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The Future Is Not What It Used to Be

The Future Is Not What It Used to Be: Climate Change and Energy Scarcity

Jörg Friedrichs
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Future Is Not What It Used to Be
    Book Description:

    The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible. In this book, Jörg Friedrichs argues that industrial society itself is transitory, and he examines the prospects for our civilization's coming to terms with its two most imminent choke points: climate change and energy scarcity. He offers a thorough and accessible account of these two challenges as well as the linkages between them.Friedrichs contends that industrial civilization cannot outlast our ability to burn fossil fuels and that the demise of industrial society would entail cataclysmic change, including population decreases. To understand the social and political implications, he examines historical cases of climate stress and energy scarcity: devastating droughts in the ancient Near East; the Little Ice Age in the medieval Far North; the Japanese struggle to prevent "fuel starvation" from 1918 to 1945; the "totalitarian retrenchment" of the North Korean governing class after the end of Soviet oil deliveries; and Cuba's socioeconomic adaptation to fuel scarcity in the 1990s. He draws important lessons about the likely effects of climate and energy disruptions on different kinds of societies.The warnings of climate scientists are met by denial and inaction, while energy experts offer little guidance on the effects of future scarcity. Friedrichs suggests that to confront our predicament we must affirm our core values and take action to transform our way of life. Whether we are private citizens or public officials, complacency is not an option: climate change and energy scarcity are emerging facts of life.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31662-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 The Transitory Nature of Industrial Society
    (pp. 1-12)

    There is a wry little tale about a turkey. The turkey observes that the farmer brings food every morning without fail, and so concludes that it is well provided for and has nothing to fear. As the weeks go by, it becomes fatter and maintains its comfortable view of the world until its complacency is shattered on the eve of Thanksgiving when the farmer arrives to wring its neck.¹

    The turkey in our story falls prey to what was identified by David Hume as the problem of induction: from a strictly logical viewpoint, it is inadmissible to predict future events,...

  6. 2 Climate Change and Energy Scarcity
    (pp. 13-46)

    “Think globally, act locally” has always been a strange slogan. Undoubtedly all action must happen in a place, but how can global problems be addressed unless the framework for action is also global? Local action can save the California condor and the Alabama beach mouse, but it cannot solve the planetary problem of biodiversity loss. Nor can it solve resource depletion and climate change.

    For a long time, the majority of concerned people in industrial countries chose to act locally. Rather than trying to tackle global problems, they made sure that industrial societies would divert part of the wealth generated...

  7. 3 What the Climate Can Change
    (pp. 47-76)

    Society can change climate, and climate can change society. Climate change can have social and political effects in many different ways, but the most basic ones are related to human needs. Our subsistence depends on food, drink, and shelter. Food depends on agriculture, while drink depends on fresh water. Agriculture also depends on fresh water, as well as fertile land. Unfortunately, climate change is expected to have dramatic consequences for the availability of fresh water and fertile land; and, thereby, for access to food and drink. The third basic human need, shelter, requires a stable land base. Alas, climate change...

  8. 4 When Energy Runs Short
    (pp. 77-106)

    There is no denying that industrial society runs on energy, and especially on oil, so a serious fuel shortage can bring it to the brink. Most readers will associate fuel shortages with the oil crises of the 1970s, but it is important to note that in neither of these cases did the supply shortfall last for more than a few months or amount to more than 7 percent of global oil consumption. Now imagine a piecemeal but steady reduction of world oil supply by, say, 3 or 4 percent per year for a couple of decades. Surely this would have...

  9. 5 The Struggle over Knowledge
    (pp. 107-140)

    A battle is raging over knowledge about climate change and energy scarcity. The fundamental bone of contention is the same in either case. Do we really have to worry, or can we discard it all as scaremongering? In either case, the answer to that question determines the frontlines of the epistemic battle.

    In the case of energy, the stronghold of mainstream expertise is kept by those who argue that resource issues are no serious reason for concern because they are taken care of by the market mechanism and technological progress. Small but vocal groups of alarmists besiege that stronghold, enraged...

  10. 6 The Moral Economy of Inaction
    (pp. 141-168)

    What prevents us, together and as moral individuals, from confronting existential problems such as climate change and energy scarcity? On the face of it, an effective response is hindered not just by the inadequacy of existing knowledge regimes but also by a confluence of behavioral and cognitive dispositions. Despite the inescapability of the impasse and the efforts of countless well-intentioned people and groups, there is a full-fledged moral economy of inaction to ensure that our response to climate change and energy scarcity falls short of what is required.

    The moral economy of inaction consists of three key elements. First, people...

  11. 7 Where to Go from Here
    (pp. 169-178)

    Most people act like the inductivist turkey in chapter 1. They trust that what has sustained our prosperity and growth in the past will continue to do so. Even ecologically sensitive individuals and groups focus on mitigating damage caused by industrial society, rather than confronting the disconcerting fact that industrial society as such is the least sustainable form of civilization in history.

    Current policies and political discourse are thus paradoxically geared toward “sustaining the unsustainable” (Blühdorn 2010, 2011). There is no appropriate strategic governance of long-term risks to provide, in so far as possible, a softer landing when industrialism enters...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-188)
  13. References
    (pp. 189-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-224)