It is step 1 in about any rehabilitation process for addictions. There is something wrong with what you are doing, but you just keep on doing it. Maybe smoking is killing you but you have just chosen to ignore it. Maybe you are addicted to something else: alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, shopping, energy. Yep, there it is. ENERGY. I try not to diddle around too much. So what is wrong with any of these addictions and if we can recognize what is wrong, why then do we keep at them? This is far from my field of study or general interest, but I believe it is because something about the addictions is both enjoyable and comforting. Before I swerve too far into an area I know very little about, I’ll get back to just energy. We are addicted to energy. Seriously addicted to energy. We probably all use concentrated energy more than most other addicts use their drug of choice. Fortunately, the consequences are not quite so severe, at least in the short term. Let’s take a step back and think about what we are doing though.
People have been aware of electricity for perhaps thousands of years, but it was not widely used until about 1881 when it was first used to light a public street in the UK. The first truly useful and consistent combustion engine was designed in 1859, the same year the first commercial oil well was drilled in the United States. Lets give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and say we have had the knowledge and consequent potential to use concentrated energy for 300 years. Since then, staggering leaps and bound have been made in technology, obviously not by coincidence. I’ll save you the effort of reading another list of things that use electricity, but the full list its more than can easily be named. Furthermore, most technologies have been improved and reinvented numerous times.
Why are new technologies invented? Probably a few reasons. First, and likely foremost, new inventions are an easy measure of progress and we are a progress driven society. Screw “the journey is the destination,” the destination is the destination, and if we don’t get there ASAP, well, I don’t know, but it can’t be good. So what is the destination? Hm. Goooooood question? Just further along than we are now I suppose. The I-phone 6, that’s progress. A car that goes from 0 to 100 mph in 2 seconds and makes an espresso during that time is progress. Gigantic spiral towers where crops are grown inside by our own powered light and we never have to go out side, ever. That is progress. Sounds wonderful, I guess. Before I go to far, I will surely admit some of the benefits of progress. I have taken medicine and experienced other wonders of modern medicine. I have driven many miles in cars and truly enjoy my super cheap comfy clothing, all of it, possible due to progress. But what about the new I-phone or the newest gaming system? Are they progress? What are they moving us towards? What is the destination? What about all the ridiculous luxuries we have due to progress. They may all be amusing for a day or two, but we all get over them. They are oh so temporary and then we just want more progress. This may be just fine and dandy if engine of progress was simply hard work and dedication as we sometimes imagine, but no, like any other engine, the fuel is from fossil fuels. Our immense progress in just 300 years is not because we are so much smarter or so much more hard working than any human before us. Oh no. Our luxuries are not the results of our hard work. Planes, trains, and automobiles don’t run on will-power. Nearly every bit of progress in the last couple hundred years has been greatly assisted by energy which we did not collect ourselves. Yet, when we first found the potentials buried fossil fuels had, we treated them like buried treasure. Oh yea, we struck the lottery, let’s go nuts! And who could blame us, we had no idea what we were doing. No one thinks to ask where the money came from if everyone is benefiting from it. And nuts we went. Absolutely out of control, banana bread with nuts. We started using that concentrated energy like it was our job. In fact, we did made it our jobs. We stopped bothering to use our own energy and started letting our newly discovered treasure do it for us. Go outside, plant and harvest my own food? Why would I do that when an automated super-tractor with 45 gajillion horse power can do it for me? And walk? Ride a bike? You must be joking. Walking is for peasants. Collect fire wood? Nope. Now that I have all this free time, I can’t focus on making some real progress.
We have a problem. We are addicted to energy and the products resulting from its use. There is no destination in site, but we just keep using it and hoping it gets us closer to somewhere. We desperately grasp for the next small pocked of concentrated energy which may sustain this illusion for another few years. In his book, Occupy World Street – A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform, Jackson refers to one of the more recent energy ventures, the Canadian tar sands, and describes how, “U.S. nice president Al Gore calls the tar sands dream ‘Crazy,’ a huge waste of energy, and an eyesore on the landscape of western Canada. ‘For every barrel of oil they extract there, they have to use enough natural gas to heat a family’s home for four days’…’And they have to tear up for tons of landscape, all for one barrel of oil. It is truly nuts. But you know, junkies find veins in their toes. It seems reasonable, to them, because they’ve lost sight of the rest of their lives.'” (Jackson [quoting Al Gore], 23)Yes, lets use energy to do good things like save peoples lives and create renewable energy sources, but lets stop the infinite march towards a destination that doesn’t exist. How have we not learned yet that more of everything for cheaper does not make us happy. It is just something to aim for, and once we have it, we want more and are still not happy. Let’s stop pushing through life, working on things for the sake of progress in its typical sense because it does not make any sense. Put simply, we are working towards using our dwindling savings faster, providing more technology which ultimately doesn’t make anyone happier, and, oh yea, our own destruction (to be discussed in 5. The REAL ugly). We are fooling ourselves. Like any other addict, we make up reasons why we should keep using our drug, why it is important that we move as quickly as possible in a direction that we have deemed “forward,” why we need to just keep using energy while its available.
This is hard. Very hard. Shaking the sense that you need to head in a direction you have been told is your destination your entire life is difficult. But, it may be the best option we have because when the fuel tank runs dry in this short journey to nowhere, we will be stuck in a place we don’t want to be, a place where we have nothing and don’t know how to do or make anything by ourselves. Let’s try to make our transition into an inevitable life without concentrated energy easier on everyone. And instead of asking you to blindly see that this is a good idea with an equally undefined destination, let me try to explain why I think it is a good idea for each of us, all of us, now and in the future, in the next section, 4. The good.
quotes from: Jackson, Ross. 2012, Occupy World Street – A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform.