Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Roulette Anyone?

I have many vices, but gambling isn't one of them. When I take a risk, I like to know that the odds are in my favor. I can spend a whole week in Vegas and not bet a single nickel. This time, I have no choice. The bet has already been made -- the future of Mother Nature and all her children, including me and mine -- on a spin of the roulette wheel. The wheel is in motion, but where do I place my chips?

The table offers a range of squares. There are the Joe Romm and Thomas Friedman versions of the future -- you know, we save the world through conservation, efficiency and techno-glitz. There are Rob Hopkins versions where the world powers down to a simpler life of local sufficiency, much like my favorite poster child, Earthaven. Middle of the spectrum is Howard Kunstler's World Made by Hand (rather terrifying to think that Kunstler is middle of the spectrum!), followed by a survival-of-the-most-ruthless version of Mad Max. Worst of all is the James Lovelock death toll: we're done for, so relax and enjoy the game. Somewhere on the table is my mother's version, the biblical apocalypse of Revelation. She is trying desperately to bring me back into the fold before the Rapture, but Jesus can't save a soul that denies the need for salvation.

I stand here, watching the wheel spin, trying to calculate the odds. I dismiss Lovelock and Revelation -- no bets could cover those odds! That leaves me with the Friedman/Romm to Mad Max range. There are days when I think Friedman and Romm could be right. Maybe we will get clean electrons up and running in time to power a miracle fleet of plug-in vehicles. Or maybe we'll be running our cars on compressed air. Happy motoring and the suburban lifestyle don't have to be a dead end, do they? And if we revitalize our train system, much of our current trucking could be done by rail. But what about farm equipment, construction machinery, airplanes and ocean freighters? If we are truly at peak oil, and I see every indication that we are, then personal auto transportation is but a small piece of the pie. Okay, but maybe we'll find huge new oil reserves in the melting Arctic. Oh, wait, then we would save ourselves from peak oil only to kill the planet with global warming. . . And I haven't even touched on water, food and resource shortages, climate extremes, epidemics, refugee conflicts, or the potential for war.

Joe, Thomas, I just don't see it happening your way. If we're smart, we'll get a Hopkins/Earthaven future. If we're stupid but lucky, we'll get a Kunstler world made by hand. And if we keep playing with our eyes closed, we'll be sharing the future with Mad Max. To quote a Judy Fjell song, "There's no way out of this one, no way that I can see, no place that I can run to . . . "

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets and take your chances!

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