By Jim Kunstler
I helped burn a few thousand gallons of aviation fuel flying out to San Francisco over the weekend to attend a meeting of people concerned about the injustices of globalism -- not exactly my bag, as we liked to say so many years ago, but a worthy crew of thoughtful folks to consort with. My job, as I understood it, was to introduce the idea that this baneful globalism is not a permanent condition but a set of transient relations made possible by the fabulous inputs of cheap energy we continue to get.
I had the local news on the boob tube up in my hotel room before the kickoff cocktail schmooze. There was some kind of grotesque traffic accident on the Nimitz Freeway across the bay and the TV station had aerial shots from their helicopter showing a vast ribbon of frozen headlights snaking clear down from Alameda to Fremont in the violet crepuscular rush hour gloaming. The news clones were treating this like an everyday event, ho-hum, and I had to suppose it was. But it was easy to imagine the despair of someone stuck down there in a Toyota Highlander with a bladder near bursting and not a hope in the world of being able to do anything about it. How many people pee all over their car seats every night, I wondered. Must be a few at least.
These, I was moved to reflect, are some of manifestations of being at peak. Peak Oil, that is. The all-time worldwide production zenith.
Now, I was also moved to wonder: why do the good people of the Bay Area willingly endure this insanity? They built a subway about thirty years ago called Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), but it barely goes anywhere except back and forth under the bay. It would cost less to put in surface light rail lines down both sides of the bay than to fix two freeway overpasses -- but they'd rather pee on their car seats because at least they'd be able to choose their own tunes while doing so.
Many of my readers, I sense, wonder why things aren't falling apart across America right now, given the hallucinatory nature of our economy. The answer is that Peak Oil is not the end of anything, it's the peak of everything. We're getting more oil now than ever before or ever again, and it is making us crazy. It makes it possible for me to succumb to the invitation to fly across North America for a one-day meeting. It keeps feeding the spreading tumors of suburbia. It supports the illusion that burning liquid hydrocarbons results in the creation of wealth.
When the TV news cut away to a commercial break, it was an advertisement for some kind of snazzy new mortgage deal featuring 30-second approvals. Getting a mortgage now is easier than stepping off a curb (except, who walks anymore?). This is exactly what is making it possible for people to buy houses so far away from anything that they end up peeing on their car seats to get there in the evening. It also unleashes magical streams of liquidity for the playas in the the financial markets to convert into personal fortunes. Unfortunately, they have to pee on their car seats, too, because the stupidity of our culture is absolutely democratic and the playas get stuck on the freeway just like everybody else, only they pee on real leather seats.
Peak is making us insane and passing peak will make us more insane. There may be no moment of clarity, only new kinds of delusion and disorder. We'll keep behaving the way we do until we can't, and then we won't.