Jiminy Cricket Syndrome
"Now we are faced with the global oil-production peak. The best estimates of when this will actually happen have been somewhere between now and 2010." James Howard Kunstler (writing in Rolling Stone) holds little optimism that we have what it takes to face the energy transition that lies in our near future. I agree. It is only one of the herd of elephants in the room that Americans don't want to look at, hence our predicament is made worse.
No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome, leading many Americans to believe that anything we wish for hard enough will come true. These days, even people who ought to know better are wishing ardently for a seamless transition from fossil fuels to their putative replacements.
When petrofuels can't be had in every city square mile, everything changes. "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them" Mr. Einstein said. Do we have the capacity of character and will to change the way we think while there is time?
The circumstances of the Long Emergency will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class.
Wishing on a star only works if you're a green cricket in a tuxedo. We'd better start singing a new song, soon. Another longer piece by Mr. Kunstler--his predictions for 2006--is here, in the Energy Bulletin.