by Liam Scheff
Elysium, the Dark Knight Rises, World War Z, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and every upcoming sci-fi action-adventure apocalypse film are all trying to tell us something: our way of life is threatened – and may be ending. And I tend to agree with that message. But they all miss the central metaphor.
In “Elysium,” (from the director of “District 9,” another post-apocalyptic action film – this one about Apartheid), Matt Damon plays a factory worker in a world populated by robots, dust, trash and extreme poverty. The State has infiltrated every area of life; police are cyborgs, law is interpreted by machines, and life is entirely futile on the surface of the planet.
Up in the heavens, a veritable pleasure resort called “Elysium” spins like a glass doughnut filled with the beautiful people, who have perfect lives, abundant food and cures for all diseases.
And cyborg robot space battle ensues. Hooray for humanity.
But something is missing from this picture, as it is in all current films about the end of things – and it is that thing without which the premise falls flat. That thing is energy. Yes – the source of energy that makes it possible to run a robot. To build one. To fabricate anything industrial. To have a floating city in space.
That thing that we use for energy is? Oil. We use oil by the barrel, and each barrel is worth about 7 years of human labor per barrel. A barrel of oil thus acts as a reservoir of “energy slaves” which we use to make our world work. We currently use approximately 90 million barrels per day. We have over 600 million slaves in the world that we do not see, do not feed and do not pay, all in the guise of oil energy and products.
And we are heading over the peak of production into decline. Which means that the future, though it may be poor by today’s standards, will not be fueled by jet power, filled with cyborgs or occupied by robot armies. There will just be us – humanity – those of us who can remember or re-learn how to survive when the power source wanes and does not come back.
That’s our science fiction future: our human past, our inheritance is what awaits us – and if we prepare for it now, we may be spared some of the ‘apocalypses’ now playing in our imaginations when we go to the movies.