Saturday, April 2, 2011

Musings on social meaning and direction in a declining culture

I had an interesting experience on Thursday: my friend Fiona, who is a journalist on the local paper, rang me to say I should be at a park halfway between the town where I live and the one in which I grew up by just after twelve, in order to participate in some publicity for a stunt being run by Mercedes. Several cars running on hydrogen fuel cells are being driven round the world and this was to be a refueling stop for them. I turned up to find a great caravan of fuel trucks and support vans, necessary because places where you can top up your tank with hydrogen are pretty thin on the ground in South Gippsland.

So I chatted to various characters who were there. The cars came in and were refueled: we were promised a lunch but I had to miss out as I had a meeting to attend. What was striking was the size of the fuel trucks relative to the size of the vehicles. I had heard that hydrogen is a very bulky fuel and this will necessarily constrain any distribution network designed for it: essentially, it means it will work best for a dense concentration of vehicles close to a source of the gas, hence a city. To haul it long distances to outlets way out in the sticks won't work — the amount of fuel the trucks would consume would rapidly approach the amount they were carrying, and there are problems handling it too, due to its ability to leak through the tiniest orifice.

So I drove off musing on all this. The Mercedes people were full of enthusiasm for their project, needless to say, but is this the future of motoring? It could be the future of some motoring no doubt. Mercedes as a corporation may well survive the coming financial holocaust if their accountants are as smart as their engineers. Then they will be in a position to supply the elites in the cities with their clever cars, which have a range vastly greater than electric vehicles. But this is in no way the future of motoring for the masses. Because there can be no future of motoring for the masses.

Dmitri Orlov has just done a post at Club Orlov where he talks of the evolution of this phenomena: to quote…
…short-term political and financial trends point in an altogether different direction [from that of a continuation of the system-as-it-is]: that of the global industrial economy turning boutique. You see, one shoe has already dropped: the level of industrial activity that can be sustained today is already insufficient to provide anywhere near full employment and a reasonable quality of life for vast numbers of people; the solution is to disenfranchise them, to confiscate their savings, to cancel their retirements, to concentrate all of the remaining wealth in as few hands as possible, and to create a boutique economic and financial environment in which the lucky and unscrupulous few can continue to live comfortably…
As I said, if Mercedes plays this right, they may well have a future, providing for those who still have power and the money in the world. But don't be fooled into thinking that "alternative technologies" must necessarily be equitable, as well as "clean".

1 comment:

Eleanore Duyndam said...

Hi Lloyd, I wanted to tell you that I just listened to the radio program "soundscapes" on US National Public Radio, that featured you and your town talking about Peak Oil. I'm here in Northern California, but just moved back here after 5 years in New Zealand. I really appreciated your sense of humour and intelligence presented in the radio program.