'Long Emergency' Update - July 2006

Here’s another installment in my ongoing challenge to James Howard Kunstler, and his ‘Long Emergency.’ In a nutshell, Kunstler asserts that the world as we know it will collapse because it will be unable to solve its energy problems.

Kunstler serves up negativity and hopelessness on schedule every Monday morning at his blog "Clusterfuck Nation." His posts garner a huge readership of mostly peak-oil doomers, as well as assorted worry-warts and misanthropes, often gathering as many as 600-700 (usually fawning) comments.

Kunstler continues to declare defeat, and not just temporarily. He insists that no technology or combination of methods can EVER come close to replacing fossil fuels. This flies in the face of all common sense, and a burgeoning venture capital boom for alternate energy, even as the economy adjusts to higher oil prices, and more people become aware of the need for change. Every week, even in the face of stunning innovations, he and his loyal fanbase continue to insist that a solution is not possible. Kunstler sees little advantage in efficiency or changes in methods. He insists that using less energy will mean an economic meltdown, and falling global standards of living, ending up with the total collapse of modern civilization. This is not an exaggeration. He actually says this repeatedly, and travels all over the country spreading his alarmist message. Kunstler denies that any technology or method could allow us to actually have better lives while using less energy.

It might take a few years yet, since we are still in the very early phases of what is likely a 20-30 year energy transition. But Kunstler and his peak-oil doom cult will eventually be seen for the crackpots they are. Until then, I’ll be here keeping score.

I post on this periodically, because I think Kunstler and others like him (Jan Lundberg, Richard Heinberg, Matt Savinar) are just like fundamentalist christians. They are leading little churches of doom all over the country. People are getting ready for the collapse of the global economy, and they think they’re going to survive by essentially going back to the land and growing their own food. Almost every major city now has a "relocalization" committee, getting ready for the collapse of central governments, planning to convert parkland to farming, and other outlandish end-of-the-world scenarios.

I wouldn’t find this particularly harmful, if I hadn’t myself lived through a doom period at Church Universal and Triumphant. We, too were planning to survive global collapse–but in bomb shelters, and with stored food.

What happens when you are waiting for the world to end is that you miss the very real opportunities in life, because you decide they don’t matter. It’s a little like waiting for the afterlife, and as long as you are in that mode, you tend to give short shrift to the life that you have. As far as I’m concerned, Kunstler and his friends are little more than vampires. They are sucking years of productive life out of their converts, getting them ready for a dark utopia that will never arrive.

I commented at "Clusterfuck" a few weeks ago, on his post called Alt.Brains:

By decrying alternative fuels, you are only making it worse for yourself. What will you say when the inevitable "other arrangements" you speak of turn out to be multiple forms of sustainable, renewable energy? Renewables will provide even more useful and efficient services than the petro-economy, provide millions of new domestic jobs, and cut the trade deficit in half.

Clearly, corn based ethanol is not going to do the trick. But there are so many other options in the pipeline, it’s ridiculous. I wonder if you weren’t so busy repeating your "hell in a handbasket" story for the nth time, you might not recognize the ingenious solutions already at hand.

Just a few that are gaining momentum are:

Also announced this week:

As I said in my one star review of your book on Amazon a year ago–you are shortsighted and ultimately seem to be more concerned with your vision of urban planning than the availability of solutions that preserve consumer choice.

I stated then, and I repeat: You are a peculiar brand of doom prophet: counting on human stupidity and inaction to give the world a spanking for its perceived sins, which you are also hoping to watch.

Jim, the energy transition is no emergency. What we’re seeing is a logical movement toward making these overdue adjustments. It’s an opportunity for humans to finally move to a sustainable and carbon-neutral lifestyle, creating vast new areas of economic growth and prosperity. The day is coming when you will be forced to eat your words, much like you were with Y2K. Every adaptation society makes to a post-petroleum world represents a further hit on your (already strained) credibility.

Soon, more Americans than ever will be living (and telecommuting) in ever larger suburbs and also driving unprecedented distances for work and pleasure on electricity or renewable fuels.

If this is the "Long Emergency," bring it on.

Comments (2 comments)

Mark / July 12th, 2006, 12:14 am / #1

We absolutely agree on these doom and gloom cults. What is it with these people? They are like the Christian fundamentalists waiting for the end times. It’s a mental pathology. Why don’t they do us a favor and slit their own throats as everything is hopeless anyway?

Matt / July 12th, 2006, 7:50 am / #2

Mark and Sean:

Couldn’t agree more, and Mark check my post on Christian Nihilism for more on the same thing…

Even though this isn’t Christian Nihilism, it’s the same damned thing. Nihilism is a cop out in the end, because it allows you to shrug off any responsibility, or moral accountability… after all, if we’re all fucked, and nothing will ever work, why worry about whether we are being ‘good’ or not? Right.


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