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The Future Is Not What It Used to Be

Climate Change and Energy Scarcity

Jörg Friedrichs

Publication Year: 2013

The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible. In this book, Jörg Friedrichs argues that industrial society itself is transitory, and he examines the prospects for our civilization's coming to terms with its two most imminent choke points: climate change and energy scarcity. He offers a thorough and accessible account of these two challenges as well as the linkages between them.Friedrichs contends that industrial civilization cannot outlast our ability to burn fossil fuels and that the demise of industrial society would entail cataclysmic change, including population decreases. To understand the social and political implications, he examines historical cases of climate stress and energy scarcity: devastating droughts in the ancient Near East; the Little Ice Age in the medieval Far North; the Japanese struggle to prevent "fuel starvation" from 1918 to 1945; the "totalitarian retrenchment" of the North Korean governing class after the end of Soviet oil deliveries; and Cuba's socioeconomic adaptation to fuel scarcity in the 1990s. He draws important lessons about the likely effects of climate and energy disruptions on different kinds of societies.The warnings of climate scientists are met by denial and inaction, while energy experts offer little guidance on the effects of future scarcity. Friedrichs suggests that to confront our predicament we must affirm our core values and take action to transform our way of life. Whether we are private citizens or public officials, complacency is not an option: climate change and energy scarcity are emerging facts of life.

Published by: The MIT Press


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pp. 1-1

TItle Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-v

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pp. vii-xi

Our outlook on the future changes as time goes by, just as the horizon changes when we walk. Fifty years ago, people all over the world saw themselves moving toward different but equally prosperous visions of the future: capitalist progress and growth in the West, socialist progress and welfare in the East, and emancipatory progress and development in ...

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pp. xiii-xiii

This book could not have been written without the suggestions and comments of numerous friends and colleagues. It has emerged over an extended period, and I beg for pardon should I have omitted any of them from my list: Jocelyn Alexander, Mary Bagg, Sing Chew, Hugh Dyer, Matthew Eagleton-Pierce, Rosalba Fratini, Xiaolan Fu, Andreas Goldthau ...

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1. The Transitory Nature of Industrial Society

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pp. 1-12

There is a wry little tale about a turkey. The turkey observes that the farmer brings food every morning without fail, and so concludes that it is well provided for and has nothing to fear. As the weeks go by, it becomes fatter and maintains its comfortable view of the world until its complacency is shattered on the eve of Thanksgiving when the farmer ...

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2. Climate Change and Energy Scarcity

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pp. 13-46

“ Think globally, act locally ” has always been a strange slogan. Undoubtedly all action must happen in a place, but how can global problems be addressed unless the framework for action is also global? Local action can save the California condor and the Alabama beach mouse, but it cannot solve the planetary problem of biodiversity loss. Nor can it solve ...

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3. What the Climate Can Change

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pp. 47-75

Society can change climate, and climate can change society. Climate change can have social and political effects in many different ways, but the most basic ones are related to human needs. Our subsistence depends on food, drink, and shelter. Food depends on agriculture, while drink depends on fresh water. Agriculture also depends on fresh water, as well ...

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4. When Energy Runs Short

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pp. 77-106

There is no denying that industrial society runs on energy, and especially on oil, so a serious fuel shortage can bring it to the brink. Most readers will associate fuel shortages with the oil crises of the 1970s, but it is important to note that in neither of these cases did the supply shortfall last for more than a few months or amount to more than 7 percent of ...

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5. The Struggle over Knowledge

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pp. 107-140

A battle is raging over knowledge about climate change and energy scarcity. The fundamental bone of contention is the same in either case. Do we really have to worry, or can we discard it all as scaremongering? In either case, the answer to that question determines the frontlines of the epistemic battle. In the case of energy, the stronghold of mainstream expertise is kept ...

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6. The Moral Economy of Inaction

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pp. 141-167

What prevents us, together and as moral individuals, from confronting existential problems such as climate change and energy scarcity? On the face of it, an effective response is hindered not just by the inadequacy of existing knowledge regimes but also by a confluence of behavioral and cognitive dispositions. Despite the inescapability of the impasse and the ...

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7. Where to Go from Here

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pp. 169-178

Most people act like the inductivist turkey in chapter 1. They trust that what has sustained our prosperity and growth in the past will continue to do so. Even ecologically sensitive individuals and groups focus on mitigating damage caused by industrial society, rather than confronting the disconcerting fact that industrial society as such is the least sustainable ...


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pp. 179-187


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pp. 189-216


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pp. 218-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780262316620
E-ISBN-10: 0262316625
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262019248

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 856021402
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Future Is Not What It Used to Be

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Climatic changes.
  • Global environmental change.
  • Power resources -- Environmental aspects.
  • Energy policy.
  • Environmental policy.
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