George Monbiot, a famous (notorious?) British environmental activist, has finally come out and stated bluntly what a lot of regular folks have realized for years.
... most of those who advocate an off-grid, land-based economy have made no provision for manufactures. ... I’m talking about the energy required to make bricks, glass, metal tools and utensils, textiles, ... ceramics and soap: commodities which almost everyone sees as the barest possible requirements.
Are people ... really proposing that we do without them altogether? If not, what energy sources do they suggest we use? Charcoal would once again throw industry into direct competition with agriculture, spreading starvation and ensuring that manufactured products became the preserve of the very rich. ... An honest environmentalism needs to explain which products should continue to be manufactured and which should not, and what the energy sources for these manufactures should be.
There’s a still bigger problem here: even if we make provision for some manufacturing but ... envisage a massive downsizing and a return to a land-based economy, how do we take people with us? Where is the public appetite for this transition?
A third group tries to avoid such conflicts by predicting that the problem will be solved by collapse: doom is our salvation. Economic collapse, these people argue, is imminent and expiatory. I believe this is wrong on both counts.
Last week something astonishing happened: Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, revealed that peak oil has already happened. "We think that the crude oil production has already peaked, in 2006."
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But this also raises an awkward question for us greens: why hasn’t the global economy collapsed as we predicted? Yes, it wobbled, though largely for other reasons. Now global growth is back with a vengeance: it reached 4.6% last year, and the IMF predicts roughly the same for 2011 and 2012. The reason, as Birol went on to explain, is that natural gas liquids and tar sands are already filling the gap. Not only does the economy appear to be more resistant to resource shocks than we assumed, but the result of those shocks is an increase, not a decline, in environmental destruction.
The problem we face is not that we have too little fossil fuel but too much. As oil declines, economies will switch to tar sands, shale gas and coal; as accessible coal declines they’ll switch to ultra-deep reserves (using underground gasification to exploit them) and methane clathrates. The same probably applies to almost all minerals: we will find them, but exploiting them will mean trashing an ever greater proportion of the world’s surface. We have enough non-renewable resources of all kinds to complete our wreckage of renewable resources: forests, soil, fish, fresh water, benign weather. Collapse will come one day, but not before we have pulled everything else down with us.
And even if there were an immediate economic cataclysm, it’s not clear that the result would be a decline in our capacity for destruction. In east Africa, for example, I’ve seen how, when supplies of paraffin or kerosene are disrupted, people don’t give up cooking; they cut down more trees. History shows us that wherever large-scale collapse has occurred, psychopaths take over. This is hardly conducive to the rational use of natural assets.
All of us in the environment movement, in other words - whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse - are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order.
There's more at the link. It's worthwhile reading, even if you disagree with his perspective.
It's unusual to see this degree of honesty from the environmental camp. One hopes that more of them will see the light . . . but I daresay that's a pipe-dream. After all, Al Gore hasn't yet renamed his (in)famous book and documentary film 'An Inconvenient Lie' (which would more accurately reflect their contents); and he hasn't seen fit to hand back his illegitimately gained Nobel Peace Prize. I imagine Hell will freeze over before he does.