Monday, November 16, 2015

Into the Abyss

There are times I can comprehend why Nikolai Tesla fell in love with a pigeon. Humanity can at times seem unloveable. There was method in Tesla's madness. His nemesis, Edison, was busily taking someone else's half-done inventions and patenting them for himself. Buggered if Tesla was going to confide his plan for ambient and infinite free energy to humans.

Dan Carlin's latest Common Sense podcast has brought these thoughts to the fore with his musings on Bill Gates' radical statement in The Atlantic, where Dan was enthralled by Gates' idea to speed up the innovation spiral.

The plot goes like this. Climate change is an existential threat to humanity. Without alternate forms of energy, we're all going to die as a species. If humanity can focus its brains and brawn like the Yanks did for the Manhattan Project, we might just live.

Carlin describes it as a big asteroid on a ten-year deadline to wipe out life on earth, or the nuclear arms race during WWII. If only humanity can focus its talents on this threat, we might get a pass. We should be so lucky.

My unbounded pessimism is well established. After the Copenhagen round of climate yakka, it was clear that capitalism and human nature had trumped collective action, responsibility and long term survival. In the long run, we're fucked.

We can't all live like Americans, yet they have set the gold standard for copious consumption. Energy is just one part of the puzzle, albeit a large one. Oil will still fill the middens with packaging and hollow marketing shill, regardless of whether we're walking on sunshine with pV cells or not. WALL-E and Idiocracy shared the same plot, with contrasting levels of profanity.

The other problem is climate change is more a slow boiled frog than a clear and present asteroid threat. Entropy is all whimper, no bang. Earth will be caught between flood and famine, alluded to here in a post which was popular with many spy sub-stations at the time. Tl;dr is there's life in the Westphalian nation state yet.

The TPP is precisely the opposite of a cure. Instead of freeing general knowledge, we have chained it, pimped it out for outrageous entry fees. Science has been privatised, ideas imprisoned for Life plus 70 years.

There will be no collective action. At least, not until we're utterly exhausted by resource wars. We've forgotten what a post-war consensus looks like. Looks like we're going to need another war to discover it again for the first time.

In the meantime, Indonesia is still on fire. There goes another carbon sink.