Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Unicorn Farts

izzy o'rainey asks a very good question in response to my post about walkable cities:
What's your timetable for the Star Trek world where I don't have to work for money and can live in a dense-but-totally-biodegradable neighborhood with recycled-cardboard streetcars that run on rainbows and unicorn farts?

(keep in mind that part of my job is pulling your leg)
Well, it seems to me when I think about Star Trek that whatever else may be said about the lack of conflict in the storylines or the relative androgyny of their creepily-sterile world, my biggest complaint would be that their world seems to take a staggeringly vast amount of energy to run. Which is why the geeks who dream up the technology for the show had to invent a virtually bottomless type of fantasy energy called dilithium to run all the warp drives and "Shh" doors and tri-corders and such. That world isn't running on black gold, that's for sure. And soon enough, neither will ours.

As I look into my crystal ball, I see oil only getting more extravagantly expensive in the coming years. I don't just mean gasoline for our cars. Expensive, depleting oil will drive up the cost of everything since petroleum is used to make, process, transport, heat, cool and otherwise store pretty much everything we see, hear, taste, touch and smell throughout our days. Since so much of our national infrastructure is invested in an oil-based economy, from shopping malls to corner gas stations, our cities will shrink by necessity and what remains on the perimeter (the current-day suburbs) will remain a fairly rich source of partially processed materials to be scavenged for the retooling of the older center cities for decades into the next phase of human history - the post-petroleum future we once thought would look like 2001 (until we actually got there, when it started to look more like Road Warrior).

My guess, and this is only a guess, is that in ten years the scope of the catastrophe will be obvious to even the most obtuse, pro-Reagan, Limbaugh-loving nitwit - who will naturally blame it on Al Gore and the dirty fucking hippies anyway and who will also naturally deny ever having thought Global Warming and Peak Oil were hoaxes - but none of that will change the fact that only the wealthy will continue to own and operate motor vehicles and the very wealthy will actually be able to fly anywhere.

The very wealthy, that is, and the United States military - who will likely use up the very last drops of oil on earth to drive a tank into a ramshackle village somewhere in Iowa to put down a rebellion on behalf of the wealthy overlords who will be nervous about the threat of food riots by the serfs on their land. Although I think that scenario is several decades away, we are nevetheless in Iraq to secure an oil supply for the Pentagon, not for the average American car owner. Fighter jets gotta fly and tanks gotta make tracks and neither can run on re-used french fry grease or unicorn farts.

So, what I was saying in my earlier post was, more or less, that we will have these changes forced upon us. Some places are better positioned to weather the changes than others. If a place was fairly prosperous in the pre-car era, chances are that it may have enough legacy architecture and infrastructure to re-tool and adapt. 19th-Century cities have "good bones" upon which oil-free prosperity can be built. If not, then not. Phoenix, for example, will be unlivable in the post-petroleum future because they can't grow enough food locally to feed themselves, nor have enough electricity without oil to run the air-conditioners and water-pumps needed to keep the place habitable.

In other words, I don't think we're going to find a better, more eco-friendly way to run the world we live in now. Why would we want to? This world needs to change and we had a chance to get ahead of the curve three decades ago, but it was more profitable for the plutocratic class to double-down and stick future generations with the bill and it was more fun for the trogs to make fun of Jimmy Carter to the sound of a revving big-bore engine than to, you know, pitch-in and make a better future by conserving. Conserving is for suckers, nerds and wimps and who wants to be one of those?

Maybe if we'd invested in research when we had a chance, by now we'd have those recycled-cardboard streetcars that run on rainbows and unicorn farts.

Or maybe dilithium.


Izzy O'Rainey said...

And T. Boone Pickins' thousand-mile-long windmill farm? Is that a sustainable development, or more pissing in the wind like "flex fuel"?

Broadway Carl said...


No posts, since July 22nd?! I know we all get busy, but come on!

Doctor Biobrain said...

I normally don't do this kind of thing, but I just saw that I'm totally linked to here, which is awesome, so I'll give out one of those Super-Duper Mad Scientist Secrets which you laymen troglodytes aren't supposed to be privy to: Dilithium crystals are created by filtering unicorn farts at high speeds through fusion-induced rainbows. Now you know.

And hey, if you're going to link to my blog, you better fucking well keep blogging in order to get more people to click through to my site. It's the least you can do. Or has NYC sapped all your Texan goodness away? Maybe if you're lucky, I'll tell you where you can get the unicorn farts at. They smell like candy corn.