Zero carbon in the foreseeable is as daft as it is dangerous.
Depending on the extent to which social media has infused your life, a meme is a non-hereditary behaviour passed from one person to another through imitation, or a short video clip of a farting cat. Under either characterisation we’re currently testing the meme-guided life to destruction.
Increasingly, we’re emotionally airlifted to a destination, then we labour to deploy our rational selves to justify where we have landed. The flight we are now boarding in biblical numbers is the one scheduled for zero carbon. And it is not going to touch down anywhere near its advertised destination. Meanwhile, meme power induces us to believe that we’re progressing towards zero carbon.
Progress is always collaborative. It is never one person or singular group’s killer idea. The digital economy enables collaboration at a scale and pace previously unimaginable. Novel- and- fast covid vaccines are a superb example of how fast and far we can move with our digital tailwind.
A darker aspect of the digital economy is its potential to globalise civil wars. Civil wars are the worst conflicts because, once escalated, they destroy our lived compromises and make enduring peace so hard without the subjugation or extermination of one of the participating tribes.
We had a powerful demonstration of how the information age can push civil conflicts across borders a decade ago with the Arab Spring. Persistent but varied instabilities and injustices across Arab societies suddenly coalesced in a shared meme-movement. The people knew they were unhappy and wanted better. Global digital platforms paved the way for instant cross-border revolution which metastasised into brutal inhumanity in some places.
We will see eco-terrorism and murder this decade.
A great example of meme-life is our current nascent civil wars – the culture, race and environment conflicts in Western societies. Like the Arab Spring, real concerns, instabilities and injustices underlie these causes which are strong and cross borders and continents. The vast majority of those who identify with them would not be able to begin to present solutions yet they vociferously proclaim that the “facts” unequivocally support their vibe.
Of these struggles the environmental conflict is the one that has the potential to be hypermedia-accelerated to a state whereby meme overwhelms our lived and accepted reality, driving fissures and failures that lead to outright conflicts.
There’s no question that pumping out carbon and other pollutants while exhausting and damaging our environment and biodiversity presents humanity with real catastrophe risk. How to quantify and manage that risk is unclear. The meme masters would have you believe it’s a simple choice. The question they pose is merely: do you have the morality to choose righteously?
The environmentalist meme of the moment is that the science on climate risk is settled and that we are living in a climate emergency. The imminence of catastrophe may prove true and an argument that it is already here can be made.
However, the scientific unequivocality of an immediate climate emergency is a dangerously explosive and emotive message with more downside than upside for today’s environmental activists. What if oil prices hit $200 next year, catalysing immediate global pressures and instabilities and the climate seems roughly similar as it did today? Or simply, ordinary people feel fatigued, complacent and increasingly disinterested in the boys and girls that cried wolf?
Our plan to do something entirely revolutionary and novel by replacing our main energy source within a few years is not rational.
The unequivocal but always-avoided truth is that human society at all levels of sophistication is an energy-based system. Free will, free time, education, art, technological advancement, and food abundance are privileges that can only be sustained by an available excess of energy.
All of human advancement is a story of better harnessing of energy. Never have we replaced an energy source. Rather, as our use of energy grows we just add a new even better source on top. Our plan to do something entirely revolutionary and novel by replacing our main energy source within a few years is not rational. It’s meme-pumped ideological thinking.
And the view that we can go backwards in time and energy to a mythical place of civilised low energy existence is pure fantasy. A very dangerous one where energy rationing, cheating and differentials create local and global violence. The requirement is to replace all the carbon energy we currently use, and then some.
Technology is not energy, be wary of the evangelists and charlatans who peddle that line. Sadly, we are quite gullible when it comes to the magic of technology now that it has moved well beyond our lay comprehension. No energy solution we have true sight of comes anywhere near the energy density and portability of oil, nor its massive energy return on investment.
Absent a technological revolution like no other in the space of a few years, none of the green energies can replace hydrocarbons. Anyone who claims differently has not committed to any serious system thinking around how human society can function. To proclaim a net-zero religiosity without wholesale systemic energy planning and investment is magical thinking on a scale never before seen or attempted. Any serious plan must include investment in, and management of, hydrocarbons to facilitate the transition.
Our surging environmental idealism could make The Inquisition appear scientifically rational.
The net zero meme is being religiously adopted by politicians, legislators and business. They are desperate to harness the power of the meme for short-term approval while being clueless to its consequences. Like the environmental militants they have magical views of energy and its role and do not have an executable plan for “System NetZero”. Nevertheless, they are setting targets and laws; in truth they are setting a trap.
It’s becoming more likely that we will experience an energy crisis soon. The size and consequence of this crisis will overwhelm the climate crisis meme for most people. None of us understand the science or long-term consequences either way but we will understand the immediate effects of an energy crisis and the attendant deep and painful personal costs it brings.
This is a road to real intra- and inter-societal conflict. The chances it moves from civil disobedience to internal or external wars is high. Our foes know this and for that reason the likes of China and Russia are intent on ensuring maximum energy supply to their economies and that means a lot of hydrocarbons. The more we embrace meme unreality, the more likely it is we desperately capitulate to hydrocarbon gorging in the next few years, to hell with the long-term.
Will we survive our meme surfing or is it our road to renewed serfdom?