Thursday, June 18, 2009

Suburbia: terminally-ill

Check this not-for-the-faint-at-heart video. It is well worth the effort for those concerned with the future of our civilization:



If you're like me, you find it somewhat alarming. It isn't that the revelations in this video are new. In fact, they've been around for a while. The video discusses evidence that the world is rapidly approaching, or may indeed have already passed, its capacity to produce oil (you know? "Peak oil" theory?) and then speculates on the repercussions that development will have on civilization.

This video looks to have been made several years ago, but the progression of world events has only made it more relevant. Last year's collapse of financial markets, the interminable death rattle of America's automobile manufacturing industry and its jetliner transportation system, the bankruptcy of government at all levels: these have all been predicted.

Next up on the death-watch list? Suburbia. The suburban lifestyle simply cannot function without access to cheap energy, mostly in the form of abundant, cheap gasoline. Gas to transport suburbanites to their jobs and to far flung markets that are supplied with goods manufactured or grown entire continents away.

Well, if James Howard Kunstler and the other experts in this video are right, that's all coming to an end.

And what will come after? No one can know, of course. But, as discussed in the video, the possible futures range anywhere from apocalyptic societal collapse, anarchy, and a new Dark Ages to a massive refocusing and reassessment of our society geared toward local production and government and reduced consumption.

Either way, there is going to be a period of time when there will be a whole lot of disillusioned, angry suburbanites struggling to find a new state of existence.

Wasteland...
I can't find anything that sounds even remotely credible to counter the arguments and theories presented in this video. And therefore, it rings true. It's a frightening thought: the idea that we are being compelled to radically change our way of life.

We're in for a rough ride, but if one result of all the turbulence is a resurgence of local communities, with neighbors helping neighbors, and individuals engaged in meaningful productive work, growing food, providing useful services --well, that, at least, would be an improvement over what we have today.

In the end, I just try to fall back on my belief in the inherent goodness of people. What else have we got?

4 comments:

Spring Thunder's Blog said...

Your faith in humanity reminds me to smile, Dade. It is a good thing. I remember one time when I bad-mouthed humans at large, and you motioned to your neighborhood and asked me, "Do you think all of these people are bad?" (One world, one people!) I had to adjust my outlook, at least a little.

I saw the movie about 3 years ago, I think. Here in Portland, a group got together for a while (perhaps they still meet) to "Powerdown". A really great discussion of what could be coming, although NOT for the faint of heart, is lifeaftertheoilcrash.net

Eclectic Dilettante said...

And the lastest solution to peak oil is start a new tax. Yippee. That will solve it. To make matters worse, the brokerage firms have been dreaming up new derivitive swaps to make money on these carbon taxes.

A tax is no solution. Neither is trading carbon tax swaps on the stock exchange.

All Congress can come up with is a profiteering venture and they call it a solution. Boneheads.

Dan Binmore said...

We have known for a very long time that fossil fuels are a finite resource. We have known for a very long time that alternatives will have to be produced. The only question brought up here is when the effects will be felt, and if and when alternate sources can be produced. It seems extremely likely that those in this film are the most pessimistic, and the estimates of oil companies (running out in 2070 or so) are the most optimistic. So, at some time in the next couple of decades alternate fuel needs to be produced. There are already multiple alternatives, but they are not commercially viable because oil is so cheap. As oil becomes more expensive, investment in alternate fuels will increase, increasing production and reducing prices. Global warming fears have dramatically sped up this process.

What will happen is that suburbia will adapt. As prices increase people will get more fuel efficient cars, live closer to work, move into cities, walk and bike more. Suburbia will look more like villages or towns (which people prefer to live in anyway). Fuel sources will diversify and become more local. People will invest in insulation, solar panels and so on.

But my main reason for optimism is that the scientific problem is not dauntingly difficult. We need to replicate what plants do efficiently (turn sunlight energy into fuel) at an industrial level. The group that does this will become the richest company in the world, so the motivation is enormous. The fears of this group are absolutely justified if humanity stops being able to innovate. The fears are Malthusian in nature.

I personally believe that oil and gas prices will increase, demand will increase and the result will be precisely the impetus that results in new technology in terms of energy. In thirty years I think we will have more cheap energy than now.

Eclectic Dilettante said...

And the lastest solution to peak oil is start a new tax. Yippee. That will solve it. To make matters worse, the brokerage firms have been dreaming up new derivitive swaps to make money on these carbon taxes.

A tax is no solution. Neither is trading carbon tax swaps on the stock exchange.

All Congress can come up with is a profiteering venture and they call it a solution. Boneheads.