Both of them scramble like mad to assure us that our unchecked consumption need not slow or decline--the former say so because the earth simply cannot be used up, the latter because technology must provide new ways for us to do what we do. Limits don't sell. Jimmy Carter taught us that thirty years ago, and no one on either side of the aisle has yet forgotten.
Jason Peters over at Front Porch Republic recently wrote a brief blog about a New York Times article on alternative energy. "It is predicated," Peters writes
like much of our fantasy life, on the assumption that technology and energy are interchangeable.I haven't and won't read the article, but Peters' analysis applies equally well to dozens of other articles on alternative energy that I've perused over the years. Do read the rest of the blog.
(It’s true most of us know this assumption to be false, be we know it to be false the way we know that there’s no monster following us up the stairs from the dark basement, which is to say we don’t know it. Otherwise we wouldn’t be sprinting.)
I’ll grant that the article does attempt to focus on energy rather than on the gee-whizzery by which we get it, but still the underlying assumption is that when we finally crash into the natural limits of ancient sunlight, we’ll simply flip a switch and be on our merry way. We’ll hit the pedal and drive away from the wreck, this time on cotton (which isn’t cotton but “pure cellulose”) or lithium or Lucky Charms or used golf balls popping in popcorn poppers or hamsters running in their exercise wheels.
A second assumption at work in the piece is that of course we’re going to keep the world that we’ve built running. A third is that we’re going to keep it running the way it’s running–at current speed and across great distances: that is, according to specs.