Recently I read a book called “The Coming Dark Age” by Roberto Vacca, copyright 1971. In it he talks of how our world is filled with increasingly complex and congested systems, systems so complex that if one breaks down it causes other complex systems to break down, and so on until the damage is so bad that we enter a dark age. Examples of some of these systems are our land line telephone networks (the book predates cell phones), road, train and air traffic networks, electrical grids, postal systems and military defence systems.
The sample scenario he gives is of the death of New York city. It all starts with gridlock on roads and trains. As a result, shifts of air traffic controllers can’t get to work. The already tired shifts waiting to be relieved make mistakes resulting in two planes colliding and damaging electrical transmission lines. The electrical load is immediately transferred to other parts of the electrical grid, but they are already near being overloaded themselves. A cascade of failures occur resulting in a blackout throughout several states.
Meanwhile it’s January and sub-freezing temperatures and snow cause automobile drivers to be gridlocked but with the vehicles running for heat. Many vehicles soon run out of gas so their drivers leave them abandoned, further worsening the problem. Since the trains are also not running, many workers end up having to camp out in their offices, lighting fires for warmth. Several buildings catch fire. The next day brings no relief and stranded without supplies, people panic. They all try to phone out and jam the phone network. The firearms come out and looting and begins. Of course the military is brought in with helicopters but the scale is too large to handle. Soon diseases being to play a part.
So why hasn’t this happened? Airplanes have crashed. In 2003 large parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern US and Ontario, Canada experienced a long lasting electrical blackout. Enduring subfreezing cold spells frequently occur.
The simple answer is when these things happen, people don’t just sit around and do nothing. They don’t panic. In fact they pull together and help each other, taking care of those in need, working to solve the problem. We’ve seen this time and again with tsunamis, earthquakes, ice storms, fires, … If the problems are too great locally then national and international aid rushes in.
The result is that Roberto Vacca’s predictions of a dark age never happened. Doers do things that ruin such predictions.
My father is a good one for making predictions of dire events only to have them never occur. In those cases he is usually right about the prediction. The problem is, if he is aware of it so are others who would be affected. Those others then act to prevent the things from happening. His perfectly reasonable predictions end up not coming true.
This reminds me of a short story I once read along those very lines. I haven’t been able to find it again and don’t remember either the name of the author or the story so if someone knows, please leave a comment below. The following is a summary of the story to the best of my recollection.
The story has two characters, a young man and his neighbor, a young woman. At the beginning of the story the man thinks that the world is in dire need of an abundant, cheap, clean energy source without which civilization will likely cease to exist as we know it. And so he works in his workshop to try and solve this problem. The woman thinks that there is no danger and no reason for him to be wasting his time. Instead he should relax and take life easy.
One day he manages to build the required energy production machine out of very simple materials: cardboard, wood, some wire. He’s not so naive to think he can just release it to the world and it’ll be readily accepted and spread widely, nor does he necessarily think it would be wise to do so. Instead he enrols in a university to get an electrical degree followed by a business degree. So simple is his machine that the electrical degree is not needed but it gives him respectability. After graduation he forms a manufacturing company. For added respectability he becomes active in religion and does volunteer work. After a few years he starts slowly introducing his energy machine into the devices he manufacturers, at first marketing them as high efficiency machines. Gradually he increases the efficiency and starts spreading the technology as subsystems in other companies products, until eventually it’s everywhere and the world energy need is vastly reduced. By the time he’s in his 60s, through his lifelong efforts the impending worldwide disaster has been averted.
It’s around this time that he runs into the woman again, herself in her 60s. In catching up he tells her of his very active life, his studies, his community work, his businesses, though not of his involvement with solving the energy problem. To this she responds that he should have lived a more simple, sedate life. After all, his dire predictions never came through so it was all a waste of his time.
When I think of climate change and climate change deniers I hope the above story becomes reality. A great hope of mine is that doers, one of whom I try to be, solve the climate change problem. I hope that in my old age I’m sitting in a green park beside a clean water lake breathing clean air at a comfortable temperature and am sitting beside someone who turns to me and says “See, climate change never happened. All the predictions were wrong.” If that happens then that means we doers will have succeeded in ruining yet another prediction.