Peak Oil News: Desparation

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Desparation

James Howard Kunstler

America commuted back into the unknown country of $3-plus gasoline and $75-plus oil (per barrel) last week, and President Bush revisted the Tomorrowland of hydrogen cars in the absence of any reality-based response to the global energy crunch that will change all the terms of America's "non-negotiable way of life."

Actually, we are negotiating, or bargaining, as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once put it in describing the sequence of emotional reactions of humans facing certain death:

denial > bargaining > depression > acceptance

Events seem to have dragged us kicking and screaming beyond the sheer denial stage, since this is now the second time in six months that oil and gasoline prices have ratcheted wildly up. Something is happening, Mr. Jones, and now we want to talk our way out of it.

The main thread in this bargaining stage is the desperate wish to keep our motoring fiesta going by other means than oil. This fantasy exerts its power across the whole political spectrum, and evinces a fascinating poverty of imagination in the public and its leaders in every field: politics, business, science and the media. The right wing thinks we can still drill our way out of this, if only the nature freaks would allow them to. The "green" folks thinks that we can devote crops to the production of gasoline substitutes, even though a scarcity of fossil fuel-based fertilizers will sharply cut crop yields for human food. Nobody, it seems, can imagine an American life not centered on cars.

This is perhaps understandable when you consider the monumental previous investment in the infrastructures and equipment for motoring, which includes the nation's car-dependent suburban housing stock -- which in turn represents the average adult's main repository of personal wealth. If motoring becomes unaffordable, then what will be the value of my house twenty-eight miles upwind of Dallas (Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, et cetera)? The anxiety is understandable.

But the problem is not going away. It's not five or ten years down the road -- it's here, now. We're in the zone. We're entering a world of hurt. The pain will ebb and flow, as the pain of a fatal illness ebbs and flows over the days. The price of oil and gasoline will ratchet up and down, but along a discernable upward trendline.

Can we bust out of this narrow tunnel of fantasy? Can we imagine living differently? Can we turn more fruitful imaginings into action before the American scene becomes a much more disorderly place? It would be nice to see President Bush really lead by taking a well-publicized ride on the Washington Metro, or dropping in to visit an organic farm, or signing a bill to increase incentives for small-scale hydro-electricity, or turning loose some federal prosectors on WalMart's human resources department. It would be nice to see the Democrats put aside their preoccupations with gender confusion and racial grievance and start campaigning to restore the US railroad system. It would help to see the science and technology sector return from outer space. Corporate America and its leaders are probably hopeless, but so is the current scale and scope of their operations, and circumstances will decide what they get to do. The mainstream media, representing the nation's collective consciousness, remains in a coma. This morning's electronic edition of The New York Times displays not one home page headline about oil or gasoline prices, despite the trauma of the week just passed.


9 Comments:

At 10:37 AM, April 25, 2006, Blogger Pudentilla said...

"It would be nice to see the Democrats put aside their preoccupations with gender confusion and racial grievance and start campaigning to restore the US railroad system."

It would be nice if Kunstler didn't diminish his moral authority by gratuitious snark at principles of equality that have shaped this nation's history for the good - and which, if K's argument about the long emergency is correct, will under even greater attack in the political chaos that could result in post peak oil years.

 
At 12:54 PM, April 25, 2006, Blogger Baron Waste said...

No, he had a point about the Democrats - today's party isn't good for much except social divisiveness and Federal Socialism, neither of which are of any use whatever. What struck me as off-key was a different, seemingly random jab: What the heck does Walmart's human resources department have to do with anything?

 
At 7:30 PM, April 25, 2006, Blogger Eleutheros said...

Don't forget that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages were five in number. Between denial and bargaining is the stage of anger.

Now that's one to watch out for!

 
At 8:08 AM, April 26, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Kunstler hit allot of the right notes, the most important being that we MUST have strong leadership as we transition into unchartered waters. World leaders, including our President, must acknowledge that there IS a real crisis just over the horizon, and as leaders, must initiate "Manhattan" type projects to deal with the coming storm. BUT at the same time, must also recognize that conservation/cutting back, must become a National priority.

Lanny

 
At 3:21 PM, April 27, 2006, Blogger Zhang Fei said...

Article: America commuted back into the unknown country of $3-plus gasoline and $75-plus oil (per barrel) last week

This is getting silly. The rest of the world has been dealing with $3 plus gasoline for the past several *decades*, courtesy of high taxes on gasoline. $3 gasoline is not the end of the world - some of us will simply have to revert to the smaller cars we used to drive before gas got so cheap everyone could afford to tool around in trucks with V-8's.

Europeans are currently dealing with $6 gasoline, thanks to those taxes I mentioned earlier. They seem to be coping fine - there's no reports yet of mass unrest and looting - except perhaps in Fwance, where the problem is too many Muslim immigrants, not expensive gasoline. (Unless expensive gasoline is causing Muslim immigrants to riot).

 
At 8:42 AM, April 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The popular argument that we should just get over the increasing gas prices because Europeans currently pay twice as much as we do, is absurdly simplistic. While it might do us well to shift the tax burden of Americans from other sources onto gas, raising the gas price without taking the whole socio-economic structure of America into account would be a disasater.
My favorite silly bit from the post above mine is: "...simply have to revert..."
That is simply simple.

 
At 9:08 AM, April 30, 2006, Blogger Zhang Fei said...

Anon: The popular argument that we should just get over the increasing gas prices because Europeans currently pay twice as much as we do, is absurdly simplistic. While it might do us well to shift the tax burden of Americans from other sources onto gas, raising the gas price without taking the whole socio-economic structure of America into account would be a disasater.
My favorite silly bit from the post above mine is: "...simply have to revert..."
That is simply simple.


Which is more simplistic - the idea that the market - consisting of supply and demand - should decide commodity prices or the idea that government should impose price controls? What makes more sense - the idea that government bureaucrats can magically come up with the solution to expensive oil - or the idea that the private sector can do it better? Which is more absurd - the view that we'll just drive smaller cars and live in smaller dwellings, or the apocalyptic suggestions of mass hunger or unrest, considering that most of us simply drove smaller cars as recently as the 1980's? No one seems to remember that mini-mansions and SUV's are a recent product of rising incomes combined with low energy prices.

The reality is that the government does not invent things. Even large-scale government funding doesn't cause scientists to invent things faster - except perhaps in instances where there is no significant commercial market for what is being invented, such as the atomic bomb or the space program. The market for oil substitutes is well-established - when other materials are price-competitive with oil on a long-term basis, they will be adopted. It is simplistic to suggest that government officials will be able to drive down oil prices - the amount of research and investment spending on oil substitute technology are decided by supply and demand - if government subsidizes it, the private sector will simply spend less money doing so.

 
At 5:45 PM, April 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By trusting in the market we are being asked to gain comfort in the fact that the more money that is thrown at research and development the more likely an effective substitute(s) will be found.
Unfortunately when you're talking about a resource as depended on as oil you're talking very slim odds. Alternative energy and fuel research has been going on for decades and there are no likely candidates as yet. Money doesn't grow an trees and neither does it create technologicval miracles merely by necessity.
Minimansions and SUVs are actually more dependent on easy credit than rising incomes. Easy credit is actually what has sustained the world eceonmy since the oil prives began to rise and when you realise that easy credit and relatively low energy prices are soon to disappear then you really have to reassess your optimistic outlook.

 
At 9:07 AM, May 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is getting silly.
Tippy-toeing around that "R" word...reduction.
Reduction in any and all ways that incorporate an energy-sustainability.
Where is the political will to demand changes, for instance, of this sort:
That economic growth requires energy, of course.
But when economic growth is derived from the energy itself...well, we're heating the house by shoveling dollar bills into the furnace, so to speak.

If one asks - why has energy consumption skyrocketed over the past 60 years? - the answer should be bloody obvious. Very powerful people are making a lot of money from it. They couldn't give a hoot how long the party lasts...they're just grabbing the loot while they can.
Meanwhile economists wilt like violets at the thought of any reduction or retraction in any economic activity that requires energy consumption.

It has been repeated ad nauseum how wasteful is the world's use of energy. I believe only blithering fools still debate this.
They may as well argue with the 1300-mile dinner on their plate.
Unless they live in Antarctica, this has never been necessary.
While serving up Globaloney sandwiches, corpo-giants dance around the world shifting hard commodities from here to there utilizing enslaved labor (this is where the REAL reductionism has happened) and of course, cheap energy to fuel the transportation of said commodities.
Take that out of the equation, and the master plan looks as silly as it is.
You are afflicted by too much pickle up the butt believing economic salvation comes from endless sprawl, McHouse construction, and a Hummer in every driveway.
And while I'm here, I'd like to add that comparing European gas prices and their impact on the populace - with the North American model, is ridiculous.
Europe in its western entirety would all fit into a fraction of North American distances; very few of its nations are as large as Texas (or Ontario, for that matter.)
North America has far to go if it ever wants to imitate the European model. I wish it would.
In the meantime, I believe the real and the hard issues involve changes we must make to reduce dependability on fossils, and buy the kind of time it will take to come up with realistic shifts in regionalized and localized economies.
Kind of sad to think that these changes get delayed indefinitely because the thought of a series of bumpy recessions is worse than the impending mother of all Depressions...one that would make the dirty thirties look like a golden age.

 

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