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The age of dissonance

The age of dissonance

As the surplus energy available to the economy declines, so the number of things that we can do in theory but can no longer do in practice will grow.  This is the inverse of the technological efficiencies won in the course of three centuries of industrialisation – the peak of which occurred at some point in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The two obvious apex technologies were the Anglo-French Concorde – the only supersonic passenger aircraft to operate commercially – and the USA’s Saturn Five rocket and associated technologies which propelled three men at a time to the Moon and back.  We didn’t forget how to do those things, and theoretically we could repeat them given enough time and resources.  But energetically, they are now beyond us – the energy cost of doing them is far greater than any benefits they might offer in return.  The humble automated car wash turns out to be a more mundane technology that is disappearing in the rear-view mirror.  It is simply cheaper to pay someone to hose down a car, or cash-strapped car owners can do it themselves.  And following peak oil in November 2018, and with the ensuing energy crisis – exacerbated by lockdowns and economic warfare – gathering pace, we can expect many more of our supposed technological feats to turn into stranded assets.

Another technology – in the broadest sense of the word – that looks set to go the way of the dodo is the once ubiquitous shopping high street.  The once prestigious department stores were already in freefall before SARs-CoV-2 began its world tour.  But two years of lockdowns have devastated retail businesses of all kinds, leaving shuttered-up shopfronts along every high street in the country, with the Welsh city of Newport claiming the record for having a third of its former shops empty.

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