If you missed Kunstlers piece, he claims that petroleum production has already peaked, that supplies will be well short of demand quite soon, and that the suburban middle class economy that has been built around cheap oil is going to collapse, along with civilization as we know it.
None of these things are too terribly far fetched (though Kunstlers more particular predictions, like complete social collapse in the South, are more suited to speculative fiction than speculative non-fiction). But most stories of doom have some degree of plausibility to them -- they wouldnt be very scary otherwise, would they?
The truly disturbing thing about the
Kunstlers piece though is unintentional: it is the relish with which Kunstler seems to anticipate all the death, destruction, poverty and displacement he predicts.
His Long Emergency essay, like his previous Geography of Nowhere book, is strongly marked by hate -- a hate that sometimes echoes Hitler writing on the same subjects (architecture, the depravity of modern life, the looked-forward-to day of reckoning, etc.). Everyone in the anti-modernist, anti-technological wing of the environmental movement ought to read the second section of the Causes of Collapse chapter in Mein Kampf -- the parallels between Hitlers thinking and that of left environmentalists today is cause for reflection.
I dont think Kunstler is a little Hitler, but I do think he needs to give a thought to whom he sounds like and think seriously about whether he really hates white upper middle-class folks enough to cheer while they starve in their remote gated communities. And I think Kunstler and those who agree with him ought to realize that many of their obsessions -- land for farming, the alienation of urban life, the quest for purity, the evils of economic globalization and the money economy -- are not just of our time: they have a long and not always pleasant legacy in Western history.
And Kunstlers readers ought to wonder whether a lot of his predictions arent just wishful thinking. Does he really think oil supplies are going to fall so fast that the rich wont be able to make adjustments? Does he really think oil supplies will follow a bell curve pattern when the bell curve really applies to populations, not to single measures taken over time (like oil supplies) and when there are very good arguments that oil supplies DO NOT conform to a bell curve? Does he think that it will be impossible to rebuild hub/spoke transportation infrastructure in the next twenty years when it only took 20 years (circa 1950 to circa 1970) to go from hub/spoke to ringroad sprawl?
But one gets the feeling that Kunstler is not a writer terribly interested in details when they get in the way of drama.
Of course oil supplies are running low, and of course as we exhaust the finite reserves of oil, current supplies will begin to fall, but whats the point of dragging the bell curve into it except to impress the unknowing with a sense of inevitability and predictability. In fact, we cant predict the details of the decline in oil supplies. Itll happen--maybe quickly, maybe slowly, we dont know--or at least we dont know without an awful lot of careful study, which Kunstlers essay shows little evidence of.
We should remember that the great changes in our economy and society that Kunstler now predicts will happen by 2020, he predicted for 2010 just a few years ago in The Geography of Nowhere. That date now being uncomfortably close, catastrophe has been deferred for another decade by our author. Im glad to see Kunstler is capable of some mercy.
Indeed, sleepwalking is not an option and neither is sleepreading. There are much better sources for information about scientific crises than novelists. So if we want to get scared or get working, lets put down our Crichton and our Kunstler and read some current science.