Michel also solicited my comment on Greer’s views from the standpoint of a possible tie-in with Lewis Mumford’s thought. But to the extent that, like Dave Pollard, he sees assorted Peak Everything crises leading to a post-tech future, I feel Greer is best treated as a foil or straight-man for Mumford.
If any single thing reduces the need for fuel, it will be shifting wherever feasible from the movement of material to the movement of information. Despite all the talk of how big the carbon footprint of server farms is, compare it to the carbon footprint of the low-hanging fruit they could replace: replacing business air travel with teleconferencing, replacing most white-collar commutes with working at home, the sharing of digital designs with relocalized neighborhood manufacturers, etc. If it’s looked at in those terms, then the servers and communications infrastructure are worth their weight in gold, and will (along with freight trains) be given all the rationed fuel they can use even when fossil fuel ouput is at 20% of present levels.
First of all we might lose the “available everywhere”. Undersea cables get cut, satellites fail, the infrastructure as a whole turns into continents of connectivity separated by vast oceans of distance.
Next maybe we lose the reliability. The longer distances (like between cities) have connections – sometimes. Maybe an unreliable wire. Maybe a weak radio link.
But somewhere along that line we have local areas of connectivity – maybe something like a local telephone exchange (except now that we know how, why would we make a dedicated voice service instead of a data service? Now we know how to make voice look like data, and make that voice easier to handle by doing so)
And we have unreliable connections over the long distances. But in “the internet” we have created the exact formulas that allow us to use those connections to continue the information transfer in the most useful way possible.
If we end up with a true dark ages of NO technology, maybe we’ll lose the internet. But the very nature of it makes it one of the most resilient networks we’ve created. Because it’s not really “a” network. It’s a lot of little networks connected together, forming something that people find massively useful for information transfer.
In urban areas, where it made sense, the network was maintained or even expanded. Outside of those areas, much of the system was simply lost, the roads swallowed by forests, mudslides, wandering rivers, fields and weeds, the fortifications falling to ruin and scavenged for building materials, the bridges succumbing to earthquake and flood.
And I think Greer seriously underestimates the resilience of society. The development of micromanufacturing and decentralized production technology means that a much larger and growing portion of the total prerequisites for meeting our consumption needs can be produced locally. Projects like Factor e Farm are in the process of expanding the technologies available for continuing this shift even more rapidly. And the larger the share of the prerequisites for production that are modular and scalable and locally reproducible, the smaller the share of the prerequisites for production will remain as weak links. Arguably, the smaller the number of weak links, the more plausible it is that the market will shift dwindling resources to maintaining these weak links.
The significant thing about the slow collapse of the Western Roman empire in my opinion is that the component parts of production technology that were modular and scalable to the village or town economy survived. It was emergent or holistic relationships between these components that collapsed. And we’re in the middle of a revolutionary shift toward modularity and scalability in the share of total prerequisites for production unequalled since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — and amounting in many ways to a reversal of the increasing brittleness entailed in mass-production society, on the same scale as the original increase.
The more energy resources are freed up by market pressures toward relocalization and shortening of supply-distribution chains, where it is possible to do so, the more resources will be freed up for shifting to redundant cushioning mechanisms for the reduced number of weak links.