Monday, September 19, 2011

Modernity as a runway

Working on my book, I have been looking for a suitable analogy that captures our current ecological predicament. For a frequent flyer like myself I am surprised to find that it could have been there all along, namely “modernity as a runway”.

Think of it in this way: when an airplane is racing down a runway, there is a point when the pilot has to decide whether to take off or to abort. Beyond that point, the remaining runway is too short to allow the airplane to come to a safe stop. In a similar fashion, modernity as a historic process initially offered two very different possibilities: either an acceleration into a space-faring civilization or a deceleration back into a “sustainable” way of life. As we continue to use up non-renewable resources and filling the planetary sinks, we are moving down that runway at ever higher speeds, however, still without any clear commitment about whether we should try to ascend or if it would be better to jump on the breaks.

In this situation, some people (read cornucopian neoliberals) think that the aircraft will take off without any intervention thanks to the invisible hand of the market-pilot. Others (read greens) think that the whole idea of flying is ecocidal yet lack any realistic idea of how the brakes can be applied given the momentum that the aircraft has already achieved. Yet others (read me), argue that we need to wake up to this situation and at least try to make a conscious democratic decision about whether to attempt flying or not.

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