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An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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8 Dec 2005

Visioning the Future #3 – Design Your Own Captain Future

In recent posts I have been chewing over the idea of visioning, and its central importance to Energy Descent work. As part of a presentation I am preparing for a talk next week, I hunted down various images from the 1930s of how people then thought we would be living today. One of the best is a character called **Captain Future.**


Captain Future (Wizard of Science) is clearly a guy you don’t want to mess with. He’s powerful and strong, with a funny gun thing that hopefully for him, given all the aliens he has to deal with, is more powerful than it looks, especially compared to things in films nowadays, such as the Men in Black’s guns which I suspect I would probably struggle to lift off the floor. He has some great clunky space boots which presumably allow him to fly. He has a very tight fitting mask which amazingly doesn’t steam up, and little tiny leather pouches on his belt for carrying those essential knick-knacks you need in space (penknife? chewing gum?).

cf2I imagine he probably has a spaceship too, and visits lots of other planets. For us now looking back it is easy to take the mickey out of poor old Captain Future (who clearly didn’t have much of a future, I’d never heard of him until today). Easy too to laugh at some of the visions of how our cities would be that were formulated around the same time.

Each of us flying to work in our own aeroplane, living on the 300th floor, having hoverbikes. Talk of going on holiday to the moon, living in space cities. None of which of course has come to pass. The world’s energy constraints, even in the last 50 years of outrageous wastefulness and gluttony, have not allowed it. Similarly, when we look at visions for the future that are put forward now, we should be equally sceptical. future3Will this scenario actually be possible in a depleting energy scenario, in an economic crash even? We have to change our dreams from being of moon cities, hydrogen economies, hovering cars and free energy machines to more realistic and achievable, and, I would say, desirable ones. Can we not get as excited about harvesting locally grown apples or building a cob shed as we can about the idea of having hovering boots? It is a mark of how far removed we have become from nature and from reality that we imagine that we can get through energy descent with clean hands and just with the skills we have at present.

In the 1930s technology was a bright new world of possibilities and people had no sense of its limitations. Now we ought to be a bit more realistic. George Bush wants to put a man on Mars (unfortunately he has yet to volunteer himself for the position), but really we all know its not going to happen. Most likely all the technology we will have available to us for our downward journey from the peak is already with us. I know I have already used this quote from Kenneth Deffeyes in a different post, but it is relevant here too, *”there is no time for scholarly research. There is no time for engineers to develop new machinery. We have to face the next five years with the equipment designs that are already in production. It’s not going to be easy

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Alan Oldfield
9 Dec 9:08am

I think Holmgren meets many characteristics as well as Richard Heinberg.

But the story remind me is Wonko the Sane from the story of Douglas Adams, who was described as follows:

“If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn’t exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.
“Ah yes,” he said, “that’s to do with the day I finally realized that the world had gone totally mad and built the Asylum to put it in, poor thing, and hoped it would get better.”

“It seemed to me,” said Wonko the Sane, “that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilzation in which I could live and stay sane.”

“I’m a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that. I’ll show you something to demonstrate that later. So the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can’t possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you’re a fool.”

adam f
9 Dec 12:17pm

great article futurerob

not sure if this html will work, but here’s my shot… CaptainAdam

else click:

Graham Strouts
9 Dec 2:28pm

My favourite “anti-super-hero” (?!) is Monty Python’s Bicycle Repair Man:

A superman-type figure is seen walking down the street- tall, powerful, macho, with eagle-eyes ready to leap into action whenever he sees danger.
Voice-over: “At first, it was a day like any other…”
Camera pans back to reveal an ordinary-looking town street -but where everyone is dressed like super-man or super-woman! All in flowing capes with big “S” on the front, strutting about with bulging muscles- even the little kids!

Voice-over: “But then…”- a super-woman comes along on a bicycle which gets a puncture, throwing her to the ground in disarray. A crowd of distraught super-people gather round all reaking out at the terrible accident.
Close-up of our original super-man figure who says to himself:
“This looks like a job for… Bicycle Repair Man!!” He spins around rapidly and then re-appears transformed into a rather nerdy-looking character in over-alls and a little bag of tools. To gasps and sounds of awe from all the super-people he calmly repairs the puncture. The super-girl whose bike it was is almost swooning in admiration:
“Oh, Bicycle repair man! How can I ever repay you?”
The camera turns to our hero who , though clearly pleased with the appreciation, shrugs and modestly replie:
“Oh, well, you know its nothing- all in a day’s work for bicycle repair man!”

So how about a “Permaculture Repair Man” who just calmly turns up with his mulch and perennials and cob and just modestly and without making a fuss goes about his task of earth-repair. I think that may be part of the image of “Future Man ” we need too.

K O'Hara
11 Dec 10:01pm

Hi Rob,

Thank you for pointing out that banging on about doom and gloom is the best way to end up with… doom and gloom. You can’t scare people into action until it is either the 12th hour or too damn late. And in the meantime all you succeed in doing is ensuring they either bury their heads in the sand or make hay while the sun shines.

I am sick of reading articles written by people who seem to enjoy the power that terrifying information gives the author. I want to read more articles by people who enjoy the power that inspired creative and courageous leadership give to the author. Yes we need to be realistic, and yes we need to make mistakes in order to find the best way forward. This will take courage. There will be pain but for pity’s sake do we really want to build a future of doom and despair. Many of the books I have read on peak oil should have a razor blade in a pocket on the back sleave with the words “I am a doom mongerer making lots of money out of this book, and this is the only action plan I have to offer you”. These same people seem to make quite a bit of money flying round the world being experts and grabbing headlines and attention for themselves.

These people are harping on about how I am going to die and what I want to know is how to live until that time. They seem to have forgotten that dying is the only thing that is certain to happen to us and until that time arrives the how, when, where and why are actually of relatively little interest because we recognise that actually we get very little choice in the matter. What we want to know is how to live in a way that delays death and maximises hope. People without hope commit suicide.

Personally I prefer a more constructive approach and don’t see any point at all in being anything else. It doesn’t get you headlines of course but it might get us all a future of some description that we actually want to be alive in. The more people who are attempting to be constructive and are looking for new ways of living on a finite planet, the more chance we have of finding a combination of methods that work. There is a lot of work to be done here which is precisely why it is so important that people are not discouraged from doing so by nihilistic doom mongerers.

We cannot go on living as if the earth was infinite but we can start living in a way that accepts that it is finite but renewable to a large extent if we look after things. There may well be a death toll during the process of change that seems horrific (particularly to western minds) but that is not the best way to sell the changes that are needed to build the future. People don’t run away from death per se, they run towards a better option. If death and doom is all around they do not bother to run. We have to discover and build lifestyles that are at the very least palatable. The doom mongerers are offering people the choice of continuing as normal and waiting for death, or a self fulfilling prophecy of a future where all you will want is your (t)rusty razor blade. They are like the poisonous team member who comes up with nothing but problems and then rubbishes any possible solutions other team members suggest. Why? Because the minute a way forward is patched together they have lost the power of being the one who shouted about the problem and the power has shifted to those who found the way forward. The best loved team mate is the one who says “hey we have a problem and I have done some research and it looks like we can put together a way forward”. This motivates the team even when the way forward involves a lot of hard work and mistakes along the way. This is the attitude we need when informing the general public about the challenges ahead.

Keep looking forward and don’t let the buggers get you down.


Luis Rocha
12 Dec 10:27pm

Hows about a superhero called super-peasant-man!

Go peasent!
Go peasent!
Go peasent!

adam f
19 Dec 12:36am

Luis and Graham, the ninjas were peasants. Perhaps it’s time for some permaculture-ninja style hero action? i’m not so keen on the years of disciplined training on mountaintops, but ninja-chic garden fashion i’m all for. Or imagine our hero walks by a weed patch in desparate need of hoing, whips off her mask and reveals a kindly, down to earth countenance, and uses her farm-implements-as-weapons as farm implements, which they of course turn out to be quite well adapted to… has a cup of tea, then goes back the business of hunting samurai.