Surviving the end of the oil age

By Kay She

Like many individuals, James Howard Kunstler becomes frustrated every time he sees prices rise at the gas station.

The Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy kicked off their third Distinguished Speaker Series with a speech by James Howard Kunstler about his new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change and other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century Thu., Jan. 17.

“When I wrote the book, I had in mind primarily the global energy predicament and climate change,” said Kunstler. “That includes how are we going to feed ourselves in the decades to come? What are the ramifications for peace between nations? Because once you get a desperate competition of resources in the world, the implication is there could be a lot of friction for political problems.”

The global energy predicament Kunstler referred to is not about when the world runs out of oil. Rather, it is about when the world reaches its maximum petroleum production rate, and enters a state of permanent decline. If consumer demand continues to rapidly grow as oil supplies dwindle, the result will be unaffordable energy prices that will force countries such as Canada and the U.S. to surrender the suburban way of life.

“[Suburbia] is now becoming a tremendous economic liability,” said Kunstler. “We’ve created this massive structure for daily life that has very poor prospects for even a moderately energy-scarcer future.”

Kunstler predicts a very grim future ahead for suburbia.

“We’re probably going to have to live more locally, our electric supply may be more irregular, and we certainly won’t be jumping into our cars as much,” he said.

Critics have called the book ‘fear-mongering.’ Kunstler speculated the comments have come from people who have not been affected by these problems and so consider them both abstract and unreal.

Yet he noted that as the global energy predicament continues people will pay less attention to celebrity news.

“We’ll have to pay more attention to the convenience store down the street that didn’t get their gas delivery on Tuesday,” said Kunstler. “It’s going to be a conscious-raising exercise for the people of North America.”

As daunting as the title may be, Kunstler explained his book is meant to be a message of hope for the future.

“To some extent, the grandiosity of our expectations today is so outlandish, that in itself is creating problems for us,” said Kunstler. “Everybody feels entitled to be a millionaire, or an American idol. I don’t see anything wrong with creating a more reality-based culture.”

Kunstler also offered advice to the younger generation in or coming out of post-secondary education and seeking to make a change.

“The main thing is not necessarily going out and marching around,” he said. “The main thing is making really thoughtful choices about what your vocation is going to be and where you’re going to live. There are whole professions that aren’t going to make it; I wouldn’t get a degree in public relations. We’re going to need more people who can manage agricultural operations at a local level. It may not be as sexy, but people will do what their circumstances of their time require them to do.”

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