Friday, June 11, 2010

Peak Oil and Us (You, Me, Everyone) Part III - Charles Dickens and the Future

The Getting Dirty post became part IV, because I started writing this one instead.

So okay, someday oil declines are going to cause things to change around here. And we need to learn some skills. But does that mean that society as we know it comes crashing to a halt and we all effectively travel back in time 120 years? Or that things go all post-apocolyptic on us?

Tell me if you remember this from high school:

' It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. '

Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. In my personal opinion, that paragraph contains some of the most important words in the history of the english language.

Why? Because it contains true, honest, big-picture perspective. It is always the best of times and the worst of times. It is always both the season of light and darkness. There is always evil and good. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. In some regards.

Don't you wish people still wrote and talked like that though? I do.

As a young adult, I had a bit of derision for the story, or not so much the story, but the tale it told. I mean, start a revolution by attacking a prison? As the frequently offensive and often correct Fred On Everything writes, it beat attacking a men's room, but only just.

But I've come to understand that Dickens saw the world through eyes that I both agree with and would love to emulate. More than 100 years separated his death and my birth, but he saw things so clearly. He saw things as they are, instead of how he wished they could be. And yet I think he must have been an optimist, because so many of his stories ended in hopeful circumstances. And I think those are the circumstances we face going into peak oil. The best of times, and the worst of times. The best of people, and the worst.

So how do we apply this to a changing environment we can't yet envision or predict?

You plan for the worst, hope for the best. Acknowledge what is, sure, but also what you want t the world to be. Start making small changes now, and continue making them, but keep living your life. Keep an open mind about what is to come. Heck, people have been predicting the end of the world since civilizations began, and it hasn't happened yet. Think about the things you could learn - for work, for life that you can apply both now and later.

A good example of this is understanding how companies will need to change to meet the impacts on themselves and their employees. Sure, they'll lay people off, and the social impacts of that are going to be very large. But there will lots of need for people who can help companies adapt to a largely remote workforce. Or to help with planning that once again includes sidewalks and thriving downtowns. To help manufacturing companies to figure out how to thrive in a climate of ongoing low demand. To figure out how to leverage older technologies, along with some new ones, to meet needs for transportation, medicine and a whole host of other things. To help communities become communities again.

Since I started this topic with a quote, I'll end it with one.

The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

That one was Sun Tzu. He was a smarty pants. Just sayin'.
I don't necessarily see Peak Oil as an enemy, but the opportunities for our success - and our failure - as we face it will come with the change.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Like the Sun Tzu quote - one of my favorites.