I'm no big fan of James Howard Kunstler, though I do find him uncommonly insightful at some points and vaguely if somewhat insanely humorous at others. But his current Web post entitled "Reality Check" makes some keen observations that I agree point toward some of the possible scenarios lying in front of us now as a nation and a world. I do not buy into his pessimism; I believe that humanity will come to recognize the problem before its extinction and that it will be willing to transform into a sustainable model of living on this planet. At least, I believe that is as probable as Kunstler's negative views of the outcome.
Kunstler, who was uncannily accurate in predicting what the world and the United States would look like in 2010, is unflinching in his presentation of what lies immediately ahead for a national and world economy which are creating the illusion of "recovery". Here are my favorite pull quotes, with the occasional kibitzing from yours truly.
We've entered a contraction that will seem permanent until we reach an economic re-set point that comports with what the planet can actually provide for us.
Sustainability is a recurring theme in this short, pessimistic think piece and I think it is perhaps the central question of our time. When the fear-mongers talk about the end of the world, what they really mean is the end of humanity as we know it. And that end seems to me inevitable without a sudden and dramatic course change. Here, I agree with Kunstler at least in principle. The re-set point is the key; if we can all move with relative speed and consensus toward a point that is sustainable by the planet on which we travel through space, we can survive and perhaps even thrive. Failing that, we will…ahem…fail that.
[O]ne of the main themes in this presidential election – not even stated explicitly – is the defense of the entitlement to a suburban lifestyle; in other words, a campaign to sustain the unsustainable.
Though corporations and giant institutions seem to rule our lives these days, they will soon go extinct. Anything organized at the giant scale is going to wobble and fall:
IOW, not only is nothing too big to fail, but it seems possible in Kunstler's view that all big things are destined to fail.
Eventually we'll have to face it: the fossil fuel age is ending and there are no miracle rescue remedies waiting to come on-stage.
Some scientists think it is already too late to stave off the calamity of the end of fossil fuel's relatively free availability because we've dallied in the world of cars for too long.
We're not going to "tech" our way through the array of mega-problems we face… We're heading instead into a "time-out" from technological progress, duration unknown….
I'm not sure about this one. But it is certainly harder than it has ever been to see with any clarity a path by which tech innovation can begin to cope with the staggering scope and nature of the problems facing us as a race at a rapid enough pace to overtake the huge shift looming just over the horizon.
Our towns, counties, and states are all going broke and will not be able to keep the stupendous roadway system in repair. That's a major reason why we have to return to living in walkable towns instead of disaggregated suburbs, and why we desperately need to repair the regular (not high-speed) rail system.
Amen. We forget that the highway system in this country was built to make it possible for the automobile and its associated industries to succeed. At a time when so many of the raisons d'etre and merits of an automobile-based culture are fading rapidly in the side view mirror (where this problem, at least, is really closer than it appears), we are going to have ask ourselves the real value of maintaining the roadways for a population increasingly interested in creating sustained, walkable, self-contained communities.
For the moment, all leadership in America has drunk too much Kool-aid, all of it lacks conviction and competence, none of it wants to enter the actual future.
And the question is whether we will emerge from this moment focused on sustainability or on "restoring" a dream that is no longer sustainable and no longer viable even in the near term.