Let’s hope Mr. Kunstler is wrong about alternative sources of energy. It’s easy to label him a pessimist and ignore his message. Remember that the U.S. ignored the many warnings prior to 9/11 about terrorists flying planes into buildings because it was inconceivable.
Right here I am compelled to inform you that the prospects for alternative fuels are poor. We suffer from a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome in this country. We believe that if you wish for something, it will come true. Right now a lot of people – including people who ought to know better – are wishing for some miracle technology to save our collective ass.
There is not going to be a hydrogen economy. The hydrogen economy is a fantasy. It is not going to happen. We may be able to run a very few things on hydrogen – but we are not going to replace the entire US automobile fleet with hydrogen fuel cell cars.
Nor will we replace the current car fleet with electric cars or natural gas cars. We’re just going to use cars a lot less. Fewer trips. Cars will be a diminished presence in our lives.
Wind power and solar electric will not produce significant amounts of power within the context of the way we live now.
Ethanol and bio-deisel are a joke. They require more energy to produce than they give back. You know how you get ethanol: you produce massive amounts of corn using huge oil and gas ‘inputs’ of fertilizer and pesticide and then you use a lot more energy to turn the corn into ethanol. It’s a joke.
No combination of alternative fuel systems currently known will allow us to run what we are running, the way we’re running it, or even a substantial fraction of it.
The future is therefore telling us very loudly that we will have to change the way we live in this country. The implications are clear: we will have to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do.
The downscaling of America is a tremendous and inescapable project. It is the master ecological project of our time. We will have to do it whether we like it or not. We are not prepared.
Downscaling America doesn’t mean we become a lesser people. It means that the scale at which we conduct the work of American daily life will have to be adjusted to fit the requirements of a post-globalist, post-cheap-oil age.
We are going to have to live a lot more locally and a lot more intensively on that local level. Industrial agriculture, as represented by the Archer Daniels Midland / soda pop and cheez doodle model of doing things, will not survive the end of the cheap oil economy.
The implication of this is enormous. Successful human ecologies in the near future will have to be supported by intensively farmed agricultural hinterlands. Places that can’t do this will fail. Say goodbye to Phoenix and Las Vegas.
I’m not optimistic about most of our big cities. They are going to have to contract severely. They achieved their current scale during the most exuberant years of the cheap oil fiesta, and they will have enormous problems remaining viable afterward.
Any mega-structure, whether it is a skyscraper or a landscraper – buildings that depend on huge amounts of natural gas and electricity – may not be usable a decade or two in the future.