Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XX

Today’s contemplation is once again generated by way of an article from the online media site The Tyee. It’s topic is the city of Vancouver’s (British Columbia, Canada) attempts to require ‘electrification’ of all new buildings as part of their Climate Emergency Action Plan and the pushback by the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating.

My first comment below was to bring to the surface the Overton Window that most media articles tend to display when discussing climate change actions and associated issues, particularly that it is only via ‘electrification’ of our society that we can adequately sustain our complexities and wean ourselves from the energy provided by fossil fuels; and thus ‘save our planet’.

The comment that follows is in response to another who responded to my comment with the tendency of some to buy into false (magical?) ‘solutions’. We tend to do this for any number of reasons, most (all?) of which are bio-psychological in nature.

The Overton Window established around policies/actions to address our ecological/environmental dilemmas is on full display here.

Want to reduce our impact on the planet? Stop adding to the problem that is the fundamental one: growth. None of the growth we continue to pursue (i.e., economic, population, etc.) is ‘Net Zero’ even if it’s needs are all ‘electrified’. ‘Electrification’ still requires ecologically-destructive sources to supply the energy; the notion that it is in any way ‘Net Zero’ is a comforting narrative that helps reduce the cognitive dissonance created when conflicting beliefs exist (e.g., growth can continue with little impact on the planet if we just ‘electrify’ it verses we live on a finite planet with hard biophysical limits that we have overshot in many cases).

The end of the fossil fuel age appears to be approaching and we need to acknowledge that the coming decline in the cheap and powerful energy it has provided will send our world (and most? all?) of our assumptions about modern, complex societies sideways in mostly unexpected ways. And this energy cliff we are beginning to experience is not because of our choosing to abandon fossil fuels (that is just the mainstream/dominant narrative being weaved); it’s because they are a finite resource that has encountered diminishing returns for some decades now and can no longer be economically accessed — to say little about the negative ecological impacts their use (and more recently, retrieval) have.

We can continue to weave comforting narratives such as ‘it’s just a matter of transitioning to a new, clean/green energy source and all will be well’, or we can confront the coming energy cliff and its significant knock-on effects (e.g., resource shortages, long-distance supply chain breakdowns, economic disruptions via bankruptcies/infinite currency devaluation-via fiat money ‘printing’, etc.) and attempt to build local/community resilience and self-sufficiency with our remaining (and finite) energy and material resources.

Which path is chosen (or some iteration of it) will impact how well a region/community fares as our energy-intensive living standards hit the wall that appears to be fast approaching.

I truly do believe many people are susceptible to/persuaded by misleading stories/narratives for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most prominent of those being the deference to authorities/experts that we tend to display (think Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments). We tend to have trust/faith in particular people/professions and the marketers/propagandists (aka snake oil salesmen) are quite aware of this. So, a handful of academics/politicians/‘experts’ come out and declare ‘electrification’ of everything will lead us to the promised land…and here we are, only discussing the more comforting (and misleading/false) ‘solution’ and completely ignoring a more painful one that may be much more realistic in nature.

We are also genetically predisposed to avoid pain and seek pleasure, so a story of hope that can delay or bypass possible unpleasant consequences is much more easily believed and clung to than one that portends discomfort and difficulty. And one of the primary ways we reduce the psychological pain created by conflicting belief systems (that I’ve repeatedly emphasised) is to dismiss/deny/ignore the more painful one, such as having to forfeit comfortable living standards/expectations.

Another confounding factor in all this is the grieving process that people oftentimes go through when realising a significant loss (i.e., the lifestyle you ordered/expected is out of stock). Kubler-Ross’s original stages of grief is a great checklist for how many of us confront such loss. Denial (where the loss is imagined to not exist — many people are in this stage); anger (a lot of blame put on ‘others’ here); bargaining (when we begin creating ‘if only’ narratives — I would argue those in this stage become especially susceptible to the snake oil salesmen); depression; and acceptance. It is likely that until most of us are in the final acceptance stage will we be able to reach consensus on how best to confront the existential dilemmas we have created for ourselves and this planet.

Please visit my website and consider supporting my work via the purchase of my fictional novel trilogy, Olduvai.

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Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)

Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)

A guy trying to make sense of a complex and seemingly insane world. Spend my days pondering our various predicaments while practising local food production...