Monday, May 05, 2008

How the future doesn't look

It's a fine summery Monday midday in Toronto, 12:52 pm at present whatever Blogger might try to tell you. The weather has changed: after two days of cold and rain, today is sunny and warmish (16°C) with a gentle breeze and only few decorative clouds.

I'm alone at home (in my parents' house): Sis and BIL are downtown seeing friends, Niece and Nephew are at the Science Centre, parents are shopping. I have taken advantage of their absence to open up windows front and back, to get some fresh air into the house. I find the recycled air of these tightly-sealed North American houses unpleasant: it feels used, stale, flaccid somehow compared to the fresh crisp vitality of the air outside. I can hear birdsong — such a profusion and variety of birds here! — and airplanes, a lawnmower and the vague dull background roar of traffic on the Don Valley Parkway, which together were the soundtrack of my childhood. One thing is sorely missing though: the sound and smell of the row of poplars that stood at the back of our property. Ah well.

The neighbourhood has not changed much visibly, many houses are still inhabited by families I knew forty years ago. In some cases, the parents moved out and left the house to the next generation (my generation) who are now raising children here; some others simply never left home. One can't even buy a cardboard box in the gutter for under C$199,000 these days, let alone a proper house where one might raise a family. There are apartments and condominia going up all over downtown, which is generally a good thing, Jane Jacobs was entirely right about that, but they start at C$ half a million for a one-bedroom flat. Who the hell buys or rents them, and how do they pay for it?

The better question is: Where on earth does everyone else live? The answer is, sadly, "In a bedroom suburb 90 minutes by car away from their jobs downtown." This is not a model for the future. Oil is running out (in case you hadn't heard), and the automotive suburban lifestyle will die with it. How do you think people will survive in so-called "communities" where there are no shops? How will you get to the big-box store by the highway intersection when there is no gas to put in your car? For that matter, the big boxes won't be there: how will WalM*rt and the rest survive when the price of diesel makes their warehouses on wheels as expensive as the brick-and-mortar warehouses of their competitors? They will die before peak oil really hits, because their sole justification for existing is their low price: people are willing to buy shit from them because it is cheaper than non-shit, but who would still shop at WalM*rt if their shit were the same price as other stores' higher-quality goods? The big-box stores are dead, take that as a given. The Internet shopfronts like Amazon, who are really just negotiators between you and somebody else's warehouse on wheels, will die immediately after from the same cause: their business model also depends on cheap and plentiful fuel.

I am extremely pessimistic about the future of North America late-phase free-market globalized capitalist democracy, I'm sorry to say, not because the problem is insoluble but because I see no willingness to admit that it exists at all. Hard rains are coming, folks, and I'll tell you right now, for free, that neither prayer nor technology will provide a solution. Nor will the kind of eyes-tightly-shut denial that is currently being practiced by almost all politicians and media.

The coming crisis is not about the kind of fuel we pour into our cars, that is a technical matter (albeit one with wide-reaching social, environmental and global-political side effects, obviously).

The root problem is the car itself: the kind of lifestyle it forces (apparently...) us to live and the kind of national economy it requires (apparently...) us to support. How and with what will we replace a society based on the immediate gratification of childish whims and on private, individual mobility? Because these are not sustainable in the long term, probably not even in the middle term, and the sooner we begin to face this problem the more likely we are to solve it without falling into chaos and bloodshed.

Our desires and our lifestyle must change, if we wish to save the rest of what we now call "civilization."

Thus endeth the lesson.

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Blogger Savtadotty said...

North America's problem is its size...if it broke itself up into regions, it would make more sense, but that won't happen. I once read a book about that idea, The Nine Nations of North America, by Joel Garreau. Anyhow, denial by leaders seems to be built in to the political system, so things will have to get worse before they get better. Does that cheer you up? I suppose not.

May 5, 2008 at 10:07:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Dale said...

I'm more scared that we will find another power source than that we won't.

Economic crashes we can recover from, if painfully. The sort of ecological crash we're headed for has no recovery.

Sigh. Anyway, it's a beautiful day today and I have a massage scheduled within walking distance. So it's good. :->

May 5, 2008 at 11:06:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Zhoen said...

clap, clap, clap, clap, clap!

May 6, 2008 at 12:36:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Pacian said...

I often think how, in Europe (and probably North America too), we've set up this top-heavy system where we make money shuffling paper and spend it on objects assembled by people doing real jobs in distant countries. Then when the jobs go to the distant countries, or the hard workers come here, we resent them.

May 7, 2008 at 11:18:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Beth said...

Well said. And I agree with Savtadotty - N.A. is just too damn big.

May 9, 2008 at 2:47:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Anonymous May said...

You are right: our lifestyle must change or the next generations will be like zombies on a dead planet.

May 10, 2008 at 8:40:00 a.m. GMT+2  

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