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Kunstler's Prophecy
25/07/2004

A visitor to this site from Google reminded me of Jim Kunstler and the blog entry I wrote about him a year and a half ago. Every couple months or so, I go and check out his blog (current link, index) and see what he's writing about.

He seems to have three big themes.

One is a devasting and laugh-out-loud critique of modern architecture and town planning, both in terms of its lifestyle effects and its aesthetic failings. This was the subject of my previous blog post and his Eyesore of the Month page.

Two is a deep fear of Muslims and a disturbingly simple-minded view of who they are and what they want. (Not that that is very unique on the internet.)

Three is a certainty that the world is about to run out of cheap oil and is without a reasonable solution to the problem. It is here that he is most fascinating, because he has a crystal-clear vision of where we're headed, and he is either a paranoid freak, or a prophet. Here's an excerpt (from July 6, 2004):

Virtually everybody with a public voice seems to think that life in this country is just going to go on indefinitely the way it has been: more housing 'starts,' more WalMart super centers, more cars, more trips to Disney World, more credit cards. In fact we are on the cusp of the greatest contraction of human activity in recorded history. All the trends of the past sixty years are about to reverse. The world economy will become less global as nations jockey to contest the world's remaining oil reserves. Long range shipping will become hazardous and expensive. We are not going to need more parking space in America because Americans will be making fewer car trips in fewer cars. The chain stores will wither and die. We are going to have trouble staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Electric service will be more expensive and possibly intermittent. The Internet may not function so well in a nation where the electric power is not so dependable. Most of all, we are going to have trouble feeding ourselves when the industrial mode of farming, with all its oil and gas 'inputs,' is no longer possible.

There's a lot more where that came from. If we truly are going to be smacked with the burden of a sudden and permanent energy crunch that dramatically alters our entire way of living, then Kunstler's your man for a most extreme and vivid depiction of what that's going to be like.

His most recent entry (July 19 -- the guy has no permalinks) is a switch for him in that he tries to take a positive tack and offer suggestions about how "to prepare for a very different way of life in the post cheap oil world". What's interesting is that much of the changes he suggests are the sorts of things that greens would like to see happen (but without the calamity and chaos):

The downscaling of America is our agenda for survivial in the 21st century. It implies a lot of difficult adjustments and even hardship, but if you want to fill your heart and mind with hopefulness, think along these lines. Think about living locally in a just community, being useful to your fellow citizens, and being a good neighbor.

Although we may run out of cheap oil sooner than most people think, I don't believe we truly face the sort of crisis Kunstler is talking about. Nevertheless, I think it is interesting and useful to raise the question about what we should be doing to respond to the challenge. It's easy to take our cozy existence as guaranteed, and the only "real" possibility, and it's easy to say that the market will sort this all out and ease us into a new energy economy, but I don't think we should take it for granted that this challenge will sort itself out in an optimal way without the slightest conscious effort on our part.


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