Thursday, August 24, 2006
A caustic warning
A caustic dose of James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long Emergency," "The Geography of Nowhere" and "Return from Nowhere." His insight into the ethanomania is dead on. Michigan is supposedly preparing a long-range transportation plan, but the reality of a low-energy future doesn't seem to have penetrated the planners' inner sanctums.
Sooner or later America is going to lose access to the roughly 20 percent of the total oil imports it gets that come from the Middle East. The foothold in Iraq was an attempt to postpone that day. It looks like it will not work out. The US army is exhausting itself and bankrupting the civilian treasury. Sixty percent of the US public now disapproves of our continued presence there. Internal pressures among the Middle East oil producers themselves -- including those on the sidelines of the war -- will create additional stresses. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, the UAE, all have peaked now in terms of oil production. Meanwhile, their populations still grow, their internal oil consumption increases, leaving less for export, and the quality of the crude goes from light-and-sweet to heavy-and-sour, with further difficulties for refining and marketing.
If America loses 20 percent of its oil imports -- on top of steep depletion rates elsewhere (Mexico, the North Sea), plus political trouble in places like Nigeria and Venezuela -- then we can kiss goodbye a whole roster of things like WalMart, easy motoring on the interstate highway system, Walt Disney World, a continued profitable build-out of suburbia, and a diet of Cheez Doodles and Pepsi. I am on record, of course, as not being in favor of these things, but it would be very messy indeed if they all ground to a halt in a few mere months.
We've done a lousy job of preparing ourselves to live differently. In fact, the whole thrust of American politics along the whole spectrum has been to keep the current racket going. This is why the only broad discussion now occurring over our energy problems is focused to the point of neurotic obsession with keeping the cars running by other means at all costs. This is true on left as well as the right. The left is lost in raptures of driving around in cars fueled by used french-fry oil. The right is lost in raptures of executive pay packages for retiring oil company executives. We are putting no thought, meanwhile, into how we will grow our food in an energy-scarce future, how we will conduct manufacturing and trade, or how we will heat all the McHouses.