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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Last And First Men

When Olaf Stapledon wrote his great story of the future, Last And First Men, it was just after World War I. Among other things, he implicitly spoke of Peak Oil, for he showed how the First Men - we ourselves - would employ more and more advanced and expensive technology to suck fossil fuels from the Earth.

These complex and pricey methods work when the price of oil is sufficiently high enough to justify the cost; once we are in the realm of drilling and fracturing deeper and deeper, we are in the realm where the price is high enough.

Energy will continue, Peak Oil advocates notwithstanding: it will continue and will continue to become increasingly costly.

Paradoxically - and perhaps ironically - all of this occurs with little or no attempts at meaningful conservation. In North Dakota today natural gas is being burned off into the air, since the price of natural gas is low. In Texas, the state laws dictate that natural gas be put into a pipeline, and the cost of doing so is part of the normal cost of doing business.
But North Dakota is "frakking", and the laws there are not up to date.

I remember conservation mostly as dark cities and dark Christmases; there was just enough light for safety and no more.
Now the planet is lit up and can be seen from satellites glowing brightly.

Stapldon wrote that the First Men wasted more and more fuel on meaningless displays of aeronautics; airplanes were fuel guzzlers and they were flown is masses for some symbolic reasons. It does not matter how the fuel is wasted. What is important is the fact that mankind seems compelled to waste, and this act of wastefulness seems to be meaningful to the minds of men and women.

And they cannot control their actions, because the meaning of waste and depletion is a great emptying which somehow forgives their overabundance and fullness to excess of satiety.

In Last And First Men, when things go bad, there are no longer any fuels accessible to mankind hurt and impoverished; the return of mankind is seriously hindered by lack of fuel, just as societies today are hindered when they have grazed and burnt all the fuels in their surroundings.

Mankind will re-ascend the ladder of progress very slowly, and all the threats that Nature throws our way - such as meteors and epidemics - are unrestrained by our lost technologies...

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