Few know it now, but we stand at the leading edge of one of the greatest cultural and spiritual renaissances the world has ever known.

We have emerged from the greatest financial calamity our country has seen in nearly a hundred years. We appear to be as divisive as ever — some would say more so than ever. Everyone seems readily able to find blame in others. We’ve been brutally cold to each other, disrespectful, uncaring, protective of whatever we see as our own.

I feel we have not yet hit bottom, but we are getting near. The time will come — and soon, I think — for every soul to do some deep reckoning. We have been abusive to our planet, we have nearly sucked the well dry, and we are about to discover the hard limits to our so-called progress, on this industrial fossil-fueled territory we’ve been driving through for some three generations now.

Horsepower

We’ve flipped on lights and gunned engines with not a thought at all to the physical work being done on our behalf by BTUs of stored-up carbon. Four or five generations ago we measured power in “horses.” Horsepower was a way to compare steam engines to the comparable energy of draft horses. These days 1 hp is about 750 watts. If you think of 100-watt lightbulbs, one horsepower is enough energy to light 7 light bulbs for a little over an hour.

The Koenigsegg CCR - Fastest Car in the World (2005)

The Koenigsegg CCR

In 2005, the Koenigsegg CCR entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest production road car, with an official top speed of 245 miles per hour. It’s engine had a maximum of 816 horsepower, equivalent to 608 kilowatts (kW). One kW is 1,000 watts. That engine could power 6,080 100-watt light bulbs. (Or, say, provide light on a dark night for a thousand homes.)

Can you imagine driving a car pulled by a train of 816 horses? A thrill, no doubt, but also a complete distraction from considering the amount of power being sucked from the earth to fuel that kind of mechanical muscle.

Oil End Game

We are now entering what Amory Lovins calls “the oil end-game” where every uptick in the velocity of our improving economy will be accompanied by shocking increases in the cost of energy.

We are in the peak oil phase, and no amount of effort will bring us enough fuel from the planet to power our desire. The peak oil phase may go on for a decade or more, but eventually we will all see the light, and understand that the fossil-fuel age is coming to an end.

We will not all reach this conclusion at the same time. Those who are most dependent on fossil-fuel energy for their own business enterprises will continue for some time to believe we can just throw more money at the problem. (And push for reduced costs — taxes and regulations — on business to maintain their accustomed profitability.) In the end it will not be possible with fossil fuel. Businesses will need to rapidly rethink their processes as we wean ourselves off oil.

Local solar power on rooftops and in backyards

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power disaster was another wakeup call about the risks of obtaining energy from fission.

That leaves wind and solar power, and possibly biofuels. It is not commonly believed that these sources of power can meet our needs; it’s likely they will not, in the short term. But over the next two decades we will see a surprising ramp-up in wind and solar power, fed by falling prices and increasingly sophisticated technology. In a recent¬†Big Think story, futurist Ray Kurzweil says solar energy will provide all the world’s electricity within 16 years. That’s not easy to imagine, but the alternative is bleak.

The Solar Age

We will not spur our global economy to new heights until we have emerged into the solar power age. Centralized wind power in large wind farms across the country  and off shore will provide a lot of our energy needs, but localized power on neighborhood rooftops and backyard arrays will fuel our cars and light our homes.

We will implement that rooftop solar through private spending, local and state cooperatives, and SREC sales of solar power to the existing electric utilities.

The remaining fossil-fuels we are able to extract from the planet will continue to fuel legacy transportation and agricultural fertilizer industries, and can continue to meet those limited needs for the next 100 years.

But we should not expect to emerge from the starts and stops on this rocky road to the solar age without plenty of soul-searching. We will all need to figure out how to downsize our lifestyles. We are entering a brief phase where frugality and thrift are virtues, where we redirect our budgets towards the bare necessities rather than the wants and desires.

The Second Renaissance, Circa 2017

That’s why The Bear anticipates a flowering of philosophical and spiritual reorientation. Some will thrive in the new era of economic restraint. Others will accept it with a sense of grudging defeat. The few who have more than enough money will continue to spend as if nothing has changed, and it will carry them through.

But the majority of Americans will feel abandoned by God for a time, and will take that walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It will not last forever. It probably will not last for more than a few years.

Out of much tribulation, this big-hearted country can summon the will to revive kindness, forgiveness and gratitude, to be whole once more. Those who are just getting by will do what they can to help those who are not, as they always have. But we will not make this transition with our old beliefs intact. A new understanding about life and the nature of God will arise to replace the shattered husk of old-time religion.

We will come to know that God is not a creator that stands apart from the creation. Rather God is a force that inhabits all things and gives them life. God is not a rescuer that will reach out at the last minute and sweep up the blessed select to some heavenly safety. We are going to recognize this story of God, collectively, as the fairy tale it has always been. We will come to know God as an emergent force in the universe, an awakening Being that unites all things. We will find that we have a place within this all-that-is God that suits us, that feels right, that sheds itself of ego, that does not strive, that is at peace. And with this new culture of respectful reverence for each other and all things, we will move on to greater things.

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2 Responses to “The Reckoning & Renaissance To Come”

  1. CoCreatr says:

    Looking into the future, as we do here, is a dance with uncertainty. Yet, I am appalled to see so many articles mentioning nothing but solar and wind as alternative energy sources. We have more options within reach of technology, budgets, and rising power demand. Wait, one of the options is efficiency, the most profitable way to do more without rising power demand.

    After Fukushima, half of Japan has little choice than utmost saving because they lost 16,000MW of power generatiion and fall 20% short of peak demand in the area. New capacity takes years to build.

    If we feel nuclear is needed to power our societies, it must be technology with passive safety built in, that is not easily turned into weapons, by intention, by a chain of errors or by calamity exceeding design assumptions. Such technology exists. For example, the Thorium molten salt reactor. It was ready to be deployed in the ’60s but the powers that be were in a cold war and chose Uranium so they could harvest weapons-grade material. One social, not technical, concern with uranium fission is the fuel and byproducts are so hazardous when released that safeguarding them basically calls for a police state. The Chinese are reviewing their options right now.

    One problem remains, centralized energy supply lacks resilience and invites political collusion.

    One of the technologies capable of supplying baseload power in a safe, sustainable, and resilient way are geothermal power plants. This is is what powers much of Iceland, cost effectively, and it can be ramped up in Japan and elsewhere. Tidal energy has potential, too, at cost comparable to wind, yet more predictable.

    Whatever technology we choose, prudent risk management calls for an end of subsidized power monopoly and allowing diversity and transparent markets to select viable options. All hands on deck and full steam ahead, we need to work together, really, from now on.

    • Tame Bear says:

      I agree that EFFICIENCY is one of the great untapped sources of power conservation. I have a lot of first-hand experience with reducing my own carbon footprint. (I should write more about it here.)

      I think people with the money to spend will install solar as well as find ways to use less energy.

      Japan is not likely to replace the lost Fukushima capacity with more nuclear power plants. So what then will they go for? Wind and solar. Maybe tidal power. Maybe algae farms. What else? I like your ideas.

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