Facing the facts of energy use

by Richard on August 27, 2005

Both Jordon Cooper (who continues to need our prayers) and Bene Diction point up a fascinating interview with James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

“There is a lot of delusional thinking about how we are going to get out of this pickle. In fact, I like to think of it this way. There are two gigantic mental obstructions that’s preventing us from thinking coherently about where we are. One of them I call the Jiminy Cricket syndrome—the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. There is a lot of wishful thinking in this culture. The other one is the Las Vegas-i-zation of the American mind, which is based on the idea that it is possible to get something for nothing. You combine those two ideas and you get a lot of delusional thinking.”

The premise of the book (which I haven’t read) is a simple one: “we can no longer expect to have more energy, only remorselessly less energy” Although Kunstler is addressing US society, much of his argument — that oil production is past the Hubbert Peak and suburbia is rapidly becoming unsustainable — will apply much more widely. (It is, of course, very true that the process of suburbanisation has not proceeded with anything like the pace in Europe as it has in the USA)

What interests me particularly is that Kunstler characterizes this as a spritual crisis, not simply a question of economics or ecology. He’s right. The root of the ecological crisis which is undoubtedly facing us lies in the universal human failing not to recognize when enough is enough. (The same might be said about the West’s collective weight problem. We have created a society in which greed is glorified and desires must be rapidly indulged. More is always better than less. And covetousness is raised in status from sin to national pastime. How else do you explain the obsession with “celebrity lifestyle”?

Let’s be clear about this. I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m very much aware that I’m as self-indulgent as the next chap. But sooner or later the “penny must drop”. The lifestyle we have in the west, and especially in the USA, is simply unsustainable . We need to start making changes to have any hope of avoiding a future crisis.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }


Rick O 08.27.05 at 3:40 pm

Here in the US the biggest obstacle to meaningful energy policy change (aside from that of entrenched economic forces) is very much psychological in nature. As finite fossil fuels are depleted and prices rise, Joe Consumer lays his blame to the oil companies, the Saudis, or the federal government for his discomfort. The term ‘finite’ does not compute well in the American mind. As our opportunities have seemed to be endless, so must be the supply of everything we might need, and oil pretty much tops the list. If there is a shortage, well it won’t last, you know, it’s only temporary. We can fix it—we always have before. If necessary, we’ll twist someone’s arm to get what we need. We’re Americans, and you can’t mess with us, and so on.
My feeling is that this mindset, coupled with the sheer inertia of our oil-driven economy, is leading us down a road that will keep us wedded to our present oil gluttony until…what?
I dunno, but without a serious national research commitment into ‘new’ energy sources, the future looks a tad murky.


John 08.30.05 at 1:19 am

I’m not worried that much about the environment. The world will probably nuke itself into oblivion before it becomes an issue.

And I don’t mean to sound flippant.

Please God, cause all nuclear weapons to cease to function now and forevermore. Deliver us from ourselves.

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