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“A Splitting Headache from which the Future’s made”,
This review is from: The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Hardcover)
What this book tells us is basically this: in a near future, the whole planet will face a pretty serious crisis, as fossil fuels become ever more scarce, i.e., difficult (and expensive) to extract. Since this resource is absolutely crucial to the functioning of all industrial societies (it is the basis of oil and natural gas, but also of fertilizers and pesticides, plastics and pharmaceuticals), this means that we are about to see “the end of the world as we know it”. What follows is, according to Kunstler, a period of global armed conflicts, possibly widespread anarchy, proliferating endemic diseases, shortage of water and food (not to speak of electricity and heating), and certainly lots of violence and killings – combined with great climatic changes due to global warming. And, of course, no more driving around.
This upcoming situation he calls “the long emergency”. His book is supposed to warn us about this unavoidable catastrophe, in the hope of preventing a complete collapse of “civilization” by starting NOW (though it is pretty late) to turn to alternative, more sustainable, modes of living that are less dependent on gas and oil, around-the-globe transportation, industrial production of food, etc. Kunstler urges his readers to become “local” again, focus on forms of agriculture that do not rely on big machinery and large quantities of fertilizers, and forget about cars, shopping malls and drive-in fast-food joints, suburban homes and mega-cities.
One can surmise another Cassandra call here.
The author makes a tremendously important point by acknowledging and revealing this “emergency” and its consequences. The future is not a pretty sight, and in many ways Kunstler effectively shows that.
Not only that, but looking back at the last 150 years or so – when fossil fuels were “discovered” and started being used as a source of energy – the book depicts how this resource has been at the centre of all great armed conflicts between nations (this includes WW1 and WW2 – and goes all the way to the American invasion/occupation of Iraq), and major economical crises. Additionally (and perhaps most importantly), fossil fuels made possible the baffling increase of population on a global level, to the point where the planet is chock full of masses of humans who have only known concrete blocks and roads, and who would (or will) die out as soon as the industrial supply of food, potable water, electricity and heating becomes impracticable.
Finally, fossil fuels provided for all the supposed “benefits” of technological progress, such as cheap food production, advances in health care, all the super-whooper irrigation and construction works of the last century (roads, airports, skyscrapers, suburbia), even the global stock market. The list seems endless. With his incursion into all these areas of industrial societies, Kunstler proves how utterly “dependent” we have actually become on fossil fuels – and what it will therefore mean to experience their depletion.
The main problem being: fossil fuel extraction may have reached its “global peak”, which means that NOWHERE on the planet will there be as much oil gushing out of the soil as we’ve had so far. From here on, it can only go downhill. When this finally becomes obvious to everyone, the collapse will begin.
On top of this, Kunstler doesn’t really believe that “alternative” sources of energy (such as hydrogen, coal, hydroelectric power, solar and wind energy, even nuclear power – and a couple of more exotic ideas) can replace fossil fuels – though enough people would like to claim otherwise. Also here his arguments are strikingly convincing: the point isn’t so much that one can’t produce some energy with these means, but rather that whatever comes out of them cannot maintain such a massive infrastructure going. Only cheap oil could do that.
And so, as this depletion crisis is well under way, even current conflicts (including the seemingly approaching invasion of Iran by a bunch of supposedly righteous and rational western nations) make all the sense in the world. It should be no surprise then that the author, who’s American, manages to lose his critical distance when dealing with this issue, revealing a patriotic feeling which often leads him to blur certain facts of history and also regard current events far too ideologically.
Kunstler ends up considering virtually everybody apart from America and Western Europe as being somewhat… crazy, maniacal, violent, dangerous, savage, etc. In the face of all this supposed chaos and madness going on outside the “civilized” West (which actually started two world wars, dropped two atomic bombs on civilians, participates in countless conflicts all over the globe to control other people and resources, and heavily supports scientific development – and testing – of ever more ultra-ultra-deadly weapons to use against supposed irrational people/countries), the author tells us that America is really justified in waging wars against the Middle East, where most oil is to be found (while there’s any of it left).
This is the main point, of course: the economic interests of the industrialized nations of the West (with the USA in the foreground) justify any violent incursion against other nations and populations. Therefore, an aggressive, sometimes even insulting language against all other “rogue” people and cultures (whose “madness” appears to become so threatening to Western “values”) seems adequate to prepare the “civilized” populations for the upcoming big wars to get those last drops of oil from the Arab soil, but also from Asia, South America, Africa…
At this point, Kunstler’s attitude is clearly ideologically tinged – which is somewhat disappointing.
However, it goes to prove the urgency of his book’s issue, as the industrial West starts panicking over the last drops of oil. In that sense, Kunstler has managed to combine lots of facts, data and historical overview to make his case stand – and to at least give the reader a glimpse of what the next years (that’s how close we are to collapse) might have in store for all of us.
Who needs horror tales when you can read about reality?