NEW YORK--Most of the people of the planet earth are utterly doomed as global oil supplies peak and run out, and energy prices skyrocket, warns the American social critic and author James Howard Kunstler in his latest book "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century" just published by Atlantic Monthly Press.
"We are really screwed," says the outspoken author. "I don't want to be alarmist, but things are going to get a lot, lot worse." He believes that a prolonged period of crisis has begun as the age of inexpensive and abundant oil and natural gas passes. The crisis over the coming years will affect every aspect of human life in the United States and most other parts of the developed world, and will require "comprehensive downscaling, rescaling, downsizing, and relocalizing of all our activities," he argues. There will be more wars over the diminishing oil supplies, wars that have already begun in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as worsening global warming, global pestilence and plagues, water shortages, you name it. He even suggests that the world's population grew to 6.5 billion people thanks to abundant oil, and now it will contract to the pre-oil age total of one billion or so.
Kunstler sees the age of cheap oil and other energy as a very unique period of human progress and history, with a uniqueness completely unrecognized by virtually everyone who has long taken cheap oil and natural gas for granted, along with the many invisible benefits they have conveyed. Americans are far too "lost in dark raptures of non-stop infotainment, recreational shopping, and compulsive motoring" to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in technological society. "My role as an author is to think about things that the public is indisposed to dwell on, and to present a framework for understanding a particular set of challenges," he says, "and you'd better listen to me and buy my book or you are really up the creek."
He sees several different crises converging in the Long Emergency,' with the end of cheap energy being only one of them. Yet, "Above all, and most immediately, we face the end of the cheap fossil fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit of modern life. All the necessities, comforts, luxuries, and miracles of our time - central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lighting, cheap clothing, recorded music, movies, supermarkets, power tools, hip replacement surgery, the national defense, you name it - owe their origins or continued existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel. Even our nuclear power plants ultimately depend on cheap oil and gas for all procedures of construction, maintenance, and extraction and processing nuclear fuels. The blandishments of cheap oil and gas were so seductive, and induced such transports of mesmerizing contentment, that we ceased paying attention to the essential nature of these miraculous gifts from the earth: that they exist in finite, nonrenewable supplies, unevenly distributed around the globe."
Monster homes, suburban sprawl, cities, SUVs, and all long distance transport of food, commodities and travelers will be pretty well coming to an end. There is no real substitute for the limited and diminishing supplies of oil and gas. Solar power and ethanol and hydrogen and windpower won't save our bacon. We've been using far too much energy and living too high on the hog for too long, and now we've squandered most of the cheap, easily accessible oil and gas. And now the growing populations in China and India want it too. We'll have to return to rural farming as the main everyday activity. "It will really get pretty bad," he concludes.