The Long Emergency: An Interview with James Howard Kunstler

By Kurt Cagle
January 14, 2009 | Comments: 25

James Howard Kunstler first came to my attention a couple of years ago with his publication of The Long Emergency, a look at the problems of suburbanization and the coming economic shocks that were likely to come as oil production peaked globally and started to decline.

For several years, Kunstler, a writer for such publications as Rolling Stone magazine, the New York Times Op-Ed and Sunday Magazine as well as a syndicated columnist for a number of economic newsletters, has been looking at the increasingly unsustainable creation of far-flung bedroom communities and strip malls that have arisen in the wake of the American car culture, and the more he dug into the issues, the more he realized just how deep the problem was and how significantly it would change the way that we live once oil becomes increasingly scarce.


Kunstler's most recent book, World Made By Hand, is a novel set in the near future, after such a collapse has taken place. It is a somber and sobering tale, brilliantly told, about a small town in upstate New York and how the people there are adapting to a radically altered way of life.

Mr. Kunstler graciously granted me an interview (postponed a couple of times as both he and I battled snowstorms this winter) and had a lot to say about the state of the world and his interpretations about what is happening:


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KC: You came to national prominence with the publication of The Long Emergency, a book that looked at the unsustainability of our present lifestyle as we enter an era where oil production will be declining and our current form of hyper-capitalism failing due to its own inherent contradictions. What started you on the path toward The Long Emergency?

JHK: Actually, my 1993 book, "The Geography of Nowhere" got some attention and became kind of a campus cult favorite, especially among urban design and architecture students -- I think because there were few books written for a popular audience on the subject of how badly the built environment of the USA sucked. The sheer appalling ridiculousness of all our suburban crapola made for great polemical sport. I wrote two other books along the same lines -- "Home From Nowhere" (1996) and "The City in Mind (2002)," which allowed me to elaborate these themes.

In the meantime I had hooked up with the New Urbanist movement, which had a zesty reformist spirit and was full of wonderful characters like Andres Duany and Leon Krier. They were the only gang in our culture who were really promoting an intelligent alternative to the Happy Motoring template. Anyway, a comprehensive consideration of our suburban fiasco naturally led to study of the fossil fuel predicament. In the mid 1990s (around the time I was writing "Home From Nowhere") a cohort of senior geologists retired out of the oil industry and began publishing their dark, secret thoughts about the destiny of the oil industry -- and indeed, of economies hyper-dependent on oil.

The consensus was pretty grim. It implied, among other things, that the suburban fiasco was even worse than I had said in my earlier books, that we were heading into a pretty stark crisis of advanced civilization. Way back in the 1970s, I'd covered the OPEC oil embargo story as a newspaper reporter and it made a big impression on me -- for a few weeks you could see all our suburban arrangements unravel. So, I'd actually been stewing about all this for some time. Out of all this came "The Long Emergency."

KC: What is Peak Oil, and how is it (and how soon is it) going to affect the national and global economy? Do you see energy alternatives on the horizon that can minimize the effect of the decline of oil?

JHK: There are lots of ways to describe Peak Oil -- different angles. For instance, you can say it means the year in which we'll produce the most oil (and after which we will enter remorseless depletion). You can say it's the point where demand for oil permanently exceeds supply. You can say it's a liquid fuels problem for a society addicted to driving and trucking. You can say it implies the end of industrial growth as-we've-known-it (with further implications in capital finance). You can say it threatens the complex systems we depend on for everyday life (petro-agriculture, chain store retail, Happy Motoring, suburban settlement patterns, centralized school districts, etc etc). In all these ways it is a challenge to the life-ways were are accustomed to.

KC: The role of urban planning plays a large part in your writings. What's wrong with our current urban planning models, and how can we readjust the way that we build (and connect) cities to work better in a world of changing resources?

JHK: Omigod! What's wrong. We'll, let's just start by saying we've constructed an infrastructure for daily life with no future. That's pretty disturbing, isn't it? I customarily refer to this as the greatest misallocation off resources in the history of the world. Having poured all our post-WW2 wealth in it, we've made ourselves hostage to the psychology of previous investment -- meaning we will desperately try anything to keep it all going, to sustain the unsustainable, at all costs. Thus, we'll be squandering our dwindling resources in a gigantic act of futility. That's the Big Picture end of the story.

The more micro view is that we've constructed a daily living arrangement that is depressing, demoralizing, unrewarding, unfair to children and old people, grossly wasteful, ecologically unsound to-the-max, and profoundly unhealthy. It is a bad human habitat. It's toxic in every sense. It punishes us intensely, despite the number of bathrooms per inhabitant and the air conditioning. And for most people in the USA, it is absolutely normal -- it's all they know.

Now, the reason we can't get past it (stemming from the psychology of previous investment) is that we've encoded the template for building all this crap in our laws, and trained our municipal officials and politicians to administer the template rigorously (and outlaw most of the remedies in traditional urban design), and trained the architects to be grandstanding narcissists, and conditioned the public to expect to drive everywhere for everything, and empowered the developers and bankers to deliver only the "products" (say, houses and strip malls) that comport with the template. It will take a shock to induce the necessary paradigm shift away from all this foolishness -- and we're in for one. In fact, we've entered it. How do you like the Long Emergency so far?

KC: How much of the current economic crisis that we're facing is caused by (or is a reaction to) peak oil? How do you see the economic situation playing out in the next decade?

JHK: Peak oil has a lot to do with it, since it implies the inability to continue conventional "growth" in the context of industrial economies. This in turn implies that the conventional investment vehicles that have worked in capital finance under the industrial regime stand to lose their legitimacy, their meaning, their value. That is, stocks, bonds, debentures, etc. Well, whaddaya know. Just as this has occurred, Wall Street (i.e. the financial "industry") went on a binge of experimental engineering in "innovative" new financial instruments -- the whole alphabet soup of CDOs and MBSs and CDS's and SIVs and other "structured finance" novelties intended to produce wealth by other means than industrial productivity.

In other words, the finance sector found a way to generate profits by getting something-for-nothing. Naturally it all turned out to be a fraud and a swindle, and the "work-out" of bad debt and mis-investment is now destroying the finance sector comprehensively. There is a broad expectation that we will come through this "bottleneck" and resume our habits of credit-based "consumerism."

Fuggeddabowdit. That way of life is toast. We're moving into a very stringent and austere economy in which credit will be sparse at best, and rigorously allocated. We face enormous changes in our behavior and in our living arrangements. They can be described very precisely. We have to grow our food differently, perform commerce differently, inhabit the landscape differently, move about the landscape differently, and so on. On the whole, we're likely to be a less affluent society -- as affluence as been understood in recent decades (having lots of stuff and leisure). We will also be shedding the diminishing returns of complexity, and all the unintended consequences of it, which I believe will have many benefits for the human race. For instance, we may not be driving in air-conditioned comfort all the time, but we'll stop being a nation of overfed, diabetic slobs, too.

KC: Where does climate change fit into all of this?

JHK: It will ramify and complicate and amplify all the problems of peak oil and foundering complex systems.

KC: What role can technologists - programmers, scientists, engineers and inventors - play in helping to ameliorate the changes that you foresee happening?

JHK: Personally, I think one of our biggest ailments now is the techno-grandiosity displayed by people in the tech sector. There's some notion that just because we can move pixels around a screen with a mouse, that all the woes of mankind will yield to a set of techno tricks. This is dangerous fucking nonsense. It's especially appalling in those who are desperately trying to rescue the Happy Motoring system by seeking to engineer cars that run on something other than fossil fuels.

For instance, the Rocky Mountain Institute, supposedly an "environmental" organization, has put its cred and muscle behind the development of a "hypercar." What fucking idiocy. It only promotes the idea that we ought to continue being car dependent! This kind of thing drives me nuts. Of course, I'm not anti tech or anti science -- I just think we've lost ourselves in fantasies of omnipotence that are very pernicious. What tech has to do now is re-engineer local, small-scaled living -- the systems we depend on -- so we can live in a manner consistent with our ecology, with the reality-based energy diet of the decades-to-come. The techies for the most part are not so interested in this. Just look at the assholes in NASA who are still fantasizing about space travel when we need to teach tens of millions of Americans how to garden!

KC: We have a new administration coming in. What policy changes would you recommend to Barrack Obama in order to smooth the transition to a more sustainable economic model?

JHK: I'll be very brief (and risk repeating something I've said a hundred times). We need to start rebuilding the American passenger railroad system -- and ancillary light rail public transit -- immediately. The buzz these days ( a couple of weeks before the inauguration) is that the Obama administration wants to ramp up a "stimulus package" focused on rebuilding our highway infrastructure. This would be the epitome of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable, an act of futility.

Look, the airlines are dying. The next time oil goes up in price, or becomes scarce here-and-there, the industry will tank. Unless we rebuild the railroad system, we're not going anywhere in this large, continent-sized nation. How will people get from Chicago to St. Louis? Atlanta to Baltimore? How are we going to move stuff when the trucking industry gets into trouble? We're not paying attention. The lack of any discussion about rebuilding the railroad system shows how un-serious we are, what a nation of clowns we've become. Rebuilding the railroads is of tremendous importance. It will put scores of thousands of people to work on a meaningful project; the basic infrastructure is already there, rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed; it requires no new technology, and getting it done would boost our confidence to address the other systems that we need to reform and rebuild -- namely agriculture, local-and-regional commerce, appropriately-scaled urban development, etc.


KC: In your latest novel, World Made By Hand, you describe the view of the world as seen from upstate New York a decade or so into the long emergency, a world where religion has made a big comeback, where government has effectively ceased to exist much beyond the local level, and where the population has declined rapidly. How did you come to the model of what that culture would look like? And is there a sequel in the works?

JHK: Constructing a novel means setting into motion an "emergent,"self-organizing process. You have to trust it, and that generally comes from experience in doing it. "World Made By Hand" followed a particular trajectory. There are infinite scenarios you might spin from the conditions at hand, but this was how mine worked out. Elements of story sort of surprised me -- for instance, I realized fairly early on that people were not riding bicycles. They couldn't get rubber tires anymore, nor parts made from exotic metal alloys, plus the pavements were all broken up from years of neglect and disinvestment. Trade had fallen off to nearly zero.

The people of my fictional small town, Union Grove, were living locally to-the-max. The electric grid sputtered out in the beginning of the story. Telecommute? Forget it. Basically, they were thrust back into an agriculture-centered society. Plenty of other side effects in there too -- some of which confounded my readers. For example, the Enlightenment mental model had failed these people and was being challenged in the book by a world-view that might be described as neo-medieval, magical, supernatural. (Not realty itself, mind you, but the group's perception of it.)

Kurt Cagle is an Online Editor for O'Reilly Media. You can subscribe to his Atom Feed or follow him on Twitter.


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25 Comments

We should thank James for helping create the Bubble that got crude oil to $145, which crushed demand. We should thank him for fostering the Peak Oil myth that made the hedge funds go crazy and helped the oil implosion back to sanity-sanity where supply and demand are the ruling forces not money available at zero.

Now the Fed has to inflate the currencies so that $145 oil appears affordable.

Bravo! This says it all. Why can't we have jobs in the cities and towns we LIVE in? Why do we have to commute 20-30-50-80 miles one-way just to park our butts in front of a computer for 8 hours+ a day... when we could just as easily walk to our laptop computer, log in, and do our work that way.

I used to work for Cisco Systems--and John Chambers (an awesome fellow to work for, by the way) said that Cisco was going to change the way that people work, play, and live. With the Internet, we can get the majority of cars off the roads. We can work from home. Daniel Pink in his book "Free Agent Nation" described many who worked from home after originally working the traditional 8-5 office jobs.

Not only would getting all those cars off the road reduce demand on oil, but it would also reduce pollution. It would reduce stress on the workers. Oh, sure, we could still drive in once in a while to meet with colleagues (would we really want to?)--but we wouldn't have to do it all the time.

As stated in your great interview--we have to change the mindset of government, businesses, management to get out of their PATTERN of needing to see butts in chairs for 8 hours a day.

We need to build jobs either in the towns we live in, or find ways to work remotely. Major corporations have proven that they CAN do it--unfortunately, they sent those "remote" jobs to India, China, and the Philippines and other places overseas for the "cheaper" labor.

In the meantime, in the U.S., workers are struggling after fewer and fewer jobs at lower and lower rates and having to drive further miles on more expensive transportation (cars, gas, maintenance) just to get them. Like you said, this is total stupidity.

If we ARE going to have to commute to work and for business, we DEFINITELY need more trains, light-rails, buses, and easily accessable transit interchange points for the connections. These public transportation methods should be using the best technologies for alternate energy--solar, wind, hybrid-fuel, whatever.

And... for individual citizens, we need more education on how we can implement small and gradual changes with how we use and perceive energy. Solar water heating, solar air heating, solar thermal passive heating and so on, may not be as sexy as solar photovoltaics... but it can still reduce oil consumption drastically.

Thanks for a great "think piece"!

Best regards,
Dave Gardner (aka "EditorDave")
http://www.squidoo.com/moving_electrons

I made a film called "Subdivided" that featured James Howard Kunstler where he talks about the suburbs in some detail. http://www.subdivided.net

I grow weary of those who arrogantly think their ideas are given credence by vulgarities and name-calling.

Come back when you can carry on a conversation that respects other opinions.

I'm wary of what Kunstler has to say. He speaks in hyperbole and incredible generalities, not a voice of reason. He offers no solutions, just a pat on the back to self-satisfied yuppies.

I approach similar goals from a different perspective. Long commutes are an obvious waste of time so living near work is worth sacrificing some living space. Cars are ineffective in higher density communities if everyone uses them while mass transit becomes cost effective, the converse being true in lower density towns. We'll still need electric cars, Chevy's Volt platform being my favorite approach, but fewer cars should be needed. Just making a one-car-family possible again would be a tremendous improvement.

Maybe I'm being oversensitive but I detect a strong whiff of totalitarianism in Kunstler's arguments. No cars? Trains only? We must do this or the civilized world comes to an end? "Peak oil" when newer but more expensive sources keep coming online (oil sands, etc), supply is artificially restricted (ANWR, OCS) and $145/bbl oil was a fantasy constructed by hedge funds? I can see a gradual shift back to cities from suburbs but the reasons why people fled the cities must be addressed.

Namely, big city governments have sucked. Taxes are insane, heavy regulation makes it hard to get work done, schools are awful, police are not allowed to do their job, bureaucracy grinds up public funds, union featherbedding drives up costs, etc. The larger the city, the more those points apply. The taxes on my parents' home, which has been in the family since the 1930's, are about as much as the taxes plus mortgage payment for my home just outside of town. Fix those problems, make cities more attractive, and people will come. If those taxes paid for efficient, first-class infrastructure and services they'd be worth it but in absence of competent government I'll take cheaper every time.

Oh, and the feds shouldn't have a highway program at all. Repeal the federal gas tax and turn the highways over to their respective states. Replace the federal tax code with the Flat Tax while we're at it. Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency!

"Rebuilding the railroads is of tremendous importance. It will put scores of thousands of people to work on a meaningful project; the basic infrastructure is already there, rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed; it requires no new technology, and getting it done would boost our confidence to address the other systems that we need to reform and rebuild -- namely agriculture, local-and-regional commerce, appropriately-scaled urban development, etc."

To me this makes lots of sense. Moving things and people by rail is much more efficient energy-wise. And improving/expanding our rail system would be a great way to create badly-needed jobs in this time of economic contraction.

While JHK' will use vulgarities & name calling once in a while, it is ludicrous to say that the man does arrogantly think that this lends credence to his viewpoints. That happens to be his style and it works to get someone's attention. However... anyone who can say that they know what another person is thinking is logically incorrect.

JHK makes a huge number of good points especially the one on gardening. It takes several years to become a decent gardener. It doesn't take that long to starve to death.

Kudos Jim!

Peak Oil is NOT a myth. It's math. And you can't argue with math. But if you continue to insist that Peak Oil is a myth, then I would ask you to show me the math that disputes Peak Oil. However, please do NOT show me conspiracy theories. Just show me math.

And while you're at it, show me the math which supports the (total fantasy!) that ANWR and the Outer Continental Shelf will save us. And the math I expect from you must include:

1) how many barrel per day that the USA consumes,
2) how many barrel are actually in ANWR and the OCS
3) how many barrels per day we will be capable of lifting out of the ground at ANWR and the OCS
4) how long will ANWR and the OCS be able to deliver before they both sputter dry on us.

After you have handed ALL of that math to me, show me how Peak Oil is a myth.

Eileen,

It's not all math - there is a certain amount of geopolitics involved as well - but in the main your contentions are correct. The US will see part of this impact in the next two years as the Cantarell field dries up (or more accurately gets too diluted) to a point where it's no longer able to even provide internal oil needs in Mexico.

Indeed, I think that anyone who is in denial about peak oil should watch what's happening in Mexico very closely, because it may prove a harbinger of the future. Mexico is essentially a two resource country - they provide oil and drugs, and even the drugs exist primarily because of their physical position relative to the US.

So long as oil revenues are high, the country remains stable, but oil revenues have been declining steadily now for about six years, and are now in rapid decline. This translates into increasing power by the drug lords (who are for the most part feudal barons with no real accountability) and what will likely be a raging, though likely undeclared, civil war in the country erupting very, very soon.

Mexico is the third largest oil provider to the US after Canada and Saudi Arabia, and not only will the loss of this oil prove very disruptive to the US economy, the political instability will prove a distraction that will spill over into the US periodically.

There are no large "undiscovered" bonanzas left to be found. Most of the worlds oil - tapped AND uptapped - is now known, and the challenge is essentially the engineering one of deploying rigs - and the financial one of funding the deployment of those rigs. The irony is that with oil futures essentially down to a fifth of what they were, there won't be any new exploration or rigging, not for at least the next decade, which means that oil prices are going to oscillate between extremes for the next decade.

"I'm wary of what Kunstler has to say. He speaks in hyperbole and incredible generalities, not a voice of reason. He offers no solutions, just a pat on the back to self-satisfied yuppies." D.S.

Kunstler offers no solutions, because there are none - at least insofar as somehow preserving the clearly unsustainable lifestyle we now live. He is telling us what all of us should already know; the future is going to be much, much different from what most of us have been conditioned to expect. Each one of us has to take responsibility for finding or making solutions. Big Gov. is not going to do it for us. Obama may be about the best we can expect as a leader, but he is no Wizard of Oz. The system is kaput. All we are now doing is trying to bail out a boat that is disintegrating in the water. The decks are collapsing and the hull is coming apart. Put on your personal flotation device and get cracking either finding or building a much smaller and simpler boat to ride out the storm.

"I'm wary of what Kunstler has to say. He speaks in hyperbole and incredible generalities, not a voice of reason. He offers no solutions, just a pat on the back to self-satisfied yuppies." D.S.

Kunstler offers no solutions, because there are none - at least insofar as somehow preserving the clearly unsustainable lifestyle we now live. He is telling us what all of us should already know; the future is going to be much, much different from what most of us have been conditioned to expect. Each one of us has to take responsibility for finding or making solutions. Big Gov. is not going to do it for us. Obama may be about the best we can expect as a leader, but he is no Wizard of Oz. The system is kaput. All we are now doing is trying to bail out a boat that is disintegrating in the water. The decks are collapsing and the hull is coming apart. Put on your personal flotation device and get cracking either finding or building a much smaller and simpler boat.

"He offers no solutions, just a pat on the back to self-satisfied yuppies."

Jim does offer solutions. The solutions he suggests can be found in this interview and in much more depth in his books and blog.

One - "We need to start rebuilding the American passenger railroad system -- and ancillary light rail public transit -- immediately."

Two - "We have to grow our food differently, perform commerce differently, inhabit the landscape differently, move about the landscape differently, and so on."

Granted, his second suggestion is broad but if you take the time to read his other work he does explain in detail what each of those solutions entail.

This was only a general interview afterall; you can't expect the man to lay out a cure all solution in a 10 minute interview for a problem that is 50 plus years in the making.

It seems that the prime focus of those who disagree with Jim usually involves his position on the validity of peak oil. Let's put that issue aside. Jim's viewpoint is much bigger, wider than simply our no longer being able to depend on oil. He is talking about overall sustainability. Think of it this way: would everything be OK if there were infinite oil and no threat of climate change? Jim doesn't think so nor do I. What shall we do? Cover the planet with roads and strip malls and trashy, tawdry "attractions?" Look at Las Vegas. What does such a place tell about our souls? Our very way of living is becoming more and more toxic to our humanity and our spirits - regardless of peak oil. In fact maybe we should actually be thankful that peak oil imposes a limit to our madness. This is what Jim is saying. Jim may not have every detail correct, but his theme is spot on.

I am so happy to see many voices of reason here among the commenters in addition to Jim's. Hysteria at the coming changes is unfortunately predictable. Awareness of the situation is critical and efforts to organize on a smaller, more sustainable scale will pay off improved personal safety and satisfaction.

Kunstler is an acute observer of what's going on right now. He is not the man to craft detailed plans for fixing our problems -- no one man can do this -- but he is trying to get people lit up about this so that they get working on this.

He may not be 100% accurate, but even if he's half-right, there is a shitload of work that needs to be done and that is being ignored. Unfortunately, since the work will be difficult and our lives will be spare, it is not something people will easily embrace. Setting expectations and jarring people out of denial is the first step towards recovery, and if our leaders aren't going to do it, I'm glad people like JHK are.

Jim needs ot get to Obama somehow. The masses are asleep -I don't see "bottom up" solutions coming any time soon -we can thank Madison Avenue for that. I'm glad his humor reaches the college set . . . maybe that will help.

Pass the Doritos. . . .
-mjt

I like what James often says. I believe he is correct in stating there will be a new paradigm in this country in the not too far distant future. There is oil around. Oil has been found in North Dakota, but we really don't know how much it will cost to pump and refine it. This and other burning oil products, even though will be around, will contribute to the destruction of our atmosphere, therefore, alternatives are necessary.

A new view of how to live is required now so we can all begin to shift toward that new paradigm before there really is no affordable oil for the masses, and many are stuck out in the cold. It needs presidential orders to make this change, since we now have added 4 more months to the simple shift to digital television because millions have been slow on the uptake. If change to digital is this slow, although I don't own a t.v. and really don't care, then voluntary lifestyle changes will bring panic, or disregard.

If President Obama fails to let go of the plutocrats and ideologues from both parties who are pulling him away from real dramatic national changes, we are headed closer to even worse days ahead throughout the next 4 years.

http://eye-on-washington.blogspot.com

Right on Tim,
JHK DOES offer the ONLY solutions...trust me, I work for bankers. They think they know 'The Secret', but it is out, at least on the fringes. The Bankers are GETTING THEIRS while the getting is GOOD.
Don't be left behind, grab some farmland while you still can. But even then, the only solution in the future will be to hide. The other day, I walked in on my boss, a real horses ass, and I heard him talking to another horses ass, and I quote...;
"...the overseas accounts, the boat is stocked and ready..." mid sentence is all I caught, but it was enough. The big boys are planning to escape, and leave us wallowing in whatever is left of this country. This guy doesn't 'do' vacations...

the idea that computer technology will allow more people to work from home is part of the problem. most of those jobs involve producing nothing real. other than replacing the most recent systems that were supposed to replace the previous systems. in the meantime, everyone gets stuck with the customer service from hell in so many scenarios.

as for peak oil 'hysterics' pushing commodities traders to speculate up the price of oil...I can say this is more a problem with excess liquidity and investment funds than anything else. these big swinging dicks don't know how to invest in manufacturing any more. manufacturing is obsolete: it is a legacy economy. so they run from commodity to commodity, or existing assets like real estate.

Some advice for JHK:

In general, you have it right. I read "The Long Emergency" last year and the first few chapters sent my head spinning. I thought, this guy knows what's up. He has done his homework and surely the coming of Peak Oil will have the consequences you mention.

However, in the later chapters, you dismiss alternatives like so much child's play. And in your blogs and this interview, however amusing, I find triteness and blame for all the "NASA assholes" and electric car "idiots" who you think are wasting their time.

What exactly do you think happened because of the "idiots" at Intel/Texas Instruments/etc. in the 60s and 70s? Nothing short of a god damn REVOLUTION in the way the whole world lives, works, and plays. Yes, I'm talking about computers. Do you seriously think a break though and a revolution like that can only happen ONCE? And before that the airplane, the internal combustion engine, the steam engine, the printing press, the plow, and on, and on.

I would argue that ONE single invention would take us most of the way towards Peak Oil irrelevance: a decent BATTERY. Once we have that, all the pieces can start falling into place. Electric cars become the norm. The electric grid gets enhanced to handle the load. Power generation gets converted to nuclear+wind+hdro, etc. Is it going to happen overnight? No, but at least it will be possible and at a reasonable cost (especially when oil spikes again).

For as much as I agree with your desire to build sustainable communities and change our country away from being fat, lazy, and stupid...there is NO WAY we are all going to revert back to some mid-evil local-only patchwork society without communication, transportation, and scientific knowledge. We may very well blow ourselves up, but we're not ever going to go backwards that far.

So back off from the scientists and engineers. They may not be working on your particular pet projects, but they are collectively advancing our entire civilization. They will be the ones you are thanking when an invention, made possible by their efforts, is saving all of our collective asses from the coming shitstorm.

For the first three decades of my adult life, I hated suburbia. The main reason for this, was that I didn't drive. My experience of suburbia was as a pedestrian. No mobility can be more oppressive.
For the past three years of my life, I have been a driver. I still hate suburbia. (I haven't forgotten the lessons and experiences of those earlier decades.)...when one - walks, through suburbia, its zits and blemishes become truly, astonishingly awful.
Until I began to read JHK in 2005, just after watching "End of Suburbia", I had always thought of the fear and loathing engendered by suburban wastelands to be primarily an esthetic response. It has since vaulted into the realm of common sense - and extreme outrage, that political and economic "sensibility" could produce such a monstrous mistake.
Because that's what modern urban and town design is -as unsustainable as perennial 50-thousand dollar credit spending sprees that add up to negative debt-to-income ratios. That's what we've created, under the smiling benevolence of our "betters."

(a little foul language and a good laugh helps to ease the pain, somewhat...)
It may get a lot worse before it gets better - but it must be better than the delusion we live with now.

I agree completely with JHK about all the current issues, from peak oil, to crop sustainability, to suburbia. However to agree with a previous poster, he is selling technology short. Here are some possible inventions that would make peak oil, if not completely irrelevant, easily manageable:
- A decent battery (mentioned above)
- A solar cell with greater than 40% efficiency that is inexpensive to manufacture and install
- An upgraded power grid that can efficiently handle multiple source electrical generation and use (from individual houses, offshore wind farms, as well as power stations) as well as long distance consumption (from solar plants in the southeastern US)
- Creation of oil products with waste, algae, biomass or other means (for agriculture and airplane fuel)
- Willingness to invest in safe Nuclear technology (yes, it exists) as well as acceptance of 'breeder' reactors to exponentially create fuel.
- The others JHK mentions (railroads, light-rail, local sustainable farming, walkable communities)
- Nuclear Fusion (unlikely, but possible)

I have heard JHK's arguments but I have yet to hear ANYONE refute the above solutions. Some would require big changes, sure, but any one of the above would allow life as most of us know it to continue as before. I would not cry at a greatly reduced use of cars, but the above items seem all too attainable in our lifetimes. There is nothing pleasant about a simpler life. It is nasty, brutish, and short (I would add dirty, unpleasant, unjust, unfree, and relatively unhappy, the opposite of our U.S ideals), and we should all work as hard as possible to prevent it from happening.


Thank you, team Clinton, for canceling our Integral Fast Reactor program in 1994, three years before completion! Did you think the oil would last forever? Thankfully, sustainable nuclear has been restarted as the Gen-IV Fast Reactor program. Limitless electric energy for plug-in cars, electric trains, etc.

If the 'lumpenproles' as JHK so fittingly calls them can't change over to digital TeeVee in time (and frankly, maybe they shouldn't bother) how in heck are they gonna get with the Peak Oil, eat local, stop driving as much or any, forget your retirement program???

Without massive amounts of sterling quality leadership, we will devolve even more into fascism. See Fox News for how this is already starting...

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