May 17, 2006


Oil Spiel: President Bush says Americans guzzle too much petroleum, and James Howard Kunstler would certainly agree. But the flamethrowing author of The Long Emergency—a wickedly entertaining and terrifying look into a future without cheap fuel—thinks the world isn't doing nearly enough to get ready, and nobody is safe from his wrath. (John Galvin, May 2006, Outside)

"You're not going to run Walt Disney World and the interstate highway system on ethanol or hemp! Or biodiesel! Or hydrogen! Or solar power, or all of them together," booms the man at the podium in the conservative khaki suit. "That isn't going to happen!" he continues in a staccato blast of invective. "We are going to have to make other ar-range-ments for how we live!"

James Howard Kunstler, a stout, bald 57-year-old author from Saratoga Springs, New York, is in the throes of his modern-day hydrocarbon jeremiad. He's pacing. He's yelling. He's livid. And just in case you missed his point, he's jabbing his fingers downward to show the direction of things to come.

America, Kunstler argues, is about to become one fantastically miserable place. Why? Because our entire standard of living is propped up by cheap oil, and the days of cheap oil are over. "No combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to run the United States the way we've been used to running it," he tells the Dallas crowd. And though tonight he'll resist calls to pinpoint when the nightmare will begin, he's told the online environmental magazine that "we're going to be feeling the pain" in as little as three years, and suburban collapse might start in ten.

Sounds preposterous, on the face of it.

But, when you dig a little deeper, when has a Malthusian ever been wrong?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 17, 2006 1:14 PM

"No combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to run the United States the way we've been used to running it," We can always use our hog waste oil developed by U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

The reason why the Left hate us so much is: we don't die. They've predicted our "death" in the Carter years, along came Reagan; some nasty Japanese even offered to buy Hawaii from us during Bush I; then the Euro dream was to supplant the American Dream; now China's going to cream us; then the lack of cheap oil is going to finally do us in. Don't listen to them, as long as we don't turn our country into a socialist paradise, we'll pull thru and thrive. The doomongers have never been right, but their reputation rises with each failure. The US will prosper, so will the doomongers.

Posted by: ic at May 17, 2006 1:36 PM

suburban collapse in as little as ten

Joel Kotkin has a pretty sensible take on oil and the suburban collapse crowd in the SF Chronicle:

Suburbia Will Survive a Gas Crunch:

Then there is the little, often neglected fact about what most people like. In California, according to a 2002 Public Policy Institute Survey, well over 80 percent of adults prefer a single-family house. Most surveys find that what people want is privacy, space and, if they can get it, a walkable community closer to work.

In most cases, they will give up walkability for privacy, and even give up shorter commutes for privacy, space and good schools. Most people do not see dense urban living as a preferable option, no matter how much hip theorists, architects and planners think they should. Devotees of urban density, as planner William Fulton has suggested, live "a niche life" attractive to no more than 15 percent of the population.

On the other hand, Kotkin says little about trains, and doesn't appear to hate cars. Must be a niche not worth mentioning.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 17, 2006 2:12 PM

Comments above right on. No oil? American ingenuity will come up with something new. We'll adapt and we'll be fine.

It may turn out to be that we'll be the only island of prosperity in a sea of socialist poverty, but hey, that's not our fault.

Posted by: erp at May 17, 2006 2:56 PM

If necessary, we can have coal-powered cars.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at May 17, 2006 3:44 PM

If the trains went where I needed to go, I'd consider using them.

Posted by: Jay at May 17, 2006 5:30 PM

What gets me is the air of giddy anticipation coming from the environmentalist left. They just can't wait for the oil to run out and civilization to collapse. Yet another way environmentalism is a religion - they have their own apocalypse myths.
James Howard Kunstler is one of the darlings of the Vermont secessionist movement, by the way. Not that it has anything to to with peak oil, but it's another reason for me to ignore his preachings.

Posted by: Bryan at May 17, 2006 6:03 PM