We had just arrived in sleepy Kandersteg the night after a long journey from crowded Vernazza. After the baking Mediterranean Italian sun, the cool mountain air of Swizterland was welcome and refreshing. Our hotel, built in the late 19th century, sat across from a racing brook (which the Swiss call bachs) along a gently winding street that was sparsely filled with Swiss-style hotels, chalets, and farmhouses. We were here for a hiking tour, and since the group wasn’t set to arrive until that evening, we decided to venture out on our own that morning. The woman at our hotel’s reception desk told us we could walk up to Oeschinensee, a lake some 5100 feet above sea level. “It’s an easy walk,” she said.
What I later came to understand, is that a Swiss person’s “easy” is what I might call “strenuous.” And when a Swiss person says, “That hike was interesting,” what they really mean is that on said hike they feared for their life. (We did not fear for our life this day. That came later.)
We found the trailhead not far from the hotel. Swiss trails are marked well with yellow signs and red and white trail “blazes” or painted markers. At first the trail led up a paved road. Easy, we thought. But soon the trail diverted us onto a gravel and dirt path alongside a river. We looked up, between breaks in the clouds, to see a waterfall streaming down the tremendous mountainside. Are we going up there? we wondered. Even higher, on the uppermost peaks, were snow, ice, and glaciers.
The path swerved back toward the mountain, and it was up over rock and root, stone and shrub, switching back here and there. We passed other hikers, who said, “Bonjour,” and “Buona sera,” and “Guten Tag,” and “Grüezi,” as the fog grew thicker and the air colder. Soon we had to don our rain jackets and sweaters, which felt strange, since we had just come from the hot climate of the Italian Ligurian coast. Up we went, climbing higher and higher, past dormant ski lifts and wide pastures, and through thick alpine forest, for about two hours, until the fog was so thick we could barely see ten feet in front of us. But we kept going, troupers that we were.
Soon, we began to hear a faint jangling, like those of wind chimes in a breeze. We seemed to reach a plateau, a grassy pasture scattered with stone. Suddenly, we were surrounded by cows. Dozens of them, grazing in this strange, misty pasture, their bells jangling from their necks, with no one else around. Just yesterday we were sweating on a beach, and now we are here, on a foggy mountain surrounded by cows. The moment was surreal, and we both paused, mesmerized by the sound. The cows, wagging their frayed tails, seemed unconcerned by our presence, almost as if we weren’t even there.
It was a supremely mystical moment. The air smelled of manure and cow and rain and grass, was cool and wet, and all was quiet except for the sound of the bells ringing. You can listen for yourself.
Eventually, we broke ourselves free of the entrancing and mystical sound of the cows to make our way to Lake Oeschinen. The fog hung low and thick over the water, like a blanketing shroud. A few people hung around the lake, but it was too cold to swim.
Eventually, we headed back down, passing the mystical cows, the wet and gnarled tree roots and dripping pines, back to the hotel to meet our hiking group. It was our first day in Switzerland, we hadn’t even gone on our first full hike yet, and already we had found magic. The next day, we would hike up to the same lake, where the clouds would parted to reveal the sun. Imagine our surprise, when we climbed up higher than we had the day before, looked down to the valley below, and saw this:
The fog had burned away by the next day’s morning sun, and the full glory of the mountains were revealed. And this was but one of dozens of such vistas we would have on our hikes across the mountains of Switzerland. The journey had just begun.
More to come soon…
As someone who’s seen Blade Runner over a 100 times, who has given talks on the film, and has given private screenings for friends in which I (a) add trivia and commentary and (b) occasionally recite lines from memory at their request, I’m disappointed I didn’t get asked to participate in this speculative plotting for Blade Runner 2. So here goes my take:
Don’t make the film.
Yes, that’s right. I said it. While I love visiting the Blade Runner universe, and it’s my favorite film of all time, the film itself is a product of 80s cyberpunk verve and retro noir pessimism with a little apocalypse thrown in for fun. In Blade Runner they don’t have flat screen TVs and it’s four years in our future. The world in Blade Runner is a polluted, corrupt, disintegrating mess, and all the wealthy have jumped ship for (supposedly) happier pastures off world. Likely, they’re just destroying another planet.
And all this is disgusting. I don’t mean the film itself, but the world humanity has brought about. A lot of science fiction serves as a warning: “Look, if you’re not careful, this may come about.” For decades the Blade Runner Hades landscape (the opening scene of smog-choked, smoldering Los Angeles) and the neon-lit, rainy, overcrowded streets, have been the default vision of the future. The landscape was specifically named after the Greek version of hell. It’s only now, after some 35 years, (with a few bright exceptions) that visions of the future have turned at last away from the dystopian darkness envisioned in films like Blade Runner into optimistic visions of the future. Do we really need to head back into darkness again?
Blade Runner 2 shouldn’t be made because (a) the film doesn’t need to be improved upon or expanded because it’s a complete and perfect object and (b) what the world needs now is not more dystopian, bleak visions of the future, but positive, bright, optimistic ones. Instead of destroying people’s spirit by positing a bleak future for humankind, let’s lift people up, inspire, and encourage them to greater things.
It’s a movie that doesn’t need to and probably shouldn’t be made.
I don’t believe in a technological utopia — that technology will magically solve all of our problems. But I do believe that technology has the power to ameliorate some of our worst human offenses. Take our addiction to fossil fuels. Global warming, which predicts a global temperature rise leading to increased natural disasters and flooding, droughts, and a melting of the polar ice caps leading to a dramatic sea-level rise, is among the worst side-effects of our overwhelming presence on this planet.
While some outlets might convince you that the issue is hardly settled, 97% of climate scientists agree we should all take global warming seriously. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather trust 97% of scientists than some blathering pundit on TV telling me that it’s all a liberal conspiracy, and that I should just let the corporations keep on polluting.
But even if you don’t believe in global warming at all (hey, if you want to ignore all the signs and pretend it’s all a Marxist-liberal hoax to take away your freedoms, you’re welcome to your stupidity), you’d be a fool not to see the coming solar power revolution.
Some have called solar power “the new shale.” What they mean is that Fracking, a.k.a. Hydraulic Fracturing, the process of injecting chemicals into the ground at high pressure to extract natural gas, has been incredibly lucrative. So much so that natural gas in the U.S. is cheaper than ever. The U.S. has become a next exporter of energy.
But while gas burns cleaner than oil, it’s still a fossil fuel, and it still contributes carbon dioxide to exacerbate global warming.
Consider this. In forty minutes, the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface is the same as the total annual energy consumption of the entire world. In one day, twenty seven year’s worth of solar energy reaches Earth’s surface. (source).
Even if we were to capture only a fraction of that energy, once the infrastructure is in place, solar energy is essentially free, and clean. There is no pollution whatsoever, except for the pollution created in the construction of solar panels.
All over the world in recent months I have noticed an upsurge in the number of solar panel installations, both small-scale, and massive. Tens of megawatts per week. A shift is occurring, and it’s happening in parallel with an increased growth of interest in electric cars. And it’s not just Tesla, but all the major auto manufacturers are coming out with electric cars.
If I were a prognosticator, I’d say, “Invest in solar.” It’s set to explode in the next few years.
So, if fossil fuels are so bad for the planet, and solar energy is not only an easy solution, but one that’s poised to leap forward in the next few years, the answer is clear. It’s not just something that should happen, but one that will happen. It is as good for the economy as it is good for the environment, and it’s a no-brainer.
Like I said, I’m not a technical utopianist, but I do believe that solar power has the, well, power to change this world for the better. The sooner we adopt a solar powered infrastructure, the better off we will be.
Believing technology may be the solution to many of humankind’s problems is not the same thing as wanting the trans-human Singularity, that modern cultist, nerdist philosophy that believes in 30 years or less technology will progress so quickly that the future will be as unrecognizable to us as an iPhone is to a goldfish. Believing in the revolutionary power of technology is not an either or proposition, i.e. you believe in the Singularity or you’re a Luddite. I’ve seen it suggested that conspicuous consumption and early adoption really only serve to “fill a crushing vacuousness” in our lives. Maybe in that small case. But the vacuousness is only there if you don’t have a clearly defined long-term goal, if your path from dawn to dusk involves going through the motions, without considering the future beyond the next iteration of Star Wars or version 10 point whatever of your favorite video game.
In other words, an empty life is a choice you make, sometimes without knowing you are making a choice.
Technology can be used for good things, if we make that conscious choice. Solar power, electric cars, satellite internet access to under-served areas of the globe so that people can have greater access to educational materials, which in turn will reduce poverty, ignorance, and subsequently war. Supporting technological innovation doesn’t mean buying the latest gadget and throwing it away as soon as the next version comes out. It means understanding that technology has given us a great many good things: clean water, electricity, information, medicine, transportation, insights into the human condition, etc., etc. And technology will continue to improve the lives of many by many orders of magnitude over the next several decades. We can help both the Earth heal and a great many suffering people live better lives with technology without subscribing to a semi-spiritualist, quasi-messianic view of some post-human Singular age.