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By Ramón Fernández Durán
Faith in almighty technology will be one of the last beliefs to fall, which may not begin to happen until the Society of Image, Information and Communication enters into crisis, which is what still underpins the "Gods" of the Modernity and creates the myths of Postmodernity. But how is it possible that this virtual and "immaterial" world, the ultimate creation of human minds and the cooperation between them, can enter into crisis? That true wonder. Despite the fact that we came to accept that Global Capitalism could break, we resist like a belly-up cat to think that this other spectacular social and technological construction could one day succumb, when it seems that it remains in the air and lives from it, and when it has already become part of our daily lives. It seems that we can no longer understand life without the Internet, which has come to occupy almost the same place as the water we drink or the air we breathe. But the fantastic world of Cyberspace is only understandable with the current Global Capitalism and its international division of labor, and with a very substantial consumption of resources (some strategic) and energy and environmental impact, since it is not immaterial at all as we have pointed out in other works (Fdez Durán, 2009 and 2010). And all of them are surely going to be blown up in the air in the coming decades, or are going to seriously condition their deployment. That is why the Society of Image, Information and Communication will not come out unscathed.
The million dollar question is when will it happen? It's hard to tell, but most likely between 2025 and 2050, as tentative dates. That of the beginning of the peak of coal, and that of its possible global abrupt fall, after a long plateau of gentle decline (see figure 1).
The dependence of electricity generation on coal is such (40% worldwide today) that it will grow irretrievably between now and 2025, to become even more acute after that date, which will make it impossible to maintain production electricity at its current levels, with a declining net energy, apart from that its cost will skyrocket (this is already happening). All this will fully affect the virtual world, as it will be necessary to choose which of the many other needs that require electrical energy to attend to. Lighting, elevators, water supply and sanitation (1), air conditioning, hospitals, transport (subways and railways, but also airports), industrial production, food chain and restaurants, electrical and electronic machinery and ware, and even the electric car (? ), eg, or Global Village and Cyberspace? Certainly there will not be enough for all possible and imaginable uses, and it will be necessary to choose, contrary to what happens today in the richest areas of the world, although of course not in large areas of the planet, which already suffer this daily situation with continuous blackouts (Heinberg, 2009). It will therefore be a political decision, not a technical one, what to do with declining and increasingly expensive electricity.
Various theorists and writers have already pointed out this possibility of progressive bankruptcy of the virtual world, and some have metaphorically called it the Fatal Error, due to the impact it will have on a highly dependent Global Capitalism for its daily functioning (Virilio, 2007; Ibarrondo, 2005; Greer 2008 and 2009). Although from here to roughly By 2025, the Global Village and Cyberspace will no longer be what they are today, as their high cost is largely maintained by important state contributions of all kinds (including strategic-military: satellites, for example) and by a jet millions of corporate advertising, which also gives life to the Sports Show. Without them this world would not be possible in its current configuration, which implies tens of millions of jobs in the main states.
And it is doubtful that both can be maintained for a long time in their current amount, if we accept the more than probable viability of the different scenarios mentioned. But of course the world of Image, Information and Communication will not disappear, at least in the short and medium term, although it will suffer a strong contraction, since there are very important interests of the power structures for its maintenance. Not in vain is this world the one that allows the governance of the new Mass Societies; although the possibilities of horizontal communication, beyond its reach and domain, also suppose a considerable problem to power. But this "drawback" seems increasingly limited, after the first outbreak of the so-called anti-globalization movement, which was facilitated by the possibilities of interaction that the Internet brought to that "cloud of mosquitoes" (as defined by The Economist). In addition, Cyberspace also provides power with new potentialities of supervision and control, and the individual and collective energies dedicated to it distract an unstructured and hyper-individualistic society from the possibility of becoming a real social force, with the capacity to promote resistance and substantial changes. .
Although in some circumstances the Internet has played a relevant role in promoting and bringing together new social dynamics outside and against the established power (Obama's election in the US, opposition to Ahmadinejad's outburst in Iran, popular outbreaks in the Arab world: Egypt, Tunisia, etc .; although the latter have also been promoted by Al Jazeera), but it has also been used in favor of "neo-fascist" options (Tea Party, pe). It is therefore a double-edged sword, which should not be underestimated at all, but which must be placed in its proper term. Finally, to say that strategic elements that make the operation of the Information and Communication Society viable can be very difficult to maintain and replace in the medium term. For example, the entire network of satellites that allows its activity and that are also key for the operation of systems such as GPS.
The replacement cost of these (limited-life) satellites will skyrocket with energy decline, and the maintenance of this space superstructure will become increasingly expensive. The US is already abandoning the space race due to the immense cost it entails, the EU itself is increasingly unable to maintain the terms and investments necessary to guarantee its Galileo project (which aims to compete with the US GPS), and that before be shaken by the Global Crisis and the euro.
And the new emerging global players who have launched themselves madly into the space race as well, will soon find themselves with the same limitations, especially as the Bankruptcy of Global Capitalism deepens. The conquest of space will thus have been a Midsummer Night's Dream, one more example of the extravagance achieved by the Industrial Society, in the long History of Humanity on the Biosphere.
(1) In developed countries, the water use cycle is one of the main energy consumers, sometimes being the second consumer sector, surpassed only by transport (Estevan, 2008).
Excerpted from THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF FOSSIL ENERGY: A BREAK
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