I apolologize

A while back, I quoted approvingly from James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency," as excerpted by Rolling Stone. Subsequent weeks - and this Salon interview - have caused me to re-evaluate my initial take - mostly because Kunstler is, as Salon puts it,
Kunstler displays a kind of macabre wit about the unpleasantness and strife that await us all. Talking to him is like trying to argue with a prophet. His assertions have a neat way of doubling back to anticipate your critiques. If you express doubt about his views, then you may well be among the deluded masses too addicted to your McSUV and McSuburb to accept the reality that lies ahead.

Salon spoke to Kunstler at his home in upstate New York, mindful that in the future such an hour-long, cross-country telephone call, undertaken so casually, could be a remote luxury, a quaint remnant of a bygone era rich in the splendors of oil.
In other words, he is a dangerous fanatic. Also, he doesn't really have that good a handle on what he's talking about - he is not a climatologist or geologist or policy expert but, sigh, a novelist. With a particular agenda, and book, to promote.

One of the particular howlers is this:
The truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or so-called renewables will allow us to run the U.S.A. -- or even a substantial fraction of it -- the way that we're running it now.
Uggghh. Saying something like this means you're either being willfully misleading, or simply have no idea what you're talking about. Listen - things are not always going to be as they are. But the simple fact of the matter is that, using technologies that wouldn't even cost very much, the United States could today cut its energy usage by 20, 30, 40% without even starting to replace current fossil fuels with alternatives. Yes, oil will one day run out. But if our electrical grid is all nuclear, wind, solar, hyrdo, marginally more people use public transit, and all our cars are either electrics plugged into the grid or running diesel-hybrid engines that get 120 mpg, the current supply of oil will last a long, long, long time.

Okay, moving on, just to discredit this joker further:

What will be the first signs of the long emergency?

We're already seeing them. The two clearest signs are serious geopolitical friction and the volatility in the oil markets. A third one, which hasn't quite gotten traction, will be disruptions in the financial markets. But that could happen at any moment.

Right. Global geopolitical instability is because of "The Long Emergency," and not because oh, I don't know, maybe global geopolitical instability has existed throughout all of human history? Sheesh.

Is your basic critique of renewable energy that wind, solar and biomass all depend, to some extent, on fossil fuels?

That's one critique. I'm not trying to militate against them. We are going to use them. But we're not going to run the interstate highways and Disney World on them. Suburbia is not going to run on biodiesel. The easy-motoring tourist industry is not going to run on biodiesel, wind power and solar fuel.
Why not? Because he says so, duh. No need for anything like, y'know, evidence that this is what will happen.

If there is such a massive threat to the American way of life, why are our government and civic institutions unable to foresee it and make any changes to address it?

You will now be enlightened: The dirty secret of the American economy for more than a decade now is that it is largely based on the continued creation of suburban sprawl and all its accessories and furnishings. And if you remove that from our economy there isn't a whole lot left besides hair cutting, Colonel Sanders' chicken, and open-heart surgery.

Anyone who says, "You will now be enlightened" is just a fucking asshole.

What are the benefits?

I think that we will return to many social relations and social enactments that we lost and that were of great value to us, such as working closely with other people on things that really matter to us.

Like farming, so we can eat?

I'm not saying everybody is going to be a farmer. In the book, I think that I went to great pains to say that we were going to have to reconstruct whole networks of local economic relations and interdependences.

As opposed to the globalized situation we have now?

Yeah. People are working for large entities that they don't care about and that don't care about them. I think that people will be working on things that will tend to be more meaningful, that will tend to have meaning for their neighbors and the places that they live.

One of the great tragedies of the Wal-Mart fiasco has been the destruction of the social and economic roles of businesses in communities. Those roles were pretty complex and created deep webs of culture that we've allowed to be systematically dismantled and destroyed. We're going to get some of them back.

I also think we will cease to be a nation of TV zombies who are merely entertaining ourselves to avoid being bored.

Oh, puhleeze. Look, the fact of the matter is that yes, corporations do control a lot of how life happens in this country today. And they aren't stupid - they see what's coming down the line. The reason we don't have super-efficient cars, or super-efficient electrical devices, is not because we can't but because the very marginal impact on profits. Once our energy consumption becomes a real problem, expect a large, quick switch. Why? Because corporations have a pretty damned powerful self-preservation motive. They need a consumer society to keep humming along, and buying stuff, for their own survival. So right now, corporations tell us that SUVs are cool, and get rich building cheap SUVs. When that's no longer tenable, they start telling us that other stuff is cool, and we do that, and things hum along not exactly as they are not, but not hugely dissimilarly.

Kunstler's points about patterns of development, which I didn't excerpt, are not totally off the mark - esp. in the cases of the Southwest and Las Vegas, there just won't be water for that much longer. But that's different from what he's saying - there is no reason at all that the Southwest and Las Vegas couldn't replace a significant part of their electricity consumption, tomorrow, for relatively small cost, with solar. Really, pretty feasible.

What really tears his whole argument down is this last part, about finding "greater meaning." This is a guy who, for whatever reasons (and there are many possibilities), just hates the suburbs, thinks they're soulless, etc., and wants a new, more enlightened, meaningful society. So he dreams up a way for it to happen, not noticing all the ways that that might not happen. That's a person you need to watch out for - someone who comes up with a solution or preferred outcome first, and then thinks about a way to get there. Like, say, these guys.

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