James Cameron’s 2009

Yes, I have them too: flashback moments. Suddenly out of nowhere I’ll remember songs, movies, books, and television shows from years ago and they’ll be stuck in my head until I hear, read, or watch them again. So it was earlier today with “Dark Angel,” a television series that ran 2000-2002.

I watched the pilot for the “Dark Angel” series again and was genuinely surprised by how current some aspects of it seemed. In interviews about the series James Cameron noted that his goal was to portray a 21st century, high-tech Great Depression, which is essentially what the world is experiencing right now.

Our society’s increasing levels of polarization and class separation mirror the heroes and villains aspect of the show. The importance of being an active member of a network of people was emphasized on the show, and is also emphasized now in the progressive lessons of the No Impact Project, the Transition Town movement, the New Economics Forum, and others.

I was also struck by how localized and entrepreneurial the economy had become, things we are also seeing take place. In Cameron’s “Dark Angel” scenario an electromagnetic pulse had wiped out America’s electronic financial system and markets, grinding the larger economy to a standstill. In reality energy descent and climate change are and will impact financial systems and markets, forcing the larger economy to localize and become more entrepreneurial. In the show as in real life, small scale commerce thrives but also presents a regulation challenge.

Ironically, the electromagnetic pulse in “Dark Angel” was supposed to have happened in the then futuristic 2009 – the year that Iceland’s economy and banking system famously collapsed, the year of the G-20 world economic summit that accomplished nothing, and the year that supposedly oil-rich Dubai asked the world for debt deferments, causing worldwide stock market panics. The opening scenes of the series are supposed to have taken place in 2009, then the bulk of the series takes place in 2019 – just eight years from now.

As in “Dark Angel” it is highly likely that our future will involve more bicycling and walking, but we are unlikely to have any of the automobiles, motorcycles, and other petroleum-fueled vehicles seen on the show. The computers, cellular telephones, and bright lighting are also likely to be far rarer in future than seen in the show. But maybe that’s what makes a show entertaining: just realistic enough to be possible, and just unrealistic enough to take your imagination for a ride.

Watching this old show made me consider how my own vision of the future differs from James Cameron’s – and how everyone’s vision of the future must be unique. I then considered that if we all envision a different future, we are all working towards different things. Sometimes we may be working together, other times we may be impeding each other. Let’s find out, so we can all be more productive. I’ve been contacting a number of people – politicians, CEOs, academics, activists, etc – who influence others, people of a variety of disciplines, industries, and philosophies. I hope to discover some common ground, maybe unexpected, that can help bridge the widening gaps in our society and provide some foundation material for the networks that we will need in future.

Take A Vacation!

Author and energy expert Richard Heinberg and his wife reportedly conduct “energy fasts” on a regular basis. This is a fascinating concept, and an important one. This means more than just turning out your lights “Earth Hour” style; it means not using energy. No mobile devices with batteries, no automobiles, no air conditioning, no natural gas for cooking, no oil for heating… no energy. This doesn’t mean modern life comes to an end – you can still have friends over for a drink, work in the yard, do many kinds of work, read a book, fix a nice dinner, chat with a neighbor, walk the dog, do all kinds of things. But you do them with your own energy. These energy fasts are a wonderful energy descent preparedness drill.

When you think about it, we could do almost everything in our life today without outside forms of energy. Electricity, natural gas, and petroleum simply make these things easier for us, and therefore make us more productive. If electricity, natural gas, and petroleum were to go away, many of the conveniences we currently rely on would go away too. Our lifestyles would have to change to reflect that.

Luckily, with the possible exception of an act of war, it is highly unlikely that we would lose any form of energy overnight. A gradual transition gives us time to adapt with a bit more ease. Fossil fuels are finite to be sure though, so are indeed going away. Like any other resource they will gradually become more expensive over time as supplies decline. Rising costs will force low-profit margin aspects of our fossil-fuel reliant economy to change first, then others. We use fossil fuels to create most of our electricity, and to create both solar panels and wind turbines, so the decline of fossil fuel supplies really is the thing to watch.

The sciences of declining supplies of cheap and abundant fossil fuels, and how humanity loosens our dependency on them, are what energy descent theories are all about. It may seem tempting to champion just one theory we feel is most likely and plan around that one, but it’s likely that many of the theories will play out in various places depending on local conditions. The big question faced by each of us today is not in what way we will react when cheap and abundant fossil fuels are gone, but how we react as they become more scarce and expensive. How we adapt and evolve the fossil fuel-dependent lifestyles we lead today into the sustainable fossil fuel-free lifestyles needed tomorrow will determine either our prosperity or our fate.

Politics, business, and apathy in our society all point toward domination of the Adaptation and Collapse theories. Don’t wait for politicians, business leaders, or other people – let’s make sure our lives each represent a step towards resilience and less dependence on fossil fuels. Take a vacation – from fossil fuels.