Krugman on slowing pace of change

Tom James @ 12-08-2009

changeNobel economics laureate Paul Krugman, speaking at Worldcon, holds forth on the slowing pace of change:

“The pace of change has actually, generation by generation, been slowing down,” he claimed. “The world of today is not as different from the world of 1959 as the world of 1959 was from 1909.”

So let’s say that you travel 30 years into the future and find yourself in a shopping mall. You’ll be astounded at the “great gizmos” that are for sale there, but you’ll still be able to recognize it as a shopping mall, said Krugman. On the other hand, lots of trends are likely to come to a head over the next few decades, including climate change and peak oil, and they could result in a drastically different world.

It kind of makes sense. In the Western world technology – specifically consumer electronics, medicine, communications, and computers – have developed enormously in the past 40 years, but cultural and social change has been less pronounced. We still live a fairly automobile-centric, consumer-based, culturally egalitarian lifestyle[1] that would have been recognisable to someone living in 1959.

But Krugman points out that this could change in the future, with climate change, peak oil, disruptive biotechnology, radical life-extension, resource wars, AI, and the changes in attitudes and culture that these thing could lead to.

[1]: I think that we (i.e. the Western liberal democracies) are certainly a more culturally egalitarian society (with greater gender equality, gay rights, and less racism) than we were in 1959, but I’m not entirely sure that 1909 was substantially more racist, homophobic, and sexist than 1959. Question: did our *culture* (as distinct from technology) change more between 1959 and 2009 than between 1909 and 1959?

[from iO9][image from kevindooley on flickr]


Peak coal in Christmas stocking?

Tom James @ 23-12-2008

A new report from the American Geophysical Union suggests governments may be substantially over-reporting coal reserves, from Ars Technica:

Such fallacious reporting is nothing new—the United States government happily overestimated oil reserves in the 1950s and 1960s until peak oil hit the lower 48. David Rutledge, professor of engineering and applied sciences at the California Institute of Technology, claims the same mistakes are being repeated with coal.

His results, reported in a panel discussion at this year’s American Geophysical Union meeting, state the world only has 662 billion tons of coal, including reserves already exploited. The estimate is well short of the 1,027 billion tons remaining in proven and projected reserves, according to the World Energy Council.

Leading to the possibility of imminent peak coal.

[via Bruce Sterling][image from sic on flickr]