måndag 22 november 2010


I have given talks relating to energy and resource depletion a couple of times by now, for example in a seminar at my department this past spring together with Daniel Berg (Dept. of Economic History) as well as more recently in Denmark, at the "Culture of ubiquitous information" network meeting (conference).

This past week I was invited to speak at Vetenskapens hus [House of Science] and I gave a short (25 minutes long) talk to a group of high school students ( ~ 100) for the first time. The talk was part of an afternoon of activities there (pdf file with program in Swedish) and I was one of three invited speakers, the other two being Louise Hård af Segerstad (Albaeco) and Mikael Höök (Global Energy Systems group at Uppsala Univeristy). To speak directly after Mikael was perfect for me! He established Peak Oil as a fact (backed up by oodles of data) and I just took that ball and ran from there.

I had to spend some time thinking about what message I wanted to convey to this audience and how to structure the talk so as to convey a suitable mix of urgency and hope to these youngsters. It was a pity that the event was one-way-ish. There was time for a couple of questions from the audience (not seldom posed by their teachers), but I unfortunately left without having a good grasp of how my message was received. If I do a thing like this again, it would be nice to get in touch with the students and leave the event with a better understanding of their reaction to my (and Mikael's) message about us heading towards "disruptive" change.

The main theme of my short talk was that we all encounter - and have - two conflicting worldviews in our heads; one extolling the virtues of "a world of possibilities" and the other warning about the consequences of "a world of limitations".

We live in a world of possibilities whenever we hear the story of science (and economics and politics) bringing us more, better, faster, more affluent, less expensive and technologically more advanced futures (and gadgets). We move in a discourse of possibilities whenever we are taken in by new social networking software with hundreds of millions of users, by a new-better-faster version of our favorite computer or mp3-player or when we hear that carbon capture and storage (CCS) or cars running on electricity (or hydrogen or compressed air or...) effortlessly will bring us a greener better future. I use these great Motorola ads (for home electronics from the 1960's) to illustrate this world of possibilities:

We on the other hand move towards a world of limitations whenever we read about overfishing, species extinction, ecological damage, climate change, floods or droughts, water scarcity, overpopulation, higher oil prices/peak oil, economic crisis/recession without end, higher unemployment and so on. As a contrast to the above presented pictures of the future (as it was imagined 50 years ago), I show these 100 years old pictures of life (and scarcity and poverty) as it actually was in the U.S. at the time:

These two sets of pictures illustrate the range and the division between the always-present and conflicting world of possibilities and world of limitations. We don't know what the future holds for us, but we can be pretty sure we will land somewhere in-between. The perhaps-overlooked good news is that plain old poverty is still a much better deal than pop-culture eschatological apocalyptic visions of the future as it might unfold if we don't pay heed...

Do you think the idea of these two worldviews (weltanschauung) jockeying for position and fighting for dominance in our culture and in our brains make sense?

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