Peak Oil News: Two Peckerheads

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Two Peckerheads

By James Howard Kunstler

I'm fond of saying that I'm allergic to conspiracy theories. Behind our country's dismaying governance, cluelessness really rules, not plotting or scheming. Take, for example, these astounding remarks made Friday by former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on NPR's "Marketplace" show:

"As China grows -- at the current rate it's growing, in twenty or thirty years -- and becomes the number one largest economy in the world, I think China may become our nemesis."

One would think that Mr. Reich is a pretty smart guy -- former Rhodes Scholar (same class as Bill Clinton), Harvard faculty, cabinet secretary. Now, why on earth would Mr. Reich believe that China can possibly keep behaving the way it does for another two or three decades? China faces energy starvation along with the rest of the world. China has less oil left than the United States (and the US would have roughly four years worth of oil if we were deprived of imports -- 26 billion barrels used at the rate of 7 billion a year).

There is no way that China can put another one half percent of its population behind the wheel of a car without sending its army and navy out to seize foreign oil fields -- let alone continue manufacturing toasters and Christmas tree ornaments for Americans. And Americans are not going to have the the cash to buy those things, whether or not we are actively engaged in a war for the world's remaining oil. And all this trouble is going to play out in the next decade, not in "twenty or thirty years." Near the end of the segment, Reich repeated this inanity:

"As China, over the next twenty, thirty years, grows and prospers, a lot of Americans are gonna say, now, wait a minute. . . ! The endgame, we hope, is more and more economic integration, a Chinese middle class that is more and more prosperous, that is able to buy things from the United States, that looks a little bit more like middle-class Americans live, and therefore is not so different from us."

An arresting fantasy, isn't it? A Beijing that resembles Atlanta, full of strip malls dishing out cheeseburgers and other interesting foreign foods to Chinese soccer moms hurrying back to Toll Brother's starter homes in Chinese knockoffs of the Ford Explorer.

Note to Mr. Reich and the rest of the people he is smoking opiated hashish with: you've got it backwards. Over the next twenty, thirty years America gets to be more and more like Chinese peasant life in 1949. Why? Because neither America nor China (nor anybody else) can continue running industrial economies the way we have been, or even a substantial fraction of that way, in an energy-starved world. Nor will anybody come up with a miracle technological rescue remedy to keep all the motors humming.

Our second peckerhead of the day is David Brooks of The New York Times. Actually, Brooks could qualify for peckerhead of the decade among mainstream news pundits, since his fantasies about America diverge so extravagantly from the realities our nation faces. In his most recent column, Mr. Brooks asserted that the desert wastelands beyond the last ring of Phoenix's current suburban asteroid belts would become the next suburban utopia, adding an additional million people to that hopeless mega-metroplex. Note to Mr. Brooks: Arizona's groundwater basins are overdrawn. Most of the rivers are tapped nearly to their limits. The southwest is suffering its worst drought since the 1950s, and climate change signs suggest that the drought will persist. This is happening, of course, as the nation (and the rest of the world) enters an epochal depletion of fossil fuel resources that will, how shall we say, put the fucking shnitz on further suburban development of any kind. Mr. Brooks writes:

". . . half of the buildings in which Americans will live, play and work in the year 2030 don't even exist yet. We are in the middle of a $25 trillion building boom that is changing the face of the country, and most of it is happening in desert places like this one."

Another note to Mr. Brooks. An economy based on land development and housing bubbles is finished. We are going to have to make other arrangements for running a civilization, and return to traditional methods for occupying the terrain of North America, without the prosthetic enhancements of Ford Explorers.

This is the quality of thinking that we are getting from leaders in politics and opinion in our country now. It could not be more inconsistent with reality. No evil cabal of corporate CEOs is paying off either of this idiots. They arrive at their opinions by a simple failure to pay attention to what is really happening in the world. Their failure will contribute to a greater failure of authority in this country when we hit the wall of economic pain in the months ahead, and the public wonders why it wasn't informed. That failure of authority, and the angry response to it, will lead to a very dangerous politics of grievance and recrimination.


At 4:02 AM, January 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


James Howard Kunstler is an eco fascist who would happily have us all returned to a peasant lifestyle.

Please tell us why the following will not happen

-1. America will drill for Oil off the Californian and Atlantic coasts

-2. Why will America not convert its massive supplies of coal to oil - people will not care about global warming when petrol become really expensive

-3. Why will America not drill for oil in Antarctica - When oil is in short supply, environmental concerns do not matter to politicians seeking re-election

At 8:43 AM, January 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make that three peckerheads.

At 12:59 PM, January 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


it would be nice if you could have answered the questions I asked instead of calling me names.

Remember, not one US senator voted for the Kyoto treaty.

At 2:40 AM, January 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust me here I'm not trying to assault your position because i think your question are quite valid.

The answer to question one may be that if there were sizable recoverable fields off the West and East coast then they would already be under production. Now you may know something I don't in this regard but that would be the logical answer to me.

To question two I think that you're making a pretty valid point that environmental concerns will take a back seat in the post-peak environment. But as far as i understand there are other factors aprt form environmental protection that mitigate against coal derived fuels being a definitive solution to a liquid fuels crisis. Among these is that it takes natural gas to help in the production process. natural gas prices may continue to rise as they have been doing and while liquid natural gas imports should increase at the end of this decade both the price and the sheer volume of gas needed may curtial large scale prodcution. The makeup of fuel derived from coal is quite different to standard fuel today and while diesel engines can run on it quite well, ordinary gasoline cars do not. This would mean that to replace the demand for gasoline with coal derived fuel would take a decade at least while the fleet of automobiles was repplaced. Not impossible but not so effective when the costs of high gasoline prices would have to borne for many years.

As for Antartica, if there is oil there, which i've never heard of but i don't claim to know everything so perhaps there is then you have to remember that only a portion of Antarctica actually belongs to America and those countries that do hold the rest have quite strong environmental records and might not allow drilling there. One could say to hell with them but by that time I'm pretty sure that America will have so many enemies it's miltary resources wouldn't stretch to cover Antarctica

Well i hope that gives you some food for thought and I'd like to hear more from you as i think there is far too much uncritical acceptance of Kunstler's ideas even though I think his ideas and essays are often brilliant all the same.

At 6:03 PM, January 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For info about Antarctic oil and impediments to production there see:

At 6:33 PM, January 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's say that things got so desperate that Antartic'as oil was put in production. Then there would be a five or six year gap between the decision to drill and oil finding its way to the market. As global net production continued to fall during that time the effect of Antartica's production would only be minimal when it eventually came online.

At 6:37 PM, January 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're going to insult people then you may as well use the correct label.
"Eco-fascist" doesn't really apply to Kunstler. He doesn't extol death to civilisation because he believes in the sanctity of nature. His overall attitude is more misanthropic than it is ecological.


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