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Cornucopian Man vs. Biophysical Reality

Summary: In this captivating tale, we accompany Cornucopian Man and his faithful side-kick, Economics-Professor Boy, as they battle the confidence-destroying forces of Biophysical Reality. In today’s adventure, our heroes try to stop the nefarious villains from spilling pure Truth onto (gasp!) the front page of the New York Times. It’s a riveting story rife with rollicking adventure, knee-slapping humor, and some ‘deep thought’ to boot! -- So please join Cornucopian Man as he fights to save “Businessssss aaaaaaaaas USUAL!!!!!!”

Note from the author: This story contains some very tongue-in-cheek humor, and is meant to induce a few chuckles and perhaps even a smattering of guffaws. Aside from the humor, however, there are two very serious undercurrents in the story.

The first undercurrent, of course, is the tragic futility of our efforts to merely wish away the reality of our accelerating resource-depletion/environmental predicament -- the magical thinking that essentially defines the cornucopian program. Nature simply cannot be fooled by any of the multitudinously clever ways we fool ourselves. No matter how we try, Industrial Civilization will never ever bully its way around the Laws of Thermodynamics and the finite material limits of the Earth -- and it’s a tragic-comedy of epic proportions to watch all the clumsy ways we try to do so anyway. See CERA’s latest report, Scientific American, the recent IEA whistleblower scandal, or simply pick up the NY Times. Ha ha ha ha! Look at the clever apes fooling themselves!

The second undercurrent, however, is even darker: the perpetration of an egregious crime against humanity and the biosphere. While it is still tragically-controversial to say so in most circles, our Industrial Civilization appears to be in the nascent stages of an epic implosion, as the net energy to power it begins to decline ever faster down its slippery slope. The collateral damage to both people and the biosphere from the still-unprepared-for implosion will likely be great indeed -- and the less preparation we do now, the more damage we will likely see.

So here’s the dark part: those well-paid suits laboring directly or indirectly for the corporations in various journalistic, pseudo-scientific, and lobbying efforts to delay preparation for our civilization’s decline (the “cornucopians”) are, in my humble opinion, complicit in the moral equivalent of a horrible crime against humanity. They are, of course, just collectin’ a pay-check; just workin’ for The Man; just “following orders” -- but it doesn’t make their crimes any less egregious in from a larger scope.

Let me qualify that accusation by saying that all of us (me included) who keep on livin’ the Industrial Dream (with or without the knowledge of what’s coming) are guilty of exacerbating the approaching economic and social convulsions. We all have a clear moral imperative to change our behavior immediately and drastically – and we’re all ignoring it. In this sense, we’re all guilty of horrible crimes against humanity and the biosphere. But…there are, of course, different levels of guilt, and the “cornucopians,” our national politicians, and their corporate masters are kickin’ it “first degree” style.

Simply put, we need to start preparations for a lower-energy future right now, at all levels: individual, community, regional, and national. Every day we delay increases the probability of a myriad of less-desirable (and possibly even horrific) futures.

So here’s the funny story. Ha ha ha ha.

Introducing…Cornucopian Man!

Tonight, the good consumers of Industrial City sleep peacefully amongst gleaming possessions in their modern industrial comforts -- pleasant delusions and happy distractions dancing through their infotainment-filled heads.

But in the dark night, there lurks a menacing threat to their non-negotiable Way of Life; a threat so cunning and persistent – so horribly…realistic, that only one man can be trusted to protect them. That man is…Cornucopian Man!

Born on the planet Cera of the star Iea, in the Galaxy of Magical Thinking, Cornucopian Man arrived on our planet as an infant, and was raised in an ivory tower by free-market economists at the University of Detatched-Theory.

Now grown, he is charged with the mission of protecting Industrial Civilization from the dark, pessimistic forces that threaten its very existence – namely, a collection of villains banded together in a sinister alliance known as the League of Biophysical Reality.

The hero of all industrial consumers, Cornucopian Man fights Biophysical Reality with a relentless, unshakably-optimistic passion. He is aided in his fight by his faithful side-kick, that marvelously-theoretical wonder-kid, Economics-Professor Boy.

And despite some meager logistical support scrapped together by the poor, beleaguered corporations and national governments, Cornucopian Man and Economics-Professor Boy fight the good fight alone – a brave, lonely battle against the wicked forces of Reality.

So, as life continues exponentially-upward in our fair Industrial City, the good consumers bustle through the parking lots and shops, blissfully unaware of the danger that lurks nearby, gathering strength in the shadows behind the plastic mini-mall facades.

…But every so often, during brief respites from the din of traffic, rattling machinery, and rustling of shopping bags, one can sometimes hear a faint rallying cry descending from far above, as our hero patrols the defenseless city: “Businessssss aaaaaaaaas USUAL!!!!!!”

A Nefarious Plan to Spill the Truth

But lo, good consumers! Having regrouped after their most recent lashing at the hands of several well-placed Op-Eds in major newspapers and Obama’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge their very existence, the dark forces of Biophysical Reality have pooled their resources, and are preparing an all-out assault on the fragile confidences of the good consumers of Industrial City.

Meeting secretly in a dank cave on a former stream-bed, deep under the rock-fill in a buried Appalachian Valley, the shadowy figures of the nefarious League of Biophysical Reality have hatched a terrible plan.

Listening-in with their Patriot-Act-sanctioned wiretaps, the Federal Bureau of Consumer-Confidence is able to discern the following details of the dastardly plan: A huge vat of pure, deadly Liquid Truth is kept under high-security watch at the newspaper-printing warehouse of the NY Times. The League of Biophysical Reality plans to breach the facility and, outrageously, spill pure Truth directly onto the front-page of the venerable newspaper.

A little background on Liquid Truth: Far too dangerous to disseminate in its pure form, the pure Truth is carefully altered before finding its way on to the printed pages of the newspaper. Often, it is simply watered down generously with barrels of Irrelevant-Facts, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies kept in ample supply at the same cavernous printing warehouse. Sometimes, however, a particularly dangerous bit of Truth must sent through the byzantine Distorting Apparatus, rendering it almost unrecognizable and fit for mass consumption. Any extra scraps of Truth are typically just buried out back or concealed under reams of paper in the basement.

Reality -- Caught in the Act!

So…under the cowardly cover of darkness, two shadowy figures from the League of Biophysical Reality breach the gate around the NY Times printing warehouse and slink deviously towards the toxic vat of Truth.

Unbeknownst to them, however, an optical sensor detects their wicked presence and alerts the Department of Consumer-Confidence Security. Immediately, a large heart-shaped “BAU” signal is shone on the underside of the clouds over Industrial City. A collective gasp rises from the throngs of Black Friday shoppers as they gaze fearfully at the sky.

Our hero immediately receives the signal and tosses aside his copy of Scientific American. Already dressed in his trademark cornucopia-hat and pink, bedazzled Speedos, Cornucopian Man exits through his open penthouse window, heading straight towards the University.

Arriving over the University, Cornucopian Man spies Economics-Professor Boy in his ivy-cloaked office hard at work on his latest meta-theoretical treatise. “Hurry, my boy! The good consumers of our fair city need us! We must prevent the Truth from being spilt by the evil forces of Biophysical Reality!”

“Holy crisis of confidence, Cornucopian Man! I’ll be right there!” After giving a tender kiss to his doubly-autographed, framed photo of Tom and Milton Friedman, Economics-Professor Boy rips off his frumpy suit to reveal an alarmingly-form-fitting, neon-yellow leotard. Grabbing his Nobel Prize, he scampers to the window and leaps out onto the back of our waiting hero. Away they fly…

Arriving at the New York Times printing facility, our heroes spot the two shadowy figures from the League of Biophysical Reality perched atop the huge vat of Liquid Truth. Ominously, one of the villains is holding a bucket. Is it already too late?

“Stop right there, fiends!” cries Cornucopian Man, as he and Economics-Professor Boy alight gracefully on the edge of the vat, opposite the villains.

“Holy growth-stagnation, Cornucopian Man! We know these two downer low-lifes!”

“That’s right Economics-Professor Boy – it’s that incorrigible pessimist, The Laws of Thermodynamics, and his partner, that killer-of-confidence himself, Material Limits Man!”

“Is it just me, Cornucopian Man, or does it smell like defeatism around here? Ha! I can almost see the totally-bummer vibes comin’ off of these two no-gooders.”

“Indeed, my boy. Now…Let’s show them the raw power of unfettered optimism divorced entirely from reality!”

Biophysical Reality Vanquished

In a blur of impassioned gesticulations, Cornucopian man sets immediately upon The Laws of Thermodynamics with a full-on verbal assault. With tongue, lips, and jaws working feverishly, our hero batters the villain with an unrelenting stream of specious arguments, unverifiable claims, and outright falsehoods. Within minutes, the Laws of Thermodynamics are reduced to a quivering mass of optional guidelines.

“Don’t kill it completely, Cornucopian Man. I’ll need some distorted scraps to cherry-pick from for my latest paper,” chuckles Economics-Professor Boy, wringing his tiny, child-like hands with a sly grin.

“Good point, my quasi-scientific friend.”

“He doesn’t look so inviolable now, does he, Cornucopian Man? Can you say ‘discredited?’ Ha ha ha ha!”

Cornucopian Man and Economics-Professor Boy roll the crumpled form of the vanquished villain off the edge of the vat, and unceremoniously deposit him into a stinking pile of meat cut out of the newspaper stories of the past week.

“Ha ha ha! I bet this villain wishes the editors cut out the fluff instead, Cornucopian Man! It would’ve made for a softer landing!”

“Ha! Good one, my hyper-theoretical side-kick! …But wait! It looks like Material Limits Man has a bucket of truth, and is about to throw it -- gasp! – all over the front page! We must…”

But Economics-Professor Boy was already in action – racing across the lip of the vat with a sprite-like quickness, brandishing his shiny Economics Nobel Prize over his head like a big meaningless club. “I’ll get you, you abomination; you pox on the gleaming visage of Industrial Civilization!”

Economics-Professor Boy had always had a special hatred for Material Limits Man, deeming the villain a repulsive affront to everything he stood for. He was relishing the chance to finish him off once and for all.

By the time Cornucopian Man reaches them, Economics-Professor Boy is wailing away at the crumpled villain with his Nobel Prize statue, screaming, “Resources … whack … are … whack … infinitely … whack … replaceable! ... whack … Resources … whack … are … whack … infinitely …”

“He’s dead, boy – He’s dead.” Says Cornucopian Man after several minutes, laying a gentle hand on the Boy’s heaving shoulder.

“I want him gone!” sobs the inconsolable economist. “I want Material Limits gone! Gone forever!”

“Yes, we all do, my Boy. We all do.”

Very carefully, Cornucopian Man slides over to the villain’s bucket of Truth, and pours it harmlessly back into the vat – taking great care to not spill any on himself. He and Economics-Professor Boy then roll the limp scoundrel off the edge of the vat, onto the stinking pile of meat, next to his battered co-conspirator.

“The good consumers of Industrial City can again sleep soundly tonight, Cornucopian Man -- safe from the wicked designs of Biophysical Reality.”

“Indeed, my friend. Indeed. Business-as-usual is safe…for now. Now go wash the blood from your nice little statue.”

The Cornucopian Manifesto

As Economics-Professor Boy returns with his once-again-gleaming statue, he finds Cornucopian Man perched atop a box of newsprint cartridges, hands on hips, chin raised, with a fiercely-proud, far-away look in his eye.

Glancing down at the floor, Economics-Professor Boy’s heart jumps as he sees a crude-but-elegant graph traced in the dust just below Cornucopian Man’s perch.

“Look long and hard at that graph, my little friend. What do you see?”

“Why, its an upward-sloping exponential curve, Cornucopian Man! My favorite shape!”

“Dear boy, you are so clever, and yet so simple sometimes. Look again. This curve is much more than just a shape.”

“Do tell, my hero! Do tell!”

“The curve you see is human potential, my boy – the most important of all the limitless quantities on this Earth. There are no bounds to what humans can achieve – no limits to where our accomplishments can take us. We need only to tap into it.”

“But how can we Cornucopian Man? How can we tap into it?”

“The answer, my impressionable little friend, is…UNFETTERED OPTIMISM!

Cornucopian Man’s hands, now shaking with intensity, rise slowly above his head, as his eyes focus with laser-like concentration on the open skylight above their heads.

“Yes, my dear boy, we must only believe in order to receive! It is only by weakly capitulating to the pessimistic nay-sayers that humanity is denied all the limitless fruits of this Universe. It is only they who keep us from taking our rightful place among all the stars of the infinite heavens. It is only they who chain us to the finite past.”

“You mean, the realists are not just wrong, they’re…a threat to us?”

“Indeed, my marginal friend. It is not simply enough to refute them. We must crush them mercilessly at every opportunity. Without this righteous fist, there is no hope for the gloriously-infinite program of our industrial civilization; for the god-like status we deserve.”

“So you mean…people like the environmentalists? The peak-oilers? The peace movement? The human right activists? The sustainability movement? The animal rights activists? The climate activists? Those sorts of people? We need to actually destroy them?”

Cornucopian Man continues, eyes still fixed on the heavens: “Yes, yes, my increasingly-perceptive charge! We must marginalize, demoralize, demonize, castigate, humiliate, and belittle these heretics! It is our sacred duty as the secular priests of industrial civilization. We are the protectors of the light – the infinite light of human potential!”

“…Holy naked evil, Cornucopian man!...The villains! – they’re…gone!!”

Despite Economics-Professor Boy’s understandable alarm at the escape of the notorious villains, Cornucopian man remains curiously locked in his heroic pose; arms raised and chin resolutely pointed towards the stars. He does not even blink.

“Yes, my boy, we still have much work to do. Much work indeed.”

Editorial Notes: From the author: Dan Allen is a high school Chemistry teacher in New Jersey. He is also a concerned father, organic farmer, and community-garden organizer. Other Energy Bulletin posts by Dan Allen: The Speech Obama Needs to Give, www.energybulletin.net/50370 What 'Lower Consumption' Means, www.energybulletin.net/50617 A Doomer's Christmas Carol, www.energybulletin.net/50773

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