The title of James Howard Kunstler’s book suggests that he’s painting a doom-and-gloom scenario that exploits the tragedy of the recent oil spill in the Gulf. Two surprises: the book was released in 2005 – long before BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded -- and its message is actually a hopeful one. Hopeful, that is, if we pay attention to the critical condition of the planet and choose to do something about it right now.
For centuries, lunatics (or visionaries) have predicted that the end is near. They are mostly ignored by the general population. Now we have scientists, economists, and well-intentioned amateurs like Kunstler broadcasting the same message but with facts on their side. In this case, Kunstler focuses on the inevitable end of an oil-based lifestyle. “We constructed an armature for daily living that simply won’t work without liberal supplies of cheap oil,” Kunstler writes, “and very soon we will be without both the oil needed to run it and the wealth needed to replace it.”
Most of us live in a blissful state of denial about the end of oil. The Long Emergency sounds the wake-up call over and over again.
Despite this non-negotiable timeline, there is no viable alternative to oil. We have no plan in place for addressing the end of oil.
- We have already passed the point of peak oil production
- If every single drop of oil could be extracted, there would be only enough to sustain our habit for about 30-35 years
- Every drop will not be extracted because we have already taken the easy oil and there comes a point at which more than a barrel of oil is required to extract a barrel of oil
As reserves dwindle, the cost of a gallon of gasoline will skyrocket. Those with unlimited funds may blithely assume that the rising price of gasoline is of little concern to them. But what of the bigger picture? It isn’t only personal transportation that requires petroleum products. The resulting polymers form the basis for plastics, which have infiltrated every aspect of our lives. Take a moment to list the items in the room with you right now that are derived from petroleum. Phones, glasses, clothing, furniture, televisions – actually, it’s faster to list items that contain no plastic. The wealthiest person in the world cannot buy what doesn’t exist. When petroleum is no longer available, what alternative source will provide us with all those conveniences we take for granted?
The Long Emergency is not simply a book about how bad things are likely to be in a couple of decades. Kunstler does a masterful job of explaining how we became dependent on oil in the first place, how it determines our relationships with business and other countries, and who really makes the decisions about what happens next.
The Long Emergency is a sobering look at where we are, but it isn’t a pessimistic book, merely a truthful one. Kunstler considers possible options for energy production and encourages development of them. He is not, alas, a prophet, so he can’t predict whether we will find a way out of the trap we’ve built for ourselves. A good first step toward extricating ourselves is for everyone to read The Long Emergency and pay attention to Kunstler’s clear and reasoned warning.