We’re Not Going to the Stars

From John Michael Greer:

As tenured academics stopped turning up their noses at “all that Buck Rogers stuff,” as a handful of the more literary SF authors found their work being reviewed in highbrow periodicals and the genre as a whole found itself afflicted with creeping respectability, the US space program began winding down, and a galaxy of technological breakthroughs that were supposed to happen sometime very soon—commercially viable fusion power comes first to mind—faded into that dim realm where might-have-beens spend their time…

[T]he late 1970s, the era when science fiction went mainstream, was also the era in which it started to become brutally clear that the splendid universe that science fiction writers and readers had built for their genre didn’t actually exist…

[A]s the genre ripened, transit times shrank, and gimmicks such as the “warp drive” that allowed the Star Trek franchise to squish the galaxy to lunchbox size supplanted realistic visions of just what it would cost to get to other planets or other stars…

It wasn’t until space probes with increasingly elaborate technology brought back hard data from our neighboring planets that the whole grand dream came crashing down at last…

[I]t’s pretty clear to anybody who does the math that even if there happen to be inhabitable worlds circling other stars, getting just one ship there is going to take an energy supply of the same rough order of magnitude as the world’s total consumption of energy at present, if not more—and that as far as we know, the universe doesn’t offer us any energy source sufficiently concentrated and abundant enough to make that an option…

We’re not going to the stars. That’s the unspeakable reality that a great many people in the industrial world are trying to evade right now, with increasingly limited success…

[O]nce a species reaches the industrial level of technology, it uses up its home planet’s available supplies of concentrated energy resources and nonrenewable resources within a few centuries at most, and then drops permanently to a nonindustrial level of technology because that’s what it has the resources left to sustain.

Greer’s old blog is now closed and resulting in, among other things, Retrotopia, which describes a post-apocalyptic world more hopeful than dystopic.  It had a dramatic effect on me.

Jeremy Grantham says our industrial society encompasses a two hundred-year period of cheap energy, which is coming to a close.  He says we missed the opp to develop safe nuclear energy and other alternatives to fossil fuels.  Instead, we continue to foul the air  with hydrocarbons and poison the earth with batteries and nuclear waste.

Of immediate concern is neoliberal capitalism and the concentration of wealth among the few to the detriment of the many.  $1T per year of wages is appropriated by corporations. There may indeed be an apocalypse for the wealthy in the future, but for the poor it is happening right now.

We need look no further than Raleigh for an example of the cruel austerity being legislated on behalf of the Koch brothers against the poor.  What was once a vibrant state has been turned, by privatization and budget cuts, into a lamentable Mississippi.  Even South Carolina, once mocked for its public paucity, has used tax incentives to court lots of industry.  North Carolina, which disdains incentives, languishes.

The worship of materialism and absence of education renders the populace apathetic and ignorant of our corporatized democracy.  This inverted totalitarianism, cemented with alcohol and drugs, insures the populace is too preoccupied to participate in rebellion.

Those few of us who are holding our heads up get lost in the details of possible change and fail to form significant cohorts against the status quo.  A singular exception is the election of Donald Trump, where millions voted for the first time in resounding opposition to Hillary Clinton.

Regardless, we don’t know our neighbors and are unprepared for a civil emergency, much less political action.  So, while Greer’s Retrotopia is great dystopic fiction, I’m afraid that’s all it is.  Whereas we lack the technology to slip the surly bonds of space, we also probably lack the means to escape crushing poverty.

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