the long emergency

I wasn’t going to blog tonight, but I had to share one thing. There’s an excerpt from James Kunstler’s new book on the phenomenon of “peak oil” and what’s likely to happen when the wells run dry, at the Rolling Stone site. The book’s entitled “The Long Emergency,” and it’s some terrifying shit. (It makes me very happy to know, however, that I’m not the only one thinking about this stuff.) Here’s a clip:

Most of all, the Long Emergency will require us to make other arrangements for the way we live in the United States. America is in a special predicament due to a set of unfortunate choices we made as a society in the twentieth century. Perhaps the worst was to let our towns and cities rot away and to replace them with suburbia, which had the additional side effect of trashing a lot of the best farmland in America. Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It has a tragic destiny. The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability…

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….

America today has a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. Neither of the two major presidential candidates in 2004 mentioned railroads, but if we don’t refurbish our rail system, then there may be no long-range travel or transport of goods at all a few decades from now. The commercial aviation industry, already on its knees financially, is likely to vanish. The sheer cost of maintaining gigantic airports may not justify the operation of a much-reduced air-travel fleet. Railroads are far more energy efficient than cars, trucks or airplanes, and they can be run on anything from wood to electricity. The rail-bed infrastructure is also far more economical to maintain than our highway network.

The successful regions in the twenty-first century will be the ones surrounded by viable farming hinterlands that can reconstitute locally sustainable economies on an armature of civic cohesion. Small towns and smaller cities have better prospects than the big cities, which will probably have to contract substantially. The process will be painful and tumultuous. In many American cities, such as Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis, that process is already well advanced. Others have further to fall. New York and Chicago face extraordinary difficulties, being oversupplied with gigantic buildings out of scale with the reality of declining energy supplies. Their former agricultural hinterlands have long been paved over. They will be encysted in a surrounding fabric of necrotic suburbia that will only amplify and reinforce the cities’ problems. Still, our cities occupy important sites. Some kind of urban entities will exist where they are in the future, but probably not the colossi of twentieth-century industrialism.

Some regions of the country will do better than others in the Long Emergency. The Southwest will suffer in proportion to the degree that it prospered during the cheap-oil blowout of the late twentieth century. I predict that Sunbelt states like Arizona and Nevada will become significantly depopulated, since the region will be short of water as well as gasoline and natural gas. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning.

So, who wants to chip in and buy some farmland in Michigan? I’ve got a midwife, a potter, a baker, and a builder that might be interested, and, even though I don’t have a lot of experience, farming’s in my blood from way back. Who else do we need? A doctor? A brewer? A bunch of people with guns? Someone to build machines that run on ethanol? (note: I’m not kidding.)

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18 Comments

  1. Posted April 18, 2005 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    That was sweet how you used four categories.

  2. Posted April 18, 2005 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Instead of buying farmland, why not support Michigan farms by buying more locally grown goods?

    I came across an interveiw Mr. Kunstler did with Jane Jacobs just the other day. He mentioned “peak oil” then in 2000. http://www.kunstler.com/mags_jacobs1.htm

    (if you were to read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” with your reading group, I would not only attend, but I’m sure some JJ fans from Ann Arbor would too)

  3. mark
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Linette and I are still debating whether or not we should buy a share of a local CSA this year. If we decide to do it, I’m sure I’ll be writing about it here… As it is, most of our produce lately has been coming from the co-op and ZZ’s on Packard. I’m told that most of the ZZ’s produce comes from Eastern Market.

    Thanks for the link, Hillary… and I’ll definitely add Jane Jacobs to the list.

  4. Dave
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Kate and I joined a Community Supported Agriculture a few years back called Helsing Junction. It was ok. We split the weekly produce with our neighbor. There were certain adjustments we had to make so that all of it got eaten. We ate more salads, found a few ways to prepare fennel, etc. There is an outdoor Farmers Market a few blocks from us now that has dozens of organic farms there. It is much easier to buy what we need and we still have the advantage of knowing where the produce comes from.

    We have been looking at buying farmland for a while now. There are quite a few pitfalls. One is water rights. The 20 acres may have the Skykomish River running through it, but the water may be off limits.

    Another option that I have been exploring is turning my back yard into an edible garden. We were fortunate enough to already have an apple, quince, butternut, plum, and pear tree as well as a number of herbs, grape vines, and berries to start. Last year I dug up a 20 x 20 plot and tried the French Intensive Method – digging down three feet, sorting out rocks adding manure and compost, mixing. Pain in the ass. The results were pretty good though.

    My composting experiment has worked out pretty well too. We compost most of our yard waste and use a worm bin for our food scraps. The worms make an incredible black, rich compost. When I get the nitrogen / carbon balance and size right on the yard waste pile, it actually heats up to about 130 degrees and steams. Very cool. The best part is that garbage ( as opposed to trash) is converted back into fertilizer.

    I am considering putting in a cistern and collecting water off my roofs. I figure that with 31 inches of annual rainfall x the square footage of my roof= way more water than I will be able to store or need throught the summer.

    My next big steps in the Devolution are to make a vegetable garden that is all heirloom and save seeds as well as do more canning this year. Last year I made wine with one neighbor with our combined grapes and pickles with another neighbor. Getting a couple of chickens is on the agenda too ( Seattle allows 2 chickens for each 6500 sf lot plus 1 more for each additional 1000 sf.)

    By the way, there was a great article on seed saving in the recent issue of Pacific Northwest Magazine. Very reassuring and encouraging.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/

  5. Posted April 19, 2005 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    The Canadian Space Agency?

    I hope CSA is a railroad stock because they’ve been favorably talked about on CNBC for several weeks now. Predictions are that freight is about to return to the rails.

    Never been to ZZ’s. I find that buying more Michigan goods has less to do with where you shop and more to do with checking the label and eating in season. Staples like maple syrup, honey, sugar, onions, apples, spinach, tortillas, snack foods and dairy are easy to find from local sources year round. But check the label because imports are common and sometimes cheaper.

    One of the dilemmas I’m having right now, and I know I’m insane by the way… there’s a distributor with an office in Hamtramck that sells frozen samosas, spring rolls and bread through local stores owned by local people. But the samosas come from Bangladesh (as do most of my neighbors). I’ve already switched to Spartan canned goods based on the idea that locally distributed is next important after locally grown and locally retailed.

  6. dorothy
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    comes the revolution, is anyone in pa. interested in joining our commune? so far we’ve got a pharmacist, two veterinarians, a mechanical engineer, a seamstress, a breadmaker, a teacher and two psychotherapists. the latter will be needed for adjustment purposes. at the risk of repeating myself; everyone read “the sheep look up,” by john brunner!

  7. Tony Buttons
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to influence anyone’s decision, but I hear that Mark’s commune might have a troll infestation. So, I’ve decided to go with, Dorothy. That is, if she needs an agorophobic. (And if she can arrange to have my house moved to PA with me in it.)

  8. chris
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Ah, yes. When I was trying to get into med school, the few interviews I was granted they would always ask that insipid question, “Why do you want to become a doctor?”. I would answer, “Come the revolution I want to be useful.” I was dead serious. Needless to say I am not practicing medicine at this juncture of my life.

    With that said, would you consider someone for their cannabis growing abilities? The heirloom variety of course, none of that GMO coma inducing superbud for me.

    And why is it always, “come the revolution” and not “when that revolution is here” or “lets all rise up and bash some brains in”, or even the more passive, “man, I’m done with this shit”. Is it a translation thing from Gueverrian Spanish or something.

    Oh yeah, and one other thing…Dave, do you have a day job because you are doing some serious living off the grid.

  9. kevin dole 2
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Why stop w/ Kunstler?

    http://www.ranprieur.com

  10. mark
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Dorothy, I’ll trade you an agorophobic for a doctor. How about it?

    Seriously though, do you live on a commune?

  11. chris
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    BTW, Mark, a CSA is a huge responsibility, esp if you choose the a box a week option. I mean how many ways can Kohlrabi be cooked? And no matter how many Kale casseroles you cook you will still be staring down something rolling around the bottom of that box come the morning of the next delivery.

  12. dorothy
    Posted April 20, 2005 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    mark, i don’t actually live on a commune—this is my brother’s(the engineer)brainchild. he felt that since my husband(the veterinarian) and i live on a farm we would be the logical ones to start a commune if things go downhill. we have goats and chickens also which solves some of the food problems. my brother thinks he can set up a way of using methane from cattle manure for heating purposes and our little stream for electricity. the idea is very comforting. comes the revolution i won’t give a fuck.

  13. dorothy
    Posted April 20, 2005 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    i almost forgot. tony buttons, the two psychotherapists(my daughters) can work on your agoraphobia. do you have any skills to add?

  14. Tony Buttons
    Posted April 20, 2005 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I will be bringing several board games. And, I have been told that I’m quite good at the love making.

  15. Posted April 20, 2005 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    When I hear the letters CSA, I don’t personally think of farms or railroads.

    Well, I suppose I do think of plantations and Sherman’s Neckties.

  16. mark
    Posted April 20, 2005 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Dorothy, you don’t have to post them here, but, when you get a chance, send me directions to your place. I want to keep them in the basement, along with my Foxfire books and my jugs of gasoline…

  17. mark
    Posted April 20, 2005 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    And, Dorothy, if you think the ccommune needs a grouchy, conservative warehouse distribution manager, just let me know and I’ll pick up Jeff Kay (and his family) on the way.

  18. chris
    Posted April 20, 2005 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    So that’s what he does for a living. I didn’t know a job like that would actually HAVE a boss. One that has to be physically present for his job that is.

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