Oil Shock: Reading “The Long Emergency”

Seems odd to read, at 42,000 feet, a book foretelling the end of the era of cheap energy and a return to a much simpler, more localized, almost pre-industrial life, but that’s where I was reading James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

Though both believe in global warming and both foresee a radically different energy future, Kunstler and Al Gore couldn’t be more different. The peak-oil skeptics who denounce Gore as Mr. Gloom and Doom ought to have a look at Kunstler, who makes Gore look positively radiant with solar-powered optimism.

More to come on this when I recover from pounding mile after mile of Manhattan pavement (and using energy-efficient subways)  but in a nutshell, picture this image, which is the Gore Paradigm of our Energy Future:

A man is rolling down the highway in a typical gas-guzzling Americar. The car, he notes, is heading for a cliff. But well before disaster, another car, this one fueled by hydrogen or electricity or Taco Bell grease or something, pulls alongside our man. Without slowing down a bit, he leaps from the old gas-burner into the new polar-bear-friendly model and cruises on down that endless highway.

Here is the Kunstler version: Our guy is sailing down the highway. He hits gigantic ruts that send him careening across the road, smashing into telephone poles and finally into the side of a building. He is dazed but alive. He tries to restart the car. It will not start. The tank is empty. He pushes the car to a nearby service station. The station is closed. There is no gasoline. The man walks on down the road.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between Goreian optimism and Kunstlerian gloom when it comes to energy. Gore says, “let’s use smart new technology to ignite a green revolution that will keep us prosperous and almost fully employed and in fact create thousands of great new jobs to power the country. It’s up, up away into the future.”

Kunstler says: “Game over. The waiter has brought the check. Time to pay. Night cometh. The future is the way we lived in 1855, if we’re lucky.”

More on The Long Emergency  to come.

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