Is BP being made a scapegoat? The opprobrium resulting from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill obscures the fact that we are all addicted to oil – indeed, industrial civilization runs on the stuff – and not nearly enough is being done to confront our addiction. But more is required than just a shift to renewable energy sources. Industrialism itself – the organization of society for the maximization of production and consumption – increasingly appears to be unsustainable. Capitalism, the dominant and now globally triumphant form of industrialism, is an inherently expansive system that is threatening to eat the planet alive. There are those who argue that capitalism can be made green. That will be a key issue of this century: can future economic growth under capitalism come primarily via sustainable technologies as well as in non-material forms (e.g., services, computer software)? The answer is not clear.
What does seem clearer is that major changes are in store. Society a hundred years from now is likely to be profoundly different from today, either for better or for worse. At the end of the nineteenth century, William Morris envisioned the shape of post-industrial society in his utopian novel News from Nowhere. Morris’s faith in the goodness of human nature (there is no money and no politics in post-revolution Britain) and his deliberate rejection of advanced technology (why would anyone want to get somewhere quickly by train if they could get there leisurely by rowboat?) is bound to strike most of us as charmingly naive in some respects, even if his socialist biophilia has much to recommend it. At this point, then, let me put in a shameless plug for a non-fiction look at where we’re headed, written by my brother Graeme Taylor. Evolution’s Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation of Our World won the Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal for 2009 in the category “Most Likely to Save the Planet”. As the book makes clear, industrial civilization must go not because it is morally bad (it is both good and bad in various ways) but because it is increasingly dysfunctional and unsustainable. And go it will. How it will go and what will replace it is the story of the decades to come.