This post quotes from a paper to be delivered next year casting doubt on what I’ve called green cornucopianism.
Although Malthus’s worries about land shortages were transcended by world-historical events as well as by Ricardo’s and Marx’s different versions of technological optimism, they were soon reincarnated in Jevons’s warnings about the depletion of coal. Today economists generally dismiss the pessimism not only of Malthus and Jevons, but also of current concerns over peak oil, by expressing faith in human ingenuity. To retrospectively ridicule pessimists by referring to technological progress that they did not anticipate has become an established pattern of mainstream thought. Almost regardless of ideological persuasion, the seemingly self-evident concept of “technological progress” inherited from early industrialism has been resorted to as an article of faith serving to dispel the specter of truncated growth. The increasingly acknowledged threats of peak oil and global warming are thus generally countered with visions of a future civilization based on solar power.
All this modern technological progress was caused by fossil fuels. Now they’re saying technology will provide a replacement for fossil fuels. That’s saying something rather different, although the technocrats and flacks are too stupid to realize it.
(Judging by the paper’s title, it may go in for another kind of idiocy, that without fossil-fueled “growth” we’re in for scarcity and “zero-sum” horrors. But this is the same lie propagated by the growthsters. Agroecological science has proven that smallholder-based organic production using minimal or no fossil fuels outproduces oil-slathered industrial ag, in calories and nutrition. Pre-oil scarcity, where it existed, was primarily the result of malevolent socioeconomic structures, just as today; and secondarily of insufficient knowledge. We now have the knowledge. All we need to make the post-oil future a future of abundance is the Food Sovereignty movement which shall overcome the tyranny of today and tomorrow. This is the way we can and must occupy the sun.
But to use concentrated solar panels to privatize and enclose it cannot work physically, cannot work economically, and cannot “feed the world” or liberate humanity. The only thing which can render the post-oil world a world of scarcity is the same thing which imposes global scarcity today: scarcity-dependent and -imposing socioeconomic structures. Corporate tyranny.
As I wrote last Thanksgiving: Occupy the Sun!)