The end of the petroleum era will mean that our lives will change whether we want them to or not. How we see our future without fossil fuel has a lot to do with our confidence in technology to save the day.
Some people theorize that a new technology will be invented to replace fossil fuels as an energy source and point to the technological progress of the past 200 years as evidence of their beliefs. They claim that technology grows exponentially and can keep pace with the exponential growth in population but fail to explain why for the past 10,000 years of recorded history, technical advances have only been a recent phenomenon. This phenomenon coincides with the discovery of coal and the steam engine which provided energy that freed up time to explore human ingenuity.
Future generations may not have these same luxuries and it would be a mistake to assume that the recent trends in innovation will continue, especially when so much is at stake.
Technical miracles are seldom cheap, at least in the beginning, and the innovation hypothesis assumes that another miracle will take place: that funding will be available to implement the technology. While technologies like fusion are already achievable in very expensive laboratories, the cost and time required to design our infrastructure around new technology can be measured in decades. So even if a new technical miracle is just around the corner, the chances are we won't see it implemented on a large scale for several generations.
There are also many environmentalists who disregard energy and economic issues, and see government mandated regulations as the only viable solution to climate change. Their utopian vision of a post carbon society includes solar, wind and living in harmony with nature but provides no insight into how we might achieve that vision. They are sure all would be utopia if government would simply act to prevent factories from producing goods or people from driving their cars.
An increasing number of people believe that societal collapse and disintegration is the most likely outcome of peak oil and climate change. These people have lost faith in the resiliency of the human spirit our ability to rise to serious challenges like we have at several points in our history. Humans are one of the most adaptable species that has ever existed, allowing us to live in extreme climates like deserts, the artic, and even outer space.
The transition approach is something new and involves the evolution of our collective mindsets as a solution to these problems. While Charles Darwin emphasized competition and survival of the fittest to explain natural selection and his theory of evolution, any keen observer of bee colonies can see that mutual aid and co-operation plays an equally important and vital role in the survival of the fittest too. Maintaining societal cohesion is therefore required as a means of achieving a transition to our future society. We can't fix the problems of today with the same sort of thinking that created them, and what is needed is for each of us to become more flexible in our beliefs and philosophies about how the society should function.
Our transition scenario presumes that the existence of a future form of society that is much better than the one we live in now. This future society uses far less energy, consumes resources at a sustainable rate, can exist with zero and even negative growth, and keeps human population is at a stable and sustainable level. People in this future society act quite a bit different than we do now and have beliefs that may seem strange to us now. We may not know what this future society will look like, but we know that if we can build more resiliency into our communities now that we can successfully transition to this future society and avoid a lot of pain.
There is no such thing as a collective mindset, it merely being the sum of all of it's individual parts. When any one individual makes the decision to change their lifestyle to become more fossil fuel independent, they are contributing their small part to this collective change. We don't wait for the collective mindset to change for us, rather we make it happen by make a different decisions today than we did yesterday. That might mean taking the bus to work or riding a bike or it might mean installing more insulation. The collective result of humans acting in their own best interests is what allows us to be so adaptable as a species. This is the essence of what transitioning is all about.
As transition town members, our role is to begin this process and assist and support others in the task of making difficult changes. Our website and the Transition Network literature present a general set of tools that we have found effective in supporting this change and helping ourselves and others to overcome any difficulties we might be having. These tools can be applied to any situation we might face as we work towards transitioning our lives, our households, and our communities.