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10 ways to prepare for a post-oil society

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Posted by rpautrey2 on October 22, 2008, 7:56 am
10 ways to prepare for a post-oil society
by James Howard Kunstler

...the best way to feel hopeful for the future is to prepare for it

The best way to feel hopeful about our looming energy crisis is to get
active now and prepare for living arrangements in a post-oil society.

Out in the public arena, people frequently twang on me for being
"Mister Gloom'n'doom," or for "not offering any solutions" to our
looming energy crisis. So, for those of you who are tired of wringing
your hands, who would like to do something useful, or focus your
attention in a purposeful way, here are my suggestions:

1. Expand your view beyond the question of how we will run all the
cars by means other than gasoline. This obsession with keeping the
cars running at all costs could really prove fatal. It is especially
unhelpful that so many self-proclaimed "greens" and political
"progressives" are hung up on this monomaniacal theme. Get this: the
cars are not part of the solution (whether they run on fossil fuels,
vodka, used frymax oil, or cow shit). They are at the heart of the
problem. And trying to salvage the entire Happy Motoring system by
shifting it from gasoline to other fuels will only make things much
worse. The bottom line of this is: start thinking beyond the car. We
have to make other arrangements for virtually all the common
activities of daily life.

2. We have to produce food differently. The Monsanto/Cargill model of
industrial agribusiness is heading toward its Waterloo. As oil and gas
deplete, we will be left with sterile soils and farming organized at
an unworkable scale. Many lives will depend on our ability to fix
this. Farming will soon return much closer to the center of American
economic life. It will necessarily have to be done more locally, at a
smaller-and-finer scale, and will require more human labor. The value-
added activities associated with farming -- e.g. making products like
cheese, wine, oils -- will also have to be done much more locally.
This situation presents excellent business and vocational
opportunities for America's young people (if they can unplug their
Ipods long enough to pay attention.) It also presents huge problems in
land-use reform. Not to mention the fact that the knowledge and skill
for doing these things has to be painstakingly retrieved from the
dumpster of history. Get busy.

3. We have to inhabit the terrain differently. Virtually every place
in our nation organized for car dependency is going to fail to some
degree. Quite a few places (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Miami ...) will
support only a fraction of their current populations. We'll have to
return to traditional human ecologies at a smaller scale: villages,
towns, and cities (along with a productive rural landscape). Our small
towns are waiting to be reinhabited. Our cities will have to contract.
The cities that are composed proportionately more of suburban fabric
(e.g. Atlanta, Houston) will pose especially tough problems. Most of
that stuff will not be fixed. The loss of monetary value in suburban
property will have far-reaching ramifications. The stuff we build in
the decades ahead will have to be made of regional materials found in
nature -- as opposed to modular, snap-together, manufactured
components -- at a more modest scale. This whole process will entail
enormous demographic shifts and is liable to be turbulent. Like
farming, it will require the retrieval of skill-sets and methodologies
that have been forsaken. The graduate schools of architecture are
still tragically preoccupied with teaching Narcissism. The faculties
will have to be overthrown. Our attitudes about land-use will have to
change dramatically. The building codes and zoning laws will
eventually be abandoned and will have to be replaced with vernacular
wisdom. Get busy.

4. We have to move things and people differently. This is the sunset
of Happy Motoring (including the entire US trucking system). Get used
to it. Don't waste your society's remaining resources trying to prop
up car-and-truck dependency. Moving things and people by water and
rail is vastly more energy-efficient. Need something to do? Get
involved in restoring public transit. Let's start with railroads, and
let's make sure we electrify them so they will run on things other
than fossil fuel or, if we have to run them partly on coal-fired power
plants, at least scrub the emissions and sequester the CO2 at as few
source-points as possible. We also have to prepare our society for
moving people and things much more by water. This implies the
rebuilding of infrastructure for our harbors, and also for our inland
river and canal systems -- including the towns associated with them.
The great harbor towns, like Baltimore, Boston, and New York, can no
longer devote their waterfronts to condo sites and bikeways. We
actually have to put the piers and warehouses back in place (not to
mention the sleazy accommodations for sailors). Right now, programs
are underway to restore maritime shipping based on wind -- yes,
sailing ships. It's for real. Lots to do here. Put down your Ipod and
get busy.

5. We have to transform retail trade. The national chains that have
used the high tide of fossil fuels to contrive predatory economies-of-
scale (and kill local economies) -- they are going down. WalMart and
the other outfits will not survive the coming era of expensive,
scarcer oil. They will not be able to run the "warehouses-on-wheels"
of 18-wheel tractor-trailers incessantly circulating along the
interstate highways. Their 12,000-mile supply lines to the Asian slave-
factories are also endangered as the US and China contest for Middle
East and African oil. The local networks of commercial interdependency
which these chain stores systematically destroyed (with the public's
acquiescence) will have to be rebuilt brick-by-brick and inventory-by-
inventory. This will require rich, fine-grained, multi-layered
networks of people who make, distribute, and sell stuff (including the
much-maligned "middlemen"). Don't be fooled into thinking that the
Internet will replace local retail economies. Internet shopping is
totally dependent now on cheap delivery, and delivery will no longer
be cheap. It also is predicated on electric power systems that are
completely reliable. That is something we are unlikely to enjoy in the
years ahead. Do you have a penchant for retail trade and don't want to
work for a big predatory corporation? There's lots to do here in the
realm of small, local business. Quit carping and get busy.

6. We will have to make things again in America. However, we are going
to make less stuff. We will have fewer things to buy, fewer choices of
things. The curtain is coming down on the endless blue-light-special
shopping frenzy that has occupied the forefront of daily life in
America for decades. But we will still need household goods and things
to wear. As a practical matter, we are not going to re-live the 20th
century. The factories from America's heyday of manufacturing (1900 -
1970) were all designed for massive inputs of fossil fuel, and many of
them have already been demolished. We're going to have to make things
on a smaller scale by other means. Perhaps we will have to use more
water power. The truth is, we don't know yet how we're going to make
anything. This is something that the younger generations can put their
minds and muscles into.

7. The age of canned entertainment is coming to and end. It was fun
for a while. We liked "Citizen Kane" and the Beatles. But we're going
to have to make our own music and our own drama down the road. We're
going to need playhouses and live performance halls. We're going to
need violin and banjo players and playwrights and scenery-makers, and
singers. We'll need theater managers and stage-hands. The Internet is
not going to save canned entertainment. The Internet will not work so
well if the electricity is on the fritz half the time (or more).

8. We'll have to reorganize the education system. The centralized
secondary school systems based on the yellow school bus fleets will
not survive the coming decades. The huge investments we have made in
these facilities will impede the transition out of them, but they will
fail anyway. Since we will be a less-affluent society, we probably
won't be able to replace these centralized facilities with smaller and
more equitably distributed schools, at least not right away.
Personally, I believe that the next incarnation of education will grow
out of the home schooling movement, as home schooling efforts
aggregate locally into units of more than one family. God knows what
happens beyond secondary ed. The big universities, both public and
private, may not be salvageable. And the activity of higher ed itself
may engender huge resentment by those foreclosed from it. But anyone
who learns to do long division and write a coherent paragraph will be
at a great advantage -- and, in any case, will probably out-perform
today's average college graduate. One thing for sure: teaching
children is not liable to become an obsolete line-of-work, as compared
to public relations and sports marketing. Lots to do here, and lots to
think about. Get busy, future teachers of America.

9. We have to reorganize the medical system. The current skein of
intertwined rackets based on endless Ponzi buck passing scams will not
survive the discontinuities to come. We will probably have to return
to a model of service much closer to what used to be called
"doctoring." Medical training may also have to change as the big
universities run into trouble functioning. Doctors of the 21st century
will certainly drive fewer German cars, and there will be fewer
opportunities in the cosmetic surgery field. Let's hope that we don't
slide so far back that we forget the germ theory of disease, or the
need to wash our hands, or the fundamentals of pharmaceutical science.
Lots to do here for the unsqueamish.

10. Life in the USA will have to become much more local, and virtually
all the activities of everyday life will have to be re-scaled. You can
state categorically that any enterprise now supersized is likely to
fail -- everything from the federal government to big corporations to
huge institutions. If you can find a way to do something practical and
useful on a smaller scale than it is currently being done, you are
likely to have food in your cupboard and people who esteem you. An
entire social infrastructure of voluntary associations, co-opted by
the narcotic of television, needs to be reconstructed. Local
institutions for care of the helpless will have to be organized. Local
politics will be much more meaningful as state governments and federal
agencies slide into complete impotence. Lots of jobs here for local

So, that's the task list for now. Forgive me if I left things out.
Quit wishing and start doing. The best way to feel hopeful about the
future is to get off your ass and demonstrate to yourself that you are
a capable, competent individual resolutely able to face new

James Howard Kunstler is a leading writer on the topic of peak oil the
problems it poses for American suburbia. Deeply concerned about the
future of our petroleum dependent society, Kunstler believes we must
take radical steps to avoid the total meltdown of modern society in
the face looming oil and gas shortages. For background on this topic,
read Kunstler's essay, "Pricey Gas, That's Reality."


Posted by drydem on October 22, 2008, 9:54 am
The original author assuming that oil become so expensive that
its usage in certain applications are no longer economically


Vehicles will likely run on an alternative energy or
use some hybrid (multi energy source) system.
Mass Transit and human powered vehicles will
probably be part of the solution but not the entire

The cost of transporting foodstuff may
provide an economic advantage to
local producers and reverse the current
trend of the globalization of the agricultural
business. The energy cost of creating
foodstuff may rise unless new ways are
found to lower agricultural energy cost.

The energy cost penalty for suburbia
will push more people to take residency
in urban areas.  Urban planners will
attempt to merge employment centers,
commerical/retail centers, and
residential communities together.
Vehicle parking will be a problem..
Current *Smart growth* concepts lack
many economic needs like distribution
warehouse hubs, heavy manufacturing
sites, etc.

The US Trucking system will probaby survive via
biodiesel and other hybrid/alternative fuel systems.
The aging railroad system in the USA will likely
be nationalized before it is completely
modernized. Seaport will be expanded in
the near future for the next generation of super
size cargo container ships.  Large ships
will probably depend on some form of alternative
fuel (wind won't do) so shipping cost will
go up.   An economic recession will put
Condos and other waterfront properties
construction on hold atleast for now. Whats
more likely is the building of huge array of wind
turbine along the coastline/continental shelf
which will be use to supply the coastal
population with cheap affordable electricity
in much the same way hydro electric dams
provide cheap electricity for the surrounding

Walmat and other big boxes will survive making
their warehouses and stores "green" - However
the real challenge will be to attract customers
drive to their stores ( big box retail requires the
support of larger customer/retail market radius)
I suspect that the price differential between regular
retail and big box retail may have to be signficant,
but other driving consumer demands may also
come into play.

Not necessarily.
A trend back to manufacturing in the USA
would require a geographic economic model
where  the total cost of production and distribution
between alternative regions are competitive.
Energy cost is only one component in the total
cost - labor, capital, materials, and taxes also
play an important role.

With Giga Wifi and optical fiber - online video streaming will likely
become a
mainstream form of entertainment.  Online video stream not only will
globalize the entertainment industry it may lead to access to a
more numerous, smaller, independent, low production cost, forms
of  entertainment, e.g. your neighbhor banjo player will be accessible
around the world via youtube, itunes, or amazon.com.

Governments will continue to use public education as a form of
socialization  to create loyality among its citizenry. School
performance will continue to be uneven for a variety of reasons .
Home schooling will stay on the fringes because most parents
can't teach.

 If it hurts when you touch it - don't touch it.  :-P

The rich will go on as usual.
The poor will be adversely effected.
The middle class will continue to struggle.

The more things change
   the more things will seem to stay the same...9_9

Posted by rpautrey2 on October 22, 2008, 6:49 pm
 I posted the article as
'Food For Thought'.


Posted by Joel Koltner on October 23, 2008, 5:09 pm
Sounds like you'd be quite at home with the folks in the movie, "The Village"
(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368447/ ), yes?

Nothing wrong with that, and I'm all for folks voluntarily doing what you
suggest... the sticky part is when one group tries to force another to
decrease their standard of living.

Posted by rpautrey2 on October 23, 2008, 5:29 pm
I've never seen or heard of that movie
but I followed your link and read the
review/comments. The answer to
your question is yes and no.



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