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  • Wednesday, April 13, 2005


    Oil and Suburbia

    There are many wide ranging problems with a dwindling and tightening oil supply. I consider it a superficial view to focus on the rising costs of oil by the barrel and at the gas pump. This is the least of our problems. A much deeper problem is, for want of a better term, the American lifestyle. Cheap gas and mobility has profoundly altered almost everything about the American infrastructure. Two major items are where we live and where we work.

    An example: Where is the nearest food store to your home? Could you walk there? Bike there? If you live in a city larger than 100,000 people, how does the food get to your local store? Larger cities are supported by a wide reaching network that imports necessary food items, particularly fresh produce, probably mostly by truck.

    I'm not trying to be a doomsayer or alarmist. Plenty of other people can do that. But when you start to think about gasoline costing, say, $10, $15 or more a gallon, it changes some rather fundamental aspects of American life. A possibility I expect as well is rationing. Suppose your family was allowed only 10 gallons a week? 5 gallons? It might not matter how much you're willing to pay for gas if there was a cap on the quantity you are able to purchase. These are disturbing questions but Americans are going to have to examine these issues seriously before we have no choice and few options.

    The following comes from Global Warning By Paula Routly.

    Paula Routly: You've long criticized the housing and transportation policies that drove people from the cities to suburbia after World War II. Now it turns out "Levittown" is not only ugly and soul-killing, but unsustainable. Explain your vision of the "Long Emergency."

    James Howard Kunstler: We poured our national wealth into the construction of a living arrangement that has no future -- and the future is now here. The infrastructure of suburbia can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It was deficient and problematic as a human habitat even apart from the question of its sustainability. The way we live in America represents a tragic set of collective and individual choices we made at a particular point in history, the mid-to-late 20th century, when circumstances seemed to suggest there were no limits to our quest for comfort, convenience and leisure. These things turned out to be a poor basis for a value system and for an economy.

    So life without oil equals the apocalypse?

    Your word, not mine. I rather resent being labeled "apocalyptic." It demonstrates how poorly even journalists understand what we face, which is an epochal discontinuity in the conditions of daily life, not the end of the world. In fact, we don't even face a life without oil, at least not imminently. We face a life without cheap oil, which is a big difference. Specifically, we are heading into a period of social, political and economic turbulence, which will probably include a lot of hardship. That's not the end of the world. That's something that the human race has been through many times before. For instance, the Europeans of 1913 would never have conceived the degree of destruction and vicissitude visited upon their societies by two 20th-century world wars. We're equally blind and clueless about what we are facing.

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