The crisis continues at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan and today the authorities raised the alert level to 5.
Energy is a problem. The modern world depends on it and obtaining enough of it is difficult and dangerous. Modern economies evolved when energy was cheap and plentiful and energy use comparatively limited. Today the demand for energy is growing and we have no clear idea of how this can be sustained.
Safe alternatives to fossil and nuclear power such as wind, solar and wave are available but the critics claim that these are not enough.
But not enough for what?
It may be true that sustainable energy would not be enough for our society as it is today. Not enough for us to drive our big cars at 70 mph and wreck the countryside. Not enough for a society that insists that it has the right to fly to anywhere on the face of the earth in under a day and then expects facilities identical to those at their departure point. Not enough for a society so materialistic that it cannot cope with the rubbish it produces.
Imagine the world prior to the rise of technology. Imagine a developer expounding the benefits of a hyper-consumerist society such as ours and presenting a vision of such a society. The south of England to be covered in tarmac and traffic. The workforce to sit in uniform air-conditioned factory offices for 8 hours a day getting so little exercise that they are forced to drag themselves to a gym in the evening. Three hour commuting times. Every unique and beautiful location in every city to be surrounded by fast food outlets and frequented by strangers from the other side of the world. From The Houses of Parliament to the Spanish Steps to Patong Beach, all to have their character stripped and replaced with shops selling mugs with pictures portraying how it used to be before commercialisation. Ko Samui becomes Blackpool and our cities become caricatures of themselves.
Now throw in climate change and nuclear accidents and ask yourself would we have bought into this vision if it had been presented to us a hundred years ago?
Given the choice, would we have given up local natural beauty for two weeks holiday a thousand miles away? Would we have given up the character of our local towns and cities for electric windows, flat screen TV and birth defects that nobody talks about?
Are a people ever allowed to develop their own vision of the future or are we slaves to our baser needs for more food, more wealth and more than everyone else? Can we not look up from the trough for a minute to consider where we are going?
Our hyper commercialised system encourages production and consumption above all else. It builds in obsolescence so perfectly that incredible works of technical genius become obsolete after four years not because they are not useful or fail to function but because the manufacturer needs to keep selling more to ensure that the corporate machine continues to function. A whole industry termed marketing has emerged to encourage us to consume and everywhere we look there are adverts.
We sigh and consider that this is all normal. Bollocks it is! Our hyper-commercialised economies have existed for less than a hundred years.
This age will pass.
The question is: what will replace it?
We need to think about where our society should be going. To address climate change we need to change society as a whole and this change can be beneficial but first we need a vision of the future.
Changing society is scorned by the hyper-consumerist tendency. It is condemned as “social engineering” and anti-libertarian. Yet the starting point of all corporate bureaucracy is the “vision statement”. A vision of the future is created and this is followed by a strategy and plans. Democratic governments are then bribed and bullied into facilitating this vision. So we have social engineering already but the driver is profit.
We need to stop fooling ourselves that we can continue to consume and waste while avoiding climate change and nuclear accidents. We need to grow up and take responsibility.
A good start would be a clear vision of our future which is fundamentally different from the hyper-commercialised, energy greedy society which is promoted by the vested interests such as global corporations and lobby group dominated governments.
Critics will argue that society advances randomly and organically rather than in any organised fashion and of course it does. But whenever the human race has achieved anything of worth it has been accompanied by a clear vision that has been shared by the participants. In the 60s and 70s the first series of Star Trek was screened and this promoted idealism, individuality, humanity and optimism. I have always believed that this was the vision that underpinned the moon landings.
The vision which is portrayed in our media at the start of the 21st century is more Blade Runner than Star Trek. When people do envision a sustainable society they think of earth toilets, marijuana and very little soap. The details of these visions are unimportant. When Martin Luther King had a dream it did not include every legal decision taken in the civil rights struggle. When Churchill spoke of broad sunlit uplands he didn’t mention a national health service. If there is one thing we can say for certain about the future it is that all the predictions will be wrong. Star Trek, Blade Runner and absence of soap are all visions of the future which will not come to pass.
So why have a vision at all? We need a vision, not as a goal, but as a guide. If we develop a shared vision of how our civilisation could live in a sustainable way then we can start making intelligent and thoughtful decisions on working our way toward that vision. Without the vision we merely flounder around grasping at anything which is not responsible for the current disaster. Witness governments around the world turning on a sixpence and becoming sceptical about nuclear power.
So how do we develop such a vision? I suggest that we need speculative fiction. We need novels, movies and TV which portray alternative ways of living.
Hang on, I have an idea for a story………