The fatal hour

Anthony Giddens at the Guardian breathlessly describes our future. We will have jobs arising from the lifestyle changes that will come from the end of the carbon economy. Here’s his vision of Things to Come.


Following the example of Barack Obama, many have signed up to the idea of a climate change new deal. Investment in low-carbon technologies, the insulation of buildings and public transport, it is reasoned, can also make a key contribution to getting the economy moving again. … I support the idea of a new deal …

We are on the brink of a major revolution – the demise of the fossil-fuel economy. Now is the time to think through the implications. On the nitty-gritty side, one major concern has to be jobs. A climate change new deal will create new jobs, its proponents argue. I’m not so sure, if by this they mean net jobs – that is to say, larger numbers than existed before. As more energy is produced from low-carbon sources, and energy efficiency increases, some workers in the fossil fuel industries, like coal mining, will be put out of work. Most forms of technological innovation reduce the need for labour power.

Jobs will be created not so much through renewable technologies themselves, but through the lifestyle changes that coping with climate change and energy security will bring about. The emerging economy will be even more radically post-industrial than the one we have now. And it will be up to entrepreneurs to spot the economic opportunities that will come about as it expands – much in the same way as ways were found to revitalise dockland areas when the shipping industry evaporated.


Just as service industry positions replaced manufacturing jobs when British industry declined, Giddens expects “the lifestyle changes that coping with climate change and energy security will bring about” the need for new trades. In an economy which has less — perhaps drastically less — energy resources by political fiat, in order to avoid Climate Change, what kinds of jobs should kids study for? History provides some ready clues.

Blacksmiths. Horses will need shoes to travel along the byways of the future, suitably equpped with anus filters to attenuate carbon-creating farts. Capstan winders. To pull elevators up to the tops of high-rise buildings in New York City, those built before the Green New Deal, to replace the ones driven by motor power. Able seamen, men able to scramble up the rigging of sailing ships in order to furl or deploy vast areas of fabric, preferrably heavy cotton or some similar organic material, as synthetics should no longer be available. In general, any trade in common use before 1900 will have bright prospects in Gidden’s new future.

Not everyone will appreciate the brilliance of this Green vision. Some people, especially kids accustomed to hot and cold running water, video games and similar amenities, may not want to go to sea. But that will only give rise to other employment opportunities, such as pressganging.


It was not always possible to fill ships’ crews with volunteers, especially in wartime, so the Law allowed gangs to seize men and force them to join a ship. Officially, only men who were already seafarers were supposed to be taken, but in practice gangs grabbed many others, such as apprentices or labourers. Pressing peaked in the 18th century but it was still going on as late as 1850. The grief and anger of pressed men at being torn from their families was another reason why on board discipline had to be tough.

In an age when environmental activists fly to distant locales to hold conferences about Climate Change in private jets or use high definition TV to broadcast their message, it is easy for some of them to forget how much of what they do depends on what they hate. For too many of them the current crisis is a sign from a God they do not believe exists to build a future they have no understanding of. Some part of me hopes they get it.


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