Thursday, June 16, 2005

Review: The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler

Ok, I have been promising this, but it is time I carried through. I will tell you what I thought of James Howard Kunstler’s ‘The Long Emergency”.

Mostly, I liked it. I points out how our world will change as the peak oil crisis emerges. Mobility for both ourselves and for the things we buy and sell will dramatically increase. Wal-Mart, for instance, has dire prospects become everything is shipped.

Our problems come down to this.

Oil is finite.
He disregards T. Gold’s case for a geologic origin of oil, but this is a moot point, because the issue is not how much is there, it is how fast we can get it.

Oil is not in our country. This was the same problem that plagued so many civilizations in Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Because we rely on imports vital to our well-being, if our supply were cut off, we would face our own collapse, not unlike the Norsemen in Greenland. We need to be locally self-sufficient.

Other forms of alternate energy can not pick up the slack, especially for transportation.

Other problems such as climate change and biologic plagues will kick us while we are down.

Much of our wealth is NOT in the form of actual material
, but in investments and the stock market, which is mostly running on expectations and hopes. It has collapsed in the past, and will most certainly in the future.

Finally, he looks at the prospects for different parts of the United States. Parts of it are thought provoking. Others are good for some laughs.

His condemnation of suburbia is also harsh out of measure, but I will deal with that later.

I say that this is a good book in spite of its failings. He writes in such a way that he shows himself to be an Eastern (American) Elitist. About the only place in the United States that has a ghost of a chance is, by coincidence, his native New England. Those of us in the Mountain West are religious and individualist fanatics who can not survive when the oil runs out. (Ok, I mean, it becomes too expensive.) And those poor people in the Southwest will all die when the air conditioners stop running. Alas, it is sad to see an otherwise fine book flawed with the same defect he condemns America for, narcissism and not understanding issues around them. I think that the things people are most likely to condemn in others are the things that they themselves are the most guilty of.

Personally, I am both more pessimistic in the short term and far more optimistic in the long term. I do not believe that we live in a universe of scarcity, but one of abundance. I understand that many people think nothing of it, but I put great stock in the words of the prophets. Frankly, many of the prophecies in the scriptures can not be properly fulfilled if we that desperate for mere survival. Temporal salvation is thus tied to spiritual salvation. There will be no New Jerusalem, or Millennium for that matter, if struggle for mere food. I am NOT suggesting that the economic side of things is primary, or that we ought to devote all our attention to making money. If it were that easy, the Kingdom of God on Earth would have been established a long time ago.

But today is not the day for a proper analysis of future energy prospects, though it does make one hunger for it. Personally, that is one of my goals.

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