Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, June 16, 2007

We Want Solutions!

by Jim Kunstler (May 28 2007)

Wherever the environmentally-informed gather these days (that is, the clusterfuck-aware), a nervous impatience often mounts, and ends up expressing itself as an outcry for "solutions". For example, at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival, where I happened to be this past weekend, along with a couple of hundred other people who spewed airplane exhaust across the stratosphere to get there. This year's twin themes were the Castor-and-Pollux of Clusterfuck Nation, Global Warming and Peak Oil.

Many frightening documentary films and Powerpoint talks were served up in the opening symposium (including ones by Dennis Dimick, the editor of National Geographic, Daniel Nocera of MIT, and yours truly) and, as the morning wore on, the audience grew visibly impatient, until one speaker dropped the word "solutions", and the audience gave out a big whoop of approbation.

It only made me more nervous, because this longing for "solutions", strikes me as a free-floating wish for magical rescue remedies, for techno-fixes that will allow us to make a hassle-free switch from fossil hydrocarbon power to something less likely to destroy the Earth's ecosystems (and human civilization with it). And I think such a wish is, in itself, at the root of our problem - certainly at the bottom of our incapacity to think clearly about these things.

I said so, of course, which seemed to piss off a substantial number of my fellow festival attendees.

My position on this can be easily misunderstood. I don't want civilization to collapse (I like Mozart and access to root canal). I don't want Homo sapiens to go extinct, or the planet to parboil. I certainly don't believe in doing nothing in the face of this emergency. But I also don't believe we are going to make any hassle-free switch in the way we run things - or that we should want to. Would the USA be a better place if we could run Wal-Mart and Las Vegas on wind power? I don't think so. Would the public benefit from another hundred years of suburban living - and an economy based largely on creating ever more of it? All the Prozac in the universe would not avail to offset the diminishing returns of that bullshit.

In my travels, I have noticed a disturbing theme among the educated minority of eco-advocates: they are every bit as dedicated to the status quo (in their own way) as the NASCAR morons and shopping mall developers. The eco-advocates want cars, too, and all the prerogatives (like free parking and country living) that go with them, just like the WalMart shoppers. If this were not so, then why do the eco-advocates cream in their jeans whenever somebody presents a snazzy new vehicle that runs on a fuel other than gasoline? Indeed, why are some of the eco-friendly pouring all their efforts into the invention of such things instead of into walkable communities and the reform of our stupid land-use laws?

I encountered this ethos most strikingly a few years back at Middlebury College in Vermont, where angry biodiesel advocates assailed my lack of enthusiasm for their particular "solution" - which seemed geared mainly to allow them to continue to drive their dad's old cast-off SUVs to the snowboarding venues of that progressive little state. But the wish to keep running all our cars permeates what little public discussion there is of the global warming / energy crisis issues at all levels. Even the elder statesmen of the eco-movement talk it up incessantly. The first great victory will come when they shut up about it and put their minds to other tasks.

The eco-advocate community is still hooked into the Faustian bargain of technology with little consciousness of its diminishing returns, and to some extent have made themselves unwitting tools of the truly clueless and wicked who run business and politics in our land. With this particular group in Telluride, which was composed heavily of Boomer eco-adventurers (mountain climbers, trekkers, kayakers), the infatuation with ever-cooler adventuring techno-gear extended naturally, it seemed, to their uncritical view of magical techno-fixes aimed at "solving" the climate / oil mess.

And the setting of the festival - the Rocky Mountain ski resort town of Telluride - itself induced some eerie moments of reflex nausea as one contemplated the many 10,000 square-foot peeled-log dream palaces built by Hollywood producers, who derive their fortunes by selling violent masturbation fantasies to fourteen-year-olds. One couldn't fail to notice that three-quarters of the storefronts along the little main street were occupied by real estate sales offices.

But I don't want to be doubly or triply misunderstood as appearing to twang on the kind people who invited me there, or to evade the obvious fact that I went (by airplane and shuttle van). I thought it was worth going to carry this one little message: let's stop talking about making better cars and start talking about occupying the landscape differently - which we're going to have to do anyway.

Bill Totten


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