Peak Oil News: Hustle and Flow

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hustle and Flow

By Jim Kunstler

You've heard of "Pimp My Ride." Well, the New York Times is running a new joint called "Pimp My Read." This week's Sunday Time Magazine devoted itself to the idea that housing bubble is (in Martha Stewart's words) a good thing. In fact, Martha herself is getting into the racket, lending her name to a 650-unit (they're just units) suburban subdivision outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. If she was shrewd about the deal (could it be otherwise?) than Martha will get paid whether the project tanks or not.

Really, the whole issue of the Mag was just an opportunity for the financially-strapped Times to sell a shitload of advertising to the real estate investment trusts, the luxury condo hucksters, and the home furnishing industry. It will probably go down in history, along with Yale economist Irving Fisher's 1929 proclamation that the US had achieved "permanent prosperity," as one of the seminal documents of societal cluelessness in the face of obvious calamity.

My favorite story in the joint was "Home Economics" about Harvard whiz Edward L. Glaeser, 38, "a genius" urban theorist, who sports bespoke English suits (with watch-fobs!) and who has managed to construct a comprehensive view of how we live in America without factoring in the global energy predicament. Apparently Glaeser's major contribution to the field is the arresting idea that whatever has been happening out there in America will certainly continue to happen --exactly in the Irving Fisher tradition. For instance, people have been moving to the Sunbelt for sixty years because there's no winter there to hassle with, so that trend will continue. Also, suburban sprawl is just fine, no problem, let's get more of it up-and-running. (Glaeser's theory is related to Times columnist David Brooks's incisive formulation that suburbia must be okay because the public seems to like it.)

What these pimps and geniuses don't get is that America's future is all about discontinuity. Virtually everything you see out there will not keep going. We will discontinue granting interest only, adjustable rate mortgage loans for half-million-dollar McHouses to schlemiels one paycheck away from bankruptcy -- because the practice will prove to be reckless and ruinous not only for the schlemiels, but for the financial system as a whole. Americans will stop moving to the Sunbelt when they discover what life is really like in Phoenix and Houston without cheap air conditioning. After the suburbs implode financially from a pandemic of defaulted mortgages, we will see how well they operate on $5-a-gallon gasoline (or higher), and how carefree it is to heat a 4000-square-foot McHouse in a permanent natural gas crisis. We'll also discover that telecommuting over the Internet is not so "cool" in brownout nation.

Obviously these clowns are whistling past the graveyard as the air audibly hisses out of the housing bubble, and the very appearance of these fatuous reassurances in America's chief enabling organ of popular delusion ought to be a signal to the still-alert out there to run shrieking for safety. It's interesting to note, by the way, that the New York Times ran an editorial last week titled "The End of Oil," by Robert B. Semple, stating starkly that the global oil production peak was for real. The catch was that the chickenshit Times editors only ran the piece on their Web edition, not in the printed newspaper. The next day, in the print edition, they ran a big display ad from Exxon-Mobil saying that peak oil was just a shuck-and-jive by a claque of alarmists. Of course, one of the wonderful things about democracy is that people are free to believe whatever they like.


At 2:11 PM, March 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the good news is that we really can do with a lot less energy than we are using today.
Go to a gym and see how much energy you generate on one of those bikes. I bet it's under 500 Watts. As a consequence, it really should be possible to construct a light vehicle for 1 person, powered by about 500 Watts.
My car has 100.000 Watts power. I gues that is enough to tow 200 of those imaginary light vehicles - about all of my neighborhood.
There is room for improvement...

At 7:51 PM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Zhang Fei said...

Two points. One - cheap air conditioning does not depend on oil. Or natural gas. We have plenty of coal, and when the cost of power starts really running up, the beginnings of many nuclear power stations.

As to $5 a gallon gas - that's what the rest of the world currently lives with - thanks to government taxes. How they compensate is with the kinds of cars you see in Europe - 4 cylinder cars the size of a Yugo. Life for the masses is going to be less comfortable without minivans or SUV's for most of the middle-class. But they'll survive.

At 7:53 PM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Zhang Fei said...

ZF: But they'll survive.

Long before $5 a gallon gas arrives, however, you'll want to have traded in your 15 mpg minivan or SUV well in advance - otherwise it will be worth little more than its scrap value.


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