The Long Emergency: a Long Review
Run, don't walk (and certainly don't drive) to your nearest bookstore and buy the Long Emergency. It will define the discussion for years to come.
Why? Because it points out that our economy for the last hundred years has run on a "massive one-time endowment of cheap stored solar energy" and that the jig is up. That the easy pickings are over and the remaining oil will be more expensive and difficult to extract. That political turmoil in producing countries will turn off the tap long before the oil runs out and much sooner than we think. That the Hydrogen economy is a "laughable fantasy".— "instead of finding a new fuel to run suburbia, a far more sane and intelligent response might be for Americans to live in traditional walkable communities serviced by public transit". That Biomass is a joke- the fuel used to grow the corn that is mulched for biomass is greater than the output.
The book's position is extreme and apocalyptic. But the conclusions are logical:Suburbia is dead- the average American makes 11 car trips per day getting milk, picking up kids. This is over and the endless tracts of housing in the suburbs will be depopulated. Fortunately, due to the nature of the construction materials used to build them, they will not take too long to disintegrate.
Universities and our confidence in a knowledge based economy are dead- 50 years ago 30% of us were farmers and now only 1.6% of us are. This will reverse as growing food locally will become the most important job around. MBA's are useless- farmers are not.
Walmart and Globalism are dead- they all survive on endless supply chains based on cheap oil.
Political stability in North America is dead- the Southwest will depopulate as air conditioning becomes unaffordable and those with water and farmland will pull up the drawbridges. (30 years ago Albertans sported bumper stickers- "let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark!" — we will see this again.)
Kunstler defines our economy: "The dirty secret of the American economy in the 1990's was that is was no longer about anything except the creation of suburban sprawl and the furnishing, accessorizing and the financing of it. It resembled the efficiency of cancer. Nothing else really mattered except building suburban houses, trading away the mortgages, selling the multiple cars needed by the inhabitants, upgrading the roads into commercial strip highways with all the necessary shopping infrastructure, and moving vast supplies of merchandise made in China for next to nothing to fill up those houses"
After reading a few chapters we were ready to just put our head into our gas oven and end it all, it is such a depressing picture. Then we were put off by diversions into discussions about AIDS and pandemics that we thought irrelevant to the discussion.
The book is unrelentingly negative about the future. Too negative. One can take positive actions to adapt to this crisis: Use less. Buy local. Bike instead of drive. Live close to where you work. We will all be living the Treehugger lifestyle whether we like it or not. If more of us are working with our hands, farming instead of blogging, this might be a good thing. Take this book as a wake-up call and get to work on building a sustainable society while we still can.