The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century

by James Howard Kunstler

review by E.B.Klassen
The Long Emergency is James Kunstler’s hard-eyed view of the advent of the post-oil world—the world whose resource wars have finally come out in the open with the invasion of Iraq. Kunstler spends a lot of time on the history of oil in Amerika, and particularly the calculations of the Hubbard Peak. M. King Hubbert was the Amerikan geologist who devised the math used to calculate the life of oil fields. He later extended this to calculate the points of peak discovery and peak production in the US and later, the world. And, in case you hadn’t guessed, global oil production is due to peak right Actually, the best guess is between 2000 and 2008, so we’re likely past peak right now.
Kunstler then goes on to consider how much of modern global industrial society is fossil fuel based—and the answer,of course, is all of it. As peak production occurs quite late in the life of an oil field (followed by a precipitous decline in recovery), his thesis is that this is it, this is the nuclear weapon at the heart of the modern world that’s going to blow it all apart—and probably before the end of the century. Likely before the halfway point, in fact.
Even without factoring in global warming and emergent diseases, Kunstler figures we’re done. Once you add those two in to the mix, well, let’s just say that a massive die-back seems to be in the cards. And that 90 to 95 percent mortality rate may not be out of line.
The biggest problem is that all our possible replacements for oil are ultimately fossil fuel based; the alloys needed to build decent wind generators, for example, need a fossil fuel based economy to create them. And needs one to place the generators and use them. Ditto for solar cells, and pretty much everything else.
Kunstler sees the demise of the cities as being already underway—except in Europe, which has been unable to pursue suburbanization the way Amerika has. And Kunstler hates suburbia—having written two books already about it: The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere—he sees it as the worst idea to have ever come out of Amerika. And without cheap gas, suburbia is untenable.
Kunstler, being Amerikan, does occasionally collapse in to an unconscious Amerikan-centric and jingoistic world view. Understandable, but frustrating nonetheless. He wants to keep Amerika and Amerikans alive as much as possible—even though he doesn’t see just how that can possibly happen—and so he shies away from stating the clear conclusion of his book; that (as in Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up) the destruction of Amerika may not be the worst thing for the planet. The hellish thing is that so much of the rest of the planet is going to go with it.

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