My latest podcast (MP3) is a reading of my 2017 Locus column “The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots ,” about the nature of material scarcity, which is a subject of enormous significance at this moment as production has ground to a halt, and in which the use of the internet to coordinate our activity is at an all-time high. The essay’s thesis is that the answer to the climate change crisis might coordination, not privation — holidays when our renewable energy sources weren’t producing, work when they were. Making hay while the sun shines. Given the enforced time off so many of us are living through, the ideas are more salient than they were when I started thinking about them in 2017.
Cheapness and coordination go hand in hand. Trains gave us railroad time, the first system of timekeeping that synchronized clocks beyond earshot of the clocktower’s bells, so 11:00 a.m. in New York was also 11:00 a.m. in Toronto – and they also made it drastically cheaper to move goods from one place to another, both to bring them to market and to refine them further in multi-stage, distributed industrial processes. Spoke-and-hub aviation gave us flight transfers in 45 minutes, including baggage logistics, making it possible to go from small, out of the way places to large, centralized places without having to provide economically unsustainable point-to-point direct routes between every small town and every big city. Walmart’s supply chains stretch from China to Burbank with fantastic reliability, so that everything Walmart sells is always available, without having to wait for misshipments and misorders. A single McDonald’s hamburger can contain beef from 1,000 animals – the company isn’t a restaurant chain, it’s a logistics firm that solves problems involving fractional cows.