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on 17 April 2017
Some VERY useful observations here for anyone wondering about the West's likely future. It MAY be a bit apocalyptic, but we won't know until much later, and it's better by far to be informed. Well worth the money and time to read it.
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on 22 April 2006
The main argument of this book is compelling: that as we reach several tipping points (only one of which is peak oil), industrial civilisation will face major, possibly terminal, challenges.

Kunstler presents a number of "converging" catastrophes, whose simultaneous arrival makes them all the more challenging.Examples: peak oil; climate change; disease epidemics; falling water tables in major food production areas. He makes persuasive arguments that each of these threats is major, and that there will be a sort of disastrous synergy whereby, while we might cope with bird flu outbreak given a functioning oil economy (=healthcare and pharmaceuticals), the converging nature of these catastrophes makes them all the more deadly.

One thing that bothers me about the analysis is that every outcome is a catastrophe: major population loss due to starvation or disease? Catastrophe! Excessive human population? Catastrophe! Less fossil fuel available to burn? Catastrophe! We find more fossil fuel and release the CO2? Catastrophe!

One way of looking at the analysis is that the human race has painted itself into a corner, and that we face catastrophe at every turn. Another is that Kunstler is only comfortable when predicting doom. My feeling is that the real situation is somewhere inbetween. We clearly face problems (all of which stem from overpopulation, or what Kunstler calls exceeding the planet's carrying capacity), but his argument is based on the idea that, unless provided with ever-increasing oil supplies, industrial civilisation has basically had it. Kunstler tells us that markets can't come up with novel energy sources, but he doesn't acknowledge that markets can promote waste or conservation, and that currently we have an awful lot of frivolous consumption that could be eliminated to no real detriment.

The interesting question is whether our economic system, being debt-based and therefore predicated on continuous growth, can flourish in the ongoing belt-tightening that peak oil will entail. Kunstler doesn't really analyse this, but given his general outlook I'm sure I can predict what his answer would be

:-)

To be fair, there are some positive aspects to the analysis. Believing that globalisation has had it's day, Kunstler predicts that surviving communites will necessarily be stronger and more engaged. The retreat of Walmart and the re-emergence of interdependent communities, if you will. To many of us, that wouldn't seem like such a bad thing.
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on 19 November 2007
In my view JHK has made a good stab at joining the dots and giving serious thought to the implications of peak oil and how society may have to rearrange itself in the years ahead. I find it hard to disagree with his views on the follies of America's sprawling suburbia with its culture of extreme car dependency. And its trashing of local economies by big corporate box stores. All of which is likely to be in big trouble when oil supplies start declining. I also found his view that America (and indeed the world) would have to move in the direction of localised economies, to be quite a reasonable conclusion.

I also broadly agree with his conclusion that no forms of 'alternative energy' sources such as wind power or solar panels are likely to be sufficient to maintain our current economy or way of life in the way we have come to know it. His account of how finance has evolved and how it came to be in the state it's in, was particularly well written.

On the negative side. I found the section on geopolitics to be one of the weaker points of the book. This is clearly not his area of expertise. It to my mind reflected the world view of the mainstream US media, and relied on stereotypes of Arabs as all being jihadist anti-western terrorists. I also found his views on American southerners to be well somewhat negative and stereotyped to put it politely.

Some of the book was decidedly speculative. Some speculations were quite plausible and some some less so. The idea that the western US coast would be attacked by asian pirates was somewhat odd.

Overall a very interesting read. But I would warn anyone who is prone to depression to avoid it. It's not exactly a book that will leave you uplifted.
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on 3 November 2005
Basically just a few points to make to explain why I think this book is much less useful than similar books on the subject
First, although the title and topic imply global coverage it is entirely US centric in it's outlook. There is almost no consideration of what people in the rest of the world can expect
Second, again compared to other titles it has almost no hard facts and figures and projections. You are left with little in the way of usable data
Thats it basically. An important topic covered well up to a point but I would say you are better informed by other books on this topic
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on 10 May 2007
Kunstler has apparently written other books pointing out that US style suburbia will be unsustainable when oil runs out, which will be in 37 years if we get out every last drop - which we won't. He says alternative energy sources are unlikely to be a substitute unless we start serious development now. Therefore the human race will have to make massive structural alterations to its way of living, and many people will die.

Many people outside the US will not find that a surprise.

The book made me think of The Day of the Triffids (the book, not the film) where mankind is left in a post apocalyptic world to re-establish society. Issues of social organisation - the likely emergence of tribes and feudalism, the loss of meaning of money and title to land, and how to ensure the passing down of knowledge - are addressed.

The book is well worth reading. There are 165 reviews on the US Amazon site, interesting to look at some of them.
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on 15 October 2009
I wouldn't recommend this book for holiday poolside reading, unless you want to have a depressing holiday. However, the message is clear and stark. We are running out of fossil fuels at a rapid rate. Global warming isn't really the issue we should be worried about, the real problem is oil and natural gas depletion. Once they run out there won't be any carbon emmisions anyway. The book is well written in a non dramatic style but the message is clear - the greatest challenge of the 21st Century will be upon us sooner than we think and this book makes it very plain that we are nowehere near ready to meet that challenge. The party will soon be over and when it ends, we had better prepare to turn the clock back 200 years in terms of our ability to travel, heat our homes and carry on our businesses.
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on 6 January 2012
"The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kunstler is a well-known book (and something of a cult classic) in the doomer genre.

Kunstler argues that world civilization in general and the United States in particular are going to collapse during the 21st century due to depletion of fossil fuel reserves and climate change caused by the very same fossil fuels (an ironic combination). With cheap oil gone forever, our modern way of life will come tumbling down. Pandemic diseases, mass starvation, inner city riots, resource wars and terrorism will become common occurrences. So will a rise in religious fundamentalism and racism.

Kunstler doesn't believe that alternative energy sources will save us. Natural gas reserves are too tiny to make a difference, turning coal into oil too expensive, and solar and wind simply aren't feasible. Nor are biofuels. Nuclear power is a more realistic option, since uranium is relatively abundant, but nuclear power plants can only produce electricity. Where should we get the rest of our energy needs? Besides, all these forms of power-generation require cheap oil to begin with - how else to build nuclear power plants, fuel the machines needed to grow biofuels, or produce solar batteries? Nuclear power also has the disadvantage of needing a strong, centralized state apparatus. Who would finance, operate and defend nuclear facilities in a long emergency in which the modern nation-states quite simply crack?

The author believes that American society will be forced to revert to local solutions as the crisis deepens. In a worst case scenario, feudalism might reappear as desperate city-dwellers look for work in the countryside, becoming peons to those fortunate enough to own land. Child labour will reappear, and most people will never get a real education. Horses rather than machines will be used in agriculture. Of course, it's very difficult to see how a nation of 250 million people can simply revert to 17th century conditions. Kunstler doesn't see it either, pointing out that a neo-feudal system will be extremely unstable, especially in a situation when many private citizens own guns and are ready to use them. A generalized civil war might follow, perhaps between Whites, Hispanics and Blacks.

What I found interesting about the book is at Kunstler actually *accepts* many arguments used by pro-establishment writers: the modern economy is dependent on fossil fuels; these fuels cannot be replaced by solar, wind and biofuels; and nuclear power could generate most of our electricity. It's almost as if he'd been reading Vaclav Smil or Robert Bryce! The crucial difference, of course, is that Kunstler doesn't believe any of this will save us anyway. Fossil fuels are non-renewable, climate change can neither be stopped nor adapted to, and nuclear power is too dependent on cheap fuels and political stability to be feasible in a world on the brink of disaster.

Well, let's hope he's wrong...
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on 22 January 2012
Breathlessly written by James Howard Kunstler, and with the very long subtitle of Surviving the [End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other] Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century. My edition had a shorter one by excising the bracketed words but they are key to the book with half of it being about oil (and its curtain-raiser, coal).

Both have correlated with our rocketing world population and have defined the carrying capacity of Planet Earth. Before the Industrial Revolution our numbers struggled up to 1 billion and managed to exploit most corners of the world. Now oil allows 7 billion. And when the oil runs out... Will nuclear, hydrogen, solar, wind or hydro cut it? They're relatively so inefficient and user-unfriendly that it seems not.

We believe that technology will deliver. Kunstler doesn't mention biofuel but that may postdate 2004. It doesn't change his assertion that oil also fuels technology so it'd better find an alternative before it runs out. Well before; like now, and that doesn't seem to be happening.

Next up is climate change (not global warming!) Here's a nugget: twice in the last 20,000 years the planet has warmed by double-digit degrees (Fahrenheit, I assume) in about a decade. So you can throw away your smooth temperature projections. It can go crazy!

Oh, we've had scares about the future before. I grew up with the Cold War and nuclear winter but it was only ever one threat at a time. Now the question seems to be more the order in which the many will come. End of oil; end of gas; rising sea; depleted water; exhausted soil (which in any case requires gas to fertilise it for the yields we expect); disease (exacerbated by rising temperatures). And that's not all...

The Running on Fumes chapter is an economic history and pretty much above my head. But I recognise a few terms, enough to think that Kunstler was somehow predicting the banking and real estate crisis that knocked the bottom out of my shares not long back. If so, I'm impressed and the more ready to believe his other projections.

The final chapter is a guess of how, principally, the US may cope post-oil. It sounds rather nice, for the 6 billion who won't die of course. But they'll largely be Johnny Foreigners so who cares about them? The other proviso is that society doesn't degenerate into anarchy or war - rather a big ask given our reputation.

An eye-opener for me then and I thought I was au fait with most thinking about the future. This book does continue the sustainable retreat theme, which looks like the only rational, and hopeful, course of action. We won't like it but we'll like the alternative worse.
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on 24 December 2012
Regarding the main thrust of Kunstler's argument, I was rivetted by his astute historical analysis and brilliant putting into context of so much that one instinctively rejects about modern American culture : from Disneyland and Vegas to Walmart, strip malls and all the horrors of agribusiness, with much else in between. He gathers all this into a starkly revealing view of what the cheap oil bubble we have been living in really means.

All the more astonishing therefore, that Kunstler's analytical skills appear to fail him utterly when it comes to the story of Israel and Palestine (hardly relevant to the book's subject but he manages to weave it in on somewhat spurious grounds). He totally misrepresents the truth behind the conflict - among other things, calmly claiming that the Muslim states around Israel should simply have absorbed the displaced Palestinians, thereby allowing establishment of the state of Israel guilt free, and exhibiting a total misunderstanding of the history of all invaded peoples. In an astounding display of Zionist bias, he omits to suggest the far more plausible scenario (since the alternative was to invade someone else's homeland) that the Jewish refugees from Germany after WW2 could have been absorbed by neighbouring European states - who already had integrated Jewish communities of their own. His definition of Saudi Arabia as "one of the most brutal and repressive police regimes of the post-cold war era" could equally well be applied to Israel from the point of view of a Palestian. (If you find this hard to believe, please read "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, or at least some of the Amazon reviews, many of them written by Jewish readers).

If you can put aside this extraordinary piece of intellectual dishonesty, I would recommend the rest of the book. While it would appear, as we prepare to enter 2013, that the the ghastly business of "fracking" will allow the oil and gas companies to continue poisoning our planet for a lot longer than Kunstler predicted in 2005, his detailed explanation and analysis of the exteme danger we are all in should be taken on board by anyone who cares about the world's future.
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on 24 November 2011
Yes, unexpected things can happen, but thinking that all society will collapse, and you will have chances by becoming a farmer in a remote land... I don't think so. People only have chances in society, and society is unfortunately too complicated to predict. What people need is good social skills, a fit and physically strong body, and a tough mind. A big and supporting family (which he doesn't mention much) and a network of friends might also be helpful. He also doesn't provide too much in the way of hard data, it even seems to me he is not very good at understanding the dynamics of much of what's going on (e.g. climate change or peak oil), but he nevertheless has some strong opinions about these things.
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