is the case, and I see no good reason why not - given the high price of oil as a driver, then we'll enjoy huge growth of solar power.

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

This also doesn't take into account new innovations, such as nuclear fusion become possible on a mass scale, or even finding another renewable energy source we haven't yet thought of, or something of that ilk. I think it would be foolish for us to say that we have discovered everything that the world has to offer, we could also conceivably develop ways of harnessing the technology we currently have more efficiently, say be making computers take up less energy or making houses able to know when you are using energy or not, ie. turning lights off automatically etc. there is stuff like this being researched and implemented, but I still think that it'll take things getting to a state where it's not financially viable to run a car on petrol any more or recycling being a law (or something like that), before people will change their habits which they have become very comfortable in and very lazy. If you think back to the initial oil price hike when america decided invading iraq was a good idea, people panicked and rushed to petrol stations to get petrol before it went to over a pound per litre. The price of petrol now is just over a pound (I think, I don't drive) and no one seems that bothered any more, it's just the price of petrol, and most people haven't taken notice, so it'll take something pretty huge to get people to realise that they need to make changes to they way they live.

immedia reaction said...

I'm all for developing alternative technologies, I just don't see enough of it happening, because it's not yet financially viable. And this annoys me. In the long run, it is more sensible to invest in sustainable living NOW rather than waiting for it to get to the point where we have NO choice. Because by that time, it may either be too late or we will have caused untold misery to thousands of people through our collective selfishness. Which = bad :( People aren't stupid, they're just short-sighted and self-centred. Even realising that you are such doesn't automatically result in a complete change. I still want to travel the world - and my employer won't give me the time off I need to cycle across Europe and Asia - damn their oily hides!

And Andy, being a girl (;P) I'm not really big on the whole gun thing - I don't feel the need to compensate for anything, plus I prefer hand to hand fighting ;) more chance for hair-pulling and scratching ::rolls eyes::

I'm not saying there isn't a technological solution, I'm just not sure we have the time to come up with it. It would be in everyone's interests to maximise the time available to develop these solutions, yet getting people to act together on these things is like pulling teeth. I hate the argument that we shouldn't bother because the Chinese will fill the gap in no time (not saying you were making it Patrick, just that other people have said this to me), because that a) gives us an excuse to do nothing and b) gives us no standpoint from which we can persuade them we're doing the right thing.

I'm not sure about the price of petrol, but diesel is currently £1.31 per litre. I don't use my car very often anyway, but at that amount I will be using it less and less in future, though filling a tank still costs less than a return train to London. Furthermore, driving is much more convenient because I don't have to book in advance. And given the nightmare of changes and the tube, driving is actually quicker door to door... Grr.

TheTelf said...

@Andy: Fuel prices are still a pretty big issue I think - there're a couple of big protests going on today by lorry drivers I think.

@Hannah: Yeah, the China argument isn't intended to suggest that we do nothing, just that it's equally (if not more) important to get international agreement about how to address it. Clearly reducing our own emissions is a good example to set, especially if it generates new technology, but if China turn around and say 'no thanks', there's not a lot we can do.

I guess we could always say countries producing too much carbon are a threat to the future of the planet and invade them.

And in terms of cost, yes, my parents have been complaining for years that if going somewhere in the UK, it's pretty much always cheaper to take a car than it is to take public transport. Which is the opposite of how it should be. :(

James said...

I think the overall problem is that people don't care. Not everyone, obviously, but most people.

For example, I try to recycle things, turn off lights, heating, etc. But when our freeview box resets every time we turn it off at the plug it seems far easier just to leave it on standby and keep the channels. When I want to travel across to a friends house, even though it takes about the same length of time, I would drive rather than public transport if I can (atm I have no car). It's just easier and the end of the world is a long way away.