Sorry that the posts have been a little thin this week, but I read a book that has occupied almost the full attention of my thoughts and caused a great deal of reflection, sorrow, and a small amount of panic.
The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, if written ten or twenty years ago, would have been dismissed as alarmist. Now, it’s alarming. I hope for all of our sakes it isn’t dismissed now, because if the book is even partially accurate, time is really short.
The subtitle of the book — Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophies of the 21st Century — is not sensationalized. “Surviving” is not lip service. It means “not starving,” “not freezing,” “not dying of heat exposure,” and “not dying of disease.” “The end of oil” translates as “we may have already passed the global peak for oil production, we only have about two decades’ worth left, and no other energy source we have today will come anywhere close to meeting our needs.”
It’s a very bleak, very scary picture he paints. After six chapters of explaining our total obliviousness to what lies ahead, the geopolitical frictions, the strong likelihood of very little, very expensive energy even with alternative sources, and nature’s own pressures of disease and climate change, the final chapter explains what life will be like in the “The Long Emergency“:
- Globalization is not sustainable without oil. Economies will be “intensely local.” Wal-Mart and the like will go out of business.
- Education will be vastly different. Vocational courses of study, apprenticeship, and labor will replace the last years of high school, because many courses of study will be obsolete when their market is eliminated. (Including mine to a large extent.)
- Life will gravitate and thrive (or not) in small cities and towns, and may be largely autonomous. Agriculture will be local and laborious.
- Suburbia is not sustainable without oil. This part of the “American Dream” was subsidized, developed, and financed by cheap oil, and it’s impossible to maintain this lifestyle. The forty-mile commute will be impossible. Residential subdivisions will suffer a cruel loss of value and may simply be abandoned, decaying and rotting soon afterward.
- Rather than everyone getting something for nothing, “nobody will get anything for nothing.”
This book grabs you by the collar from page one, and smacks you, claws you in the eyes, and beats you to a pulp for 324 pages without even breaking a sweat. You won’t be the same after you read it. (At least, I hope you won’t.) It’s very much like taking the red pill.
It was a very convicting book. I look around at every creature comfort I have now, and a lot of my habits, with a bit of disgust, since I was largely indifferent to how fortuitous it was to be alive when cheap personal transportation, plastics, abundant energy, pre-packaged food, air conditioning, and everyday low prices reigned. Now these things are on the way out, and I’ll be alive to watch them leave. My daughter may only be a teenager when they leave. It’s not comforting.
I’m not sure how this book will affect what I do. Right now I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me. I’ll probably add a new category to the blog for conservation/preparation issues; it would be reckless not to.
If you’ve read the book what did you think? How would you fit in?