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Kunstler Goes Mainstream
07/03/2005

Today's Toronto Star has an article about a documentary that is going to air on Wednesday that popularizes the views expressed by James Howard Kunstler. I don't know if Kunstler is the focus of the documentary, but he's the source I'm most familiar with when it comes to predictions of a collapse of our lifestyle as a result of an energy crunch. With his vivid, no-holds-barred, language he's probably the post-oil age's most entertaining ambassador, as well.

The premise is simple... we are approaching the point of Peak Oil, i.e., the time at which we've passed the highest rate of oil being pumped from the ground, after which we will face a continually declining supply. At the same time, demand is increasing as countries around the world grow their economies. The result is a crunch.

As far as Kunstler's concerned, this crunch is ultimately going to have to lead to a dramatically different way of life for North Americans. Suburbia, he (and the documentary) claims, will become an impossibly unsustainable nightmare. We can't live there without cars, and yet the price of fuel is going to go through the roof. What's worse, our economy based on cheap transportation of food and goods is going down too. Just check out Kunstler's blog for some entertaining doomsaying...

February 28, 2005:

What America definitely doesn't have is enough oil and natural gas to run the nation's economy as it currently exists -- [i.e.,] as a chain of realtors driving SUVs to tanning booths to impress house-buyers borrowing money from lenders who flip the mortgages to government sponsored entities who can't add up a column of figures, even with the help of computers.

...Of course, the global oil peak implies that all the nations of the world will have less total energy to divvy up. I just don't see where the United States is in a particularly favorable position on this. Have you heard of any plans to reduce our extreme dependence on cars? I don't think our supreme leader has even uttered the world "railroad" since he came on the national scene. Are we going to subcontract the Jolly Green Giant to go around America moving things closer together so we don't have to burn so much gasoline?

Well, opponents argue that new technology will allow us to seamlessly adapt to this future, so that we'll continue to be able to drive our SUVs to the grocery store to buy bags of lettuce from California. I don't really know. On one hand, I certainly support any efforts we can make towards reducing our reliance on transportation and improving our efficiencies. On the other hand, I wonder how different suburbia would really be if the price of fuel hit, say, $3 per litre. What price brings on a crisis?

Matthew Simmons, an energy investment banker who appears in the documentary, has a presentation online (link PDF) about "What Happens after Peak Oil". Generally, what's interesting about the debate is that, while it seems at least somewhat credible, no one really discusses it. Businesses and governments go on making their plans as if cheap transportation and cheap energy are immutable parts of life on Earth.

Rereading what I've written above, I don't really detect any fear or concern in my voice. I guess I don't really expect anything disastrous. Nevertheless, it is interesting to contemplate the adaptations we will have to make.

In any case, the documentary, The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream, is on Vision TV on Wednesday, 10pm.


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