Friday, February 11, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

There are many incandescent words in the literature of hope, whose kindly beams light our tortuous path through this darkling world. But the brightest paean to hope that genius ever penned cannot, I think, compare in illuminate amplitude with these simple words of the Spice Girls:

"All you need is positivity!"
This most efficacious of spiritual exhortations long ago woke the ice-blasted wasteland of my heart to an unending springtime, where there is no sorrow save for the knowledge that so many fellow travelers still stagger across the blade-keen sastrugi of despair. To banish such miseries is to perfect my own joy. Thus, I'm obliged to do whatever I lawfully may to "spice up your life."

I'm hoping this preamble has gotten you hot and bothered enough that you'll actually enjoy reading about exciting innovations in continuously variable transmissions, which allow vehicles to run at up to 95 percent efficiency throughout their speed range. Apparently, this could save a great deal of fuel per year.

But actually, that's not really what I wanted to talk about. The CVT story comes from WorldChanging, where every day is hope-blogging day; the entire site is geared towards casting aside "vapid anger" and working towards solutions. It's not surprising, then, that they're butting heads with James Howard Kunstler, who is, to them, a proponent of oddly gleeful pessimism which they recognize, very cannily indeed, as a modern-day form of terriblisma:
...the strange, gratified awe one feels when beholding dreadful disasters and acts of God from afar.
Now, I like Kunstler - he's a fine writer who has said a great many constructive and wise things - but to the extent that he sees the horrors of a post-oil world as inescapable, the criticism is a fair one. Part of Kunstler's problem is that he believes Americans are "a wicked people who deserve to be punished." I understand that sentiment - I'm sure there's a world of sincere anger and heartache and disillusionment behind it - but whatever "punishment" comes our way is likely to take its greatest toll on the weakest people in our own country, and in countries around the world. For that reason alone, one can neither gloat over the idea of our downfall, nor sit idly by while it happens, nor even, truth be told, call it inescapable. We got where we are today by abdicating power and responsibility; abdicating more power and responsibility, or encouraging other people to do so through defeatism, isn't going to help anyone. At least, not anyone who matters.

In his article, Alex Steffen lists a number of promising trends:
Large-scale renewable energy projects combined with smart grids and distributed power; Green buildings, especially homes and workplaces which are greatly more efficient, filled with bright green products and appliances; Sustainable transportation systems; New methods of industrial production....this is all stuff we know how to do now....And what we can do today is only the beginning. Yes, the situation is serious and the consequences of failure grave, but we're also growing more and more able to deal with that situation.

What we lack is the vision and the will. The vision we're starting to get -- every day a new plan for rebuilding some key sector of the global economy on new, radically more sustainable lines crosses my desk (take, for instance, Lester Brown's vision of a gas-electric hybrid/ wind power economy). The will is taking a little longer. But I don't think we'll get that will by promoting apocalyptic scenarios. I think we'll get it by imagining a future worth fighting for, and cities worth building.
This may be counting our chickens before they're hatched, but it sure beats counting our dead before they're killed! Radically different and better ways of producing almost everything are either here right now, or are within our reach, and it's impossible not to be inspired and humbled by the hard work and creativity that brought us to this social and technological tipping-point. No matter what the future holds, this work is not in vain, and to promote the idea that it will come to nothing is, in an essential way, immoral. It's also very likely to be wrong.


Thers said...

The Spice Girls movie is actually pretty good; as crap movies go, it's quite watchable.

I have nothing else intelligent to say...

Phila said...

I thought it had a couple of good jokes.

JMS said...

On Kunstler - I think you are right about his motivations and the way he comes across. He hates the suburbs and sees peak oil as forcing us back into a city-space. He is basically a classic curmudgeon.

His motivations, even if offensive, do not actually invalidate this looming problem of energy decline.

In any case, it is good to remember that one should stay focused on solutions, not problems.

Phila said...

Oh, Kunstler doesn't offend me at all. I like his books (or the two I read), I have a lot of sympathy with his position, and for all I know he may turn out to be completely right.

But what do we do in until we find out? As much good as we can, as passionately and hopefully as possible. I mean, if there's any other response to looming problems than a wholehearted attempt to solve them, it's news to me!

robin andrea said...

Just the word sastrugi fills me with hope because it is a beautiful, new word for me-- It reminds me of the vision of Eskimos who could see a multitude of variations and nuance where most of us just see snow.
We did our best Friday Good News blogging today-- in your honor, Philalethes.
Rexroth's Daughter

robin andrea said...

your first two graphs are stunningly beautiful language. thanks

we are lucky that some of us can see ahead, or just see how wasteful we are, and work to find less destructive and terminally dumb ways to get along. those who can see the prospect of necessity as the inspiration for invention.

exactly right about what else can we do.

dread pirate roberts