A Future View of America
The magnitude of the energy crisis we now face in the U.S. cannot be overstated. It is not just about cutting the emission of greenhouse gases, the increasing price of petroleum or the fact that we are dependent for oil on countries that only hold us in high regard as customers. It is about the fact that our entire physical landscape and a large part of our social and economic interactions are predicated on the assumption of cheap petroleum, an assumption that is no longer valid.
Petroleum will continue to rise in price as I have consistently predicted in this column. We are most likely going through peak oil and when we accept responsibility for contributing to global warming we realize that all fossil fuels and the burning of them has incredibly dire unintended consequences. In addition we are a debtor nation with a crumbling and in need of repair infrastructure. Where is this leading us?
I have long been a fan of James Howard Kunstler’s book ‘The Long Emergency’ and have recommended it to many people. [In addition his blog is one I recommend in conversation and have recommended on my links page since the inception of Evolution Shift.] This best selling book details in a persuasive manner the coming deconstruction of American society due to the converging crises mentioned above. Having read this non-fiction book from a novelist, it was no surprise to find that Kunstler was writing a novel about €˜post long emergency’ America. It is called ‘World Made By Hand’ and I have just finished reading it.
As the title implies, the post petroleum America has devolved into a landscape of local communities getting by through a return to the handmade world of the early 1800s. The decline of oil production, the effects of global warming, the destruction of Washington D.C. and LA by terrorist nuclear bombs and large, deathly epidemics that swept through the population have reduced society to living locally, acting locally, no electricity, getting by with the social fabric always placed at risk by anarchic elements. This picture of the future is made entirely plausible by Kunstler with a prose that is atmospheric and very humanistic. It is a beautifully written novel that creates the feeling of a town that remembers the past and is struggling to hold that memory with the present day reality of a much reduced way of life.
As a futurist, I am always looking at patterns, trends and forces to get a sense and vision of what lies ahead. I do not think that the picture lyrically presented in ‘World Made By Hand’ will occur. I think that the ever increasing focus on and investment in alternative energy sources, the constant innovation of technological invention and the threats to human survival now looming to which we must respond, will all cause us to narrowly escape the future Kunstler paints in his novel. That being said, there is a possibility that this picture could prove to be the correct one of the future.
The hope here is that this book gets a wide readership as it should be a cautionary tale as to what our continued lack of governmental leadership, complacency relative to conservation and energy, addiction to wasteful, destructive lifestyles and land use might let happen. While the bucolic life described in the town of Union Grove in the book may be attractive to some, it is not one that most of us want forced upon us. Reading this book points out how fragile our way of life might actually be if we continue to live it as we have.