The bleak and dismal future proposed by Kunstler in The Long Emergency, in my mind, is not that hard to believe. He paints a picture of a future-dystopian American landscape quite well by discussing everything from microorganisms to globalism. In addition, he draws from great minds of the past, such as the English country clergyman Thomas Robert Malthus and the discoverer of penicillin Alexander Fleming, to support his stances, which in the minds of some are radical. I do believe most of Kunstler’s claims hold some merit, but I am not quite sold on the impact of the situation he examines. I would like to see him elaborate on a number of the claims made in the first chapter to be further convinced. He writes of the dismal future proposed in the book as if it is approaching society at the speed of a meteor hurling toward earth. The book was written in 2005, and while I do believe the ails of earth and the humans who inhabit it have become more apparent over the last five and a half years, the problems discussed remain illusive to a large number of the American population. I suspect it will remain this way for a number of years to come despite ongoing ecological catastrophes.

Central to Kunstler’s argument and the entire book is what he refers to as “the long emergency.” He claims in the opening pages of the book, quite accurately I believe, that the current American way of life, which is virtually synonymous with suburbia, can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil and gas.

Oil and gas is utilized to power nearly everything the American public uses. Also, it is used for producing and manufacturing the majority of products our society uses. It is through this usage of copious amounts of fossil fuels that the author asserts that the world, America in particular, is living much past the point of global sustainability.

He states, “We can be certain that the price and supplies of fossil fuels will suffer oscillations and disruptions in the period ahead.” The period ahead Kunstler is referring to is the long emergency. As a result, daily life will be restructured around authentic local communities based on balanced locale economies, purposeful activity and the culture of ideas consistent with reality.

While Kunstler states it is imperative for citizens to imagine a hopeful future to make any of this possible, he is sure to note that the claims in the book are more about what is likely to happen, and not what he hopes or wish will happen. In fact, he believes that in the decades to come the national government will prove to be so impotent and ineffective in managing the dire circumstances the nation faces that the U.S. may not survive as a nation state, and that it could transform into a set of autonomous regions. He does not welcome such an outcome, but he finds it plausible.

The “Jiminy Cricket Syndrome” further perpetuates many social problems. The wonders of technological progress under oil’s many uses have tricked us into a false mentality. The syndrome has led a large number of Americans to believe that anything we dream up will someday be possible. The wishful thinking that comes along with such thought can only hurt our society in the long run by further pushing aside emerging problems. Kunstler points out that while replacements, such as hydrogen and solar power, may relieve some of our overconsumption of oil the transition will not be so smooth. New technologies take decades to develop. Innovative technologies have emerged over the last few years, but figuring out how to utilize them in a sufficient manner is a hurdle that needs to be overcome as well.

In the author’s mind, the long emergency will become apparent to us once it has already been in progress for some time, and we will then be forced to deal with it.

The reason more people aren’t acting now is that there are “wildly differing” opinions about our energy future. The first group Kunstler refers to is the “cornucopians.” The faction asserts that humankind’s demonstrated technical ingenuity will overcome the facts of geology. Some even believe that oil is not fossilized, liquefied organic matter but rather a natural occurring mineral substance that exists in endless abundance at the earth’s deep interior. It is easy to see why many Americans feel this way. We have advanced rapidly over the last century, so what’s stopping us from advancing beyond these problems using new technologies? In this way, much of the public has trouble entertaining the thought that new technologies will not be developed in time, or at all.

The “die-off” crowd embodies the other side of the argument. They believe that the carrying capacity of the globe has already exceeded peak sustainability, and that we have entered an age that will lead to nothing less than the end the human race. Unlike the cornucopians, the die-off crowd has no faith in the ingenuity of man to overcome the problems of the future. To them, the end of oil is the end of everything. Economics will begin to break down with the decline of renewable resources and nothing will be able to reverse it. Believing that we face an unparalleled period of difficulty in the twenty-first century, Kunstler places himself somewhat between the two factions of thought. To him the pattern of human existence cycles through success and failure. He asserts that humans should be able to carry on, but some dark times lie ahead.

To Be Continued…

Advertisements