Binary choices are not usually a good way of looking at the world, but general global trend-lines of climate change, urbanization and human population growth seem to be driving us to meeting the challenge of some tough either-or kinds of choices. In this case Buckminster Fuller summed it up succinctly: Utopia or Oblivion?
The challenge from a systems perspective is not only to understand what human systems are and how they work, but to understand workable design frameworks that would assure systems that are in essence “human-proofed” and reinforced by available back-up systems. A key trend, paradoxically, is the universal promotion of human development, and those primary lines of effort within human development that lead to greater realization of human health, happiness and realization of fundamental needs and requirements. But this key recipe of human development is not nor could it ever be unlimited development, and we are now within a couple of generations realizing the kinds of constraints to our own development put upon us by our requirements of long term adaptation to a global ecology.
Transitional energy forms, if done to economic scale and affordability, are a step in the right direction in moving humankind away from carbon compound producing fossil fuels. But this new grid of energy production must ultimately face to the requirements of hydrogen burning systems that have sufficient energy density to power large and heavy mechanical systems in an efficient manner: to operate heavy machinery, to fly supersonic aircraft, and to power large scale sea vessels, for instance. Hydrogen energy, cheaply produced, and with price falling with increasing production, reverses the trend the global economy has been facing towards the inflation of the petrol dollars and rising costs of fossil-fuel energies pumped from beneath the ground or mined from coal and shale extraction, that result not only in a carbon-compound based greenhouse effect leading to what is becoming drastic and rapid global climate change, but also which tends to drive the cost of manufacture, transportation, and maintenance that in turn drives ever-higher the average cost of living: of food, of water, and of the material goods and products that we have learned to depend upon in maintaining our everyday suburban “just in time delivery”-based lifestyle.
With a post peak oil global scenario, we cannot now think of any trend-line in human systems that would invert the formula of getting less by paying more into the reverse formula of paying less and getting more, except through the deliberate design development of sufficient alternative fuel infrastructure based ultimately upon hydrogen production and solar energy capture and conversion to ample and available storage facilities. In this regard, a purely electrical power-generating grid and infrastructure may work, but not if it primarily depends upon electrical energy production through fossil fuel stockpiling and burning.
Transformation of human systems begins from the bottom up—if you change the infrastructure then adaptive social structure must also change to follow suit. Political, military and religious forms are slowest and most resistant to such change, but the campaign to win hearts and minds always proceeds from the top-down though it must be driven from the ground up.