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The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, andOther Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Howard Kunstler (2005, read in 2020)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is a non-fiction book-length discussion of the end of oil—and the massive impact this will have on a society nearly completely predicated on cheap, non-renewable energy produced over millions of years. It ranges wide and far and includes intelligent and well-written analyses of all of the parts of our world that will have to change—whether we want them to or not. He discusses car culture, suburbs, poorly designed societies, climate change, big finance, the mortgage collapse (before it happened), pandemics (before it happened in the west), and much, much more.

The book starts with a bleak but accurate assessment of American society—from hyper-consumerism to happy motoring to ex-ex-exurbs. It continues with a discussion of what oil is and where it comes from—oil in particular because its the most flexible of the various energy sources currently available to us—and even of others that we can currently conceive of.

“Oil is an amazing substance. It stores a tremendous amount of energy per weight and volume. It is easy to transport. It stores easily at regular air temperature in unpressurized metal tanks, and it can sit there indefinitely without degrading. You can pump it through a pipe, you can send it all over the world in ships, you can haul it around in trains, cars, and trucks, you can even fly it in tanker planes and refuel other airplanes in flight […]”

The book is split into section after prophetic section, discussing how nearly everything in our modern society is possible thanks to the high-density energy of cheap fossil fuels. The United States depends on natural gas for heating and producing many of its resources—including nearly all of the fertilizer without which not a single crop would grow.

Kunstler defines what Peak Oil actually means: it’s the point at which the world has used up half of the oil supply in the world. He points out that the half we’ve used is also very much the more easily obtained half—and that much of the second half won’t be able to be obtained at all. It won’t be worth it, not only economically, but in the more prosaic and realistic measure of how much energy it would take to extract it. While the energy needed to harvest fossil fuels used to be a couple of dozen to one, we’re now lucky to get two or three to one.

The U.S. hit peak oil nearly 45 years ago now; it has never again produced as much oil as it did then. It has also long since hit peak natural-gas. Kunstler wrote his book before shale-oil and fracking took off, but he predicted it perfectly. That the US went for shale oil and fracking is indicative that we’ve hit Peak Oil. Otherwise, no-one would ever have developed such an invasive extraction technology with such poor yields and margins.

There are still those who claim that Peak Oil doesn’t matter—they try to explain it away as peak consumption rather than peak production, but that’s ridiculous. It’s like someone who loses their job saying that there’s no problem with losing their salary. When you meet them a month later, they say they’re doing fine: they’ve started robbing houses instead.

With most of the world having passed the peak, there’s no longer a way of controlling the price of oil because no-one has excess capacity to throw at the market to bring prices back down. That explains the whipsawing of prices over the years. Kunstler also predicted the fragility of fracking—witness the complete implosion of the industry after oil prices cratered due to the world self-isolating for Covid-19.

He doesn’t talk about just oil, though. He also writes about climate change…and pandemics, another thing that could easily trigger the Long Emergency.

“At the same time, the world is overdue for an extreme influenza epidemic. The last major outbreak was the 1918 Spanish influenza, which killed 50 million people worldwide and changed the course of history. […] Disease will certainly play a larger role in the Long Emergency than many can now imagine. An epidemic could paralyze social and economic systems, interrupt global trade, and bring down governments.”

Perhaps it wasn’t such a leap to predict something like this—Kunstler was certainly not alone in doing so—but the timing was just right for reading this book. He’s really a very gifted writer, weaving a convincing, if sobering, picture of the future of humanity,

“Our ability to resist the environmental corrective of disease will probably prove to have been another temporary boon of the cheap-oil age, like air conditioning and lobsters flown daily from Maine to the buffets of Las Vegas. So much of what we construe to be among our entitlements to perpetual progress may prove to have been a strange, marvelous, and anomalous moment in the planet’s history.”

He weaves similarly evocative pictures of just how impossible our world currently is—especially when you realize that the free-energy bonanza on which it rests is winding down.

“Products then moved around the globe in a highly rationalized system, not unlike the oil allocation system, using immense vessels, automated port facilities, and truck-scaled shipping containers at a minuscule cost-per-unit of whatever was made and transported. Shirts or coffeemakers manufactured 12,000 miles away could be shipped to Wal-Marts all over America and sold cheaply.”

He points out that so many economic miracles and turnarounds were almost always due to a newly found bonanza of oil or natural gas. For example, England’s turnaround in the 80s wasn’t because of Thatcher’s economic acumen, but purely because they’d just come into an embarrassment of riches in the North Sea.

His holistic vision encompasses also the financialization of global economics, describing the fire sale of an industrialized society built on fossil fuels as “like a convoluted liquidation sale of the accrued wealth of two hundred years of industrial society for the benefit of a handful of financial buccaneers,”

He’s much more familiar with his home country and takes them especially to task as being utterly unable to think for themselves.

“In effect, Americans threw away their communities in order to save a few dollars on hair dryers and plastic food storage tubs, never stopping to reflect on what they were destroying.”

The world shows itself ideologically incapable of even considering the obvious conclusions based on available data. Instead, faith in the ever-providing markets is the order of the day.

“Because the oil peak phenomenon essentially cancels out further industrial growth of the kind we are used to, its implications lie radically outside their economic paradigm. So the oil peak phenomenon has been discounted to about zero among conventional economists, who assume that “market signals” about oil supplies will inevitably trigger innovation, which, in turn, will cause new technology to materialize and enable further growth.”

The problem is more acute in the U.S., which has taken an oil-drenched lifestyle to an unparalleled extreme. Other advanced societies are also dependent on oil, but it’s still easily possible to live a life even with reduced fossil-fuel supplies. That is, the cities are still livable and can be navigated by foot, bicycle or public transportation, food is produced reasonably sustainably and locally (e.g. without natural-gas-based fertilizers, because “[n]inety-five percent of the nitrogenous fertilizers used in America are made out of natural gas”). Not so in the U.S. Just as an example, Kunstler writes that by 1974 “85 percent of Americans drove to work every day.” and that “[b]y the 1990s, American households were making a record eleven separate car trips a day running errands and chauffeuring children around.”

The U.S. is in deep trouble, much deeper than other places. This is also due to a complete political paralysis and fear of telling the truth or even of acknowledging reality.

“No politician wants to tell voters that the American Dream has been canceled for a lack of energy resources. The U.S. economy would disintegrate. So, whichever party is in power has tended to ignore the issue or change the subject, or spin it into the realm of delusion”

Kunstler stumbles in two areas: The first is foreign policy in the Middle East in the 70s and 80s, where his lens is still too U.S.-centric, as hard as that is to believe. The other is the short chapter on racism, where he’s got some decent points to make, but still ends up making them as a boorish, victim-blaming old white guy who doesn’t quite believe in systemic racism.

For example, he describes the 21st-century war on Islam as “[w]e are therefore at war with that community—not because of our choosing but because it has declared war on us.” It’s understood that the book was written only a few years after 9/11, but it’s not like that was the first act of war—Kunstler could have mentioned something along those lines.

Just as another example, here’s how he wrote about the WMD inspections in Iraq:

“Since the UN team was prevented from completing the search, the United States had to do it in person. The fact that nothing was found by American forces after the 2003 invasion does not prove that we didn’t have to look.”

He fails to note that this is because vassal nations must be brought to heel and occupation is the punishment/answer. The logic is so internalized.

Kunstler is at his best when he’s calmly expounding on his main thesis: We are shredding through millions of years of stored non-renewable energy in a couple of centuries. The society we built with it is utterly unsustainable when that energy is no longer available in that form.

“Natural hydrocarbons represent millennia of stored solar power collected by plants and distilled by geologic accident. The flare given off by igniting an ounce of charcoal starter lasts a few seconds, but the energy was derived from, say, a prehistoric tree fern absorbing sunshine for nine years.”
“Also, once these complex systems and their subsystems halt their operations, restarting them may range from difficult to impossible—the Humpty Dumpty syndrome.”

At the time the book was written, fuel cells were all the rage, in particular fuel-cell cars. In the ensuing 15 years, we’ve instead seen the rise of the electric car—Kunstler’s devastating critique of the lack of viability of building cars at all—rescuing the happy motoring culture without the fossil fuels—applies just as well to electric cars. He described Tesla 10 years before it even produced a single car.

As Kunstler points out, a lot of the cures for the end of cheap energy are based on still having access to that cheap energy. This will be the case, even after peak oil or peak natural-gas, for quite some time. That is, there is a certain (limited) supply of still-cheap energy with which we could possibly transition to something that no longer requires us to have access to cheap-energy stores—or at least we should have access to renewable cheap-energy stores. Unfortunately, as long as we have the cheap supply, we continue to spend it uselessly, on frivolities, rather than investing it on a bridge to a more sustainable future.

There is a fantastic section where Kunstler explains the history of the U.S. from the 1970s until 2004 purely in terms of drivers based on the need for oil. And oil it has to be, because of the properties outlined above: it’s very portable. As Kunstler points out, nuclear fission can’t solve many of society’s needs because “most of America’s energy needs are for things that electricity can’t do very well, if at all”.

Unlike other visions of the future (e.g. Hariri’s book), Kunstler addresses climate change seriously and in-depth. He discusses the different regions of the U.S., dissecting the problems each region faces and the degree to which it could survive a long emergency. Kunstler’s region in the Northeast would survive the best. The Southwest, with its utter lack of arable land and water, would fare the worst. It would have to be abandoned in any halfway-realistic scenario.

As already noted above, Kunstler sees quite well that a potential trigger for the Long Emergency could be virus. Reading this book now really makes you think whether the U.S. has been accelerated into a stage of the Long Emergency that the rest of the world has been able to avoid (for now). Kunstler writes,

“It takes seven months or more to create, test, manufacture, and distribute a vaccine developed in direct response to a new virus, and by that time the disease can burn through global populations. If a pandemic broke out today, hospital facilities would be overwhelmed. Nurses and doctors would be infected along with the rest of the population.”

Kunstler puts the nail in America’s coffin by noting—again—that the U.S. is ideologically incapable of doing anything about any of the myriad problems it has created for itself. The U.S. also has made many problems for itself that the nearly all of the rest of its contemporaries have avoided (excluding the UK, which at least has an NHS, despite its attempts to dismantle it).

“[…] we in America flatter ourselves to think that we are above this kind of general catastrophe—because our technologic prowess during the cheap-oil fiesta was so marvelous that all future problems are (supposedly) guaranteed to be solved by similar applications of ingenuity

“[…]

“Americans didn’t question the validity of the suburban sprawl economy. They accepted it at face value as the obvious logical outcome of their hopes and dreams and defended it viciously against criticism. They steadfastly ignored its salient characteristic: that it had no future either as an economy or as a living arrangement. Each further elaboration of the suburban system made it less likely to survive any change in conditions,”

Other countries think this, to some degree, but not nearly the degree to which the U.S. does. They were at least smart enough to make backup plans. For example, many European countries retain a dense, largely electrical, rail network that they use for at least 50% of their freight—and which could be ramped up to replace the capacity lost when trucks are no longer able to get enough fuel or the roads can no longer be sufficiently maintained. Kunstler writes, “it’s worth reiterating that a failure to get comprehensive passenger rail service going will be a sign of how fundamentally unserious we are as a society.”

And what is the main driver of the world’s problems? Big finance, big corporations, globalization, the complete disavowal of national allegiance by society’s biggest members.

“Globalism was operated by oligarchical corporations on the gigantic scale, made possible by cheap oil. By “oligarchical” I mean that power was vested in small numbers of people running large organizations who were not accountable for their actions to many of the people who were subject to those actions. By “corporation,” I mean a group enterprise given the legal status of a “person,” with “rights,” but in fact devoid of any human qualities of ethics, humility, mercy, duty, or loyalty that would constrain those rights. (Emphasis added.)”

We see this playing out right now with corporations in not just the U.S. (e.g. German car manufacturers) are vacuuming up bailout money despite not having paid taxes in their supposed home countries for years. A particularly egregious example is Carnival Cruise Lines, which sees fit to incorporate in Panama, but chirpily takes bailout money, all the while promulgating a business model that hasn’t a chance in hell of working in a post-Covid-19 world.

Kunstler points out the moral bankruptcy of the conceit that a corporation like Wal-Mart simply “competes” with local businesses on an even footing.

“Wal-Mart was considered the theoretical equal of Bob the appliance store owner, and if Bob happened to lose in the retail competition because he couldn’t order 50,000 coffee-makers at a crack from a factory 12,000 miles away in Hangzhou, and receive a deep discount for being such an important customer, well, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t been given the chance.

“[…]

“One group had all the cheap labor and another group had all the capital, and for a while one group made all the things that the other group “consumed.” Thus, comparative advantage became, for a time, a con game strictly for the benefit of large corporations, which ended up enjoying all the advantages while the localities sucked up the costs.”

On the back on this kind of feedback loop that benefitted the right people, more and more of the privileged—the elite—would take part in an orgy of investment that had nothing to with any useful economic activity.

“Finance came to be viewed as a productive activity itself rather than a means to promote production. The public was no longer buying stock to invest in enterprises that would pay dividends over time, but merely because one could get rich from buying and selling stocks.”

Not only that, but whatever real economy (e.g. manufacturing and agriculture) wasn’t replaced with finance was then replaced with a “service industry” instead.

“[…] the myth of a service economy to replace the old manufacturing economy. I say “myth” because it was essentially absurd. It was like the old joke about the village that prospered because the inhabitants were all employed taking in each other’s laundry.”

On that backs of all of these poor decisions, Kunstler saw the housing/mortgage crisis coming in 2004 already. He wasn’t alone—many other non-mainstream economists, like Dean Baker, did as well—but it’s to his credit that he saw it then, and wrote so eloquently and presciently on the shape it would take. E.g. “By the time you read this, it is very likely that the housing bubble will have begun to come to grief.” I read that sentence a dozen years after the housing bubble had unequivocally triggered the largest world global financial crisis the world had even seen. It remains to be seen whether the global stagnation engendered by Covid-19 measures tops it.

This is all to say that the U.S. is basically running the world in a fashion that doesn’t accept limits—it simply ignores them, even when obviously imposed by physics. This is a fantasy world sustained only temporarily by cheap oil. This basic attitude affects everything….and negatively. As long as enough of the people that matter believe this fantasy—or profit from it—then it will continue, by pure inertia. It will only stop when it finally hits a hard limit. And that limit will not be kind, it will not be gentle. Thus ensues the Long Emergency.

Citations

“It is my view, for instance, that in the decades to come the national government will prove to be so impotent and ineffective in managing the enormous vicissitudes we face that the United States may not survive as a nation in any meaningful sense but rather will devolve into a set of autonomous regions.”
Location 93-96
“So, I hazard to assert that as oil ceases to be cheap and the world reserves arc toward depletion, we will indeed suddenly be left with an enormous surplus population—with apologies to both Charles Dickens and Jonathan Swift—that the ecology of the earth will not support. No political program of birth control will avail. The people are already here. The journey back to non-oil population homeostasis will not be pretty. We will discover the hard way that population hypergrowth was simply a side effect of the oil age.”
Location 200-203
“At the same time, the world is overdue for an extreme influenza epidemic. The last major outbreak was the 1918 Spanish influenza, which killed 50 million people worldwide and changed the course of history.”
Location 256-258
“Disease will certainly play a larger role in the Long Emergency than many can now imagine. An epidemic could paralyze social and economic systems, interrupt global trade, and bring down governments.”
Location 260-261
“At the very least, the Long Emergency will be a time of diminished life spans for many of us, as well as reduced standards of living—at least as understood within the current social context. Fossil fuels had the effect of temporarily raising the carrying capacity of the earth. Our ability to resist the environmental corrective of disease will probably prove to have been another temporary boon of the cheap-oil age, like air conditioning and lobsters flown daily from Maine to the buffets of Las Vegas. So much of what we construe to be among our entitlements to perpetual progress may prove to have been a strange, marvelous, and anomalous moment in the planet’s history.”
Location 266-272
“Factories could be started up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, where swollen populations furnished trainable workers willing to labor for much less than those back in the United States or Europe. Products then moved around the globe in a highly rationalized system, not unlike the oil allocation system, using immense vessels, automated port facilities, and truck-scaled shipping containers at a minuscule cost-per-unit of whatever was made and transported. Shirts or coffeemakers manufactured 12,000 miles away could be shipped to Wal-Marts all over America and sold cheaply.”
Location 278-283
“Meanwhile, among economists and government figures, globalism developed the sexy glow of an intellectual fad. Globalism allowed them to believe that burgeoning wealth in the developed countries, and the spread of industrial activity to formerly primitive regions, was based on the potency of their own ideas and policies rather than on cheap oil.”
Location 292-295
“Thatcher’s success in reviving England coincided with a fantastic new revenue stream from North Sea oil,”
Location 296-297
“The rise of computers, in turn, promoted the fantasy that commerce in sheer information would be the long-sought replacement for all the played-out activities of the smokestack economy. A country like America, it was now thought, no longer needed steelmaking or tire factories or other harsh, dirty, troublesome enterprises. Let the poor masses of Asia and South America have them and lift themselves up from agricultural peonage. America would outsource all this old economy stuff and use computers to orchestrate the movement of parts and the assembly of products from distant quarters of the world, and then sell the stuff in our own Kmarts and Wal-Marts, which would become global juggernauts of retailing.”
Location 304-309
“It was also like a convoluted liquidation sale of the accrued wealth of two hundred years of industrial society for the benefit of a handful of financial buccaneers,”
Location 330-331
“That this development was uniformly greeted as a public good by the vast majority of Americans, at the same time that their local economies were being destroyed—and with them, myriad social and civic benefits—is one of the greater enigmas of recent social history. In effect, Americans threw away their communities in order to save a few dollars on hair dryers and plastic food storage tubs, never stopping to reflect on what they were destroying.”
Location 345-349
“I would have to suppose that the seasons of civilization will continue with the great cycles of contraction and expansion, and at some point in the future, who knows how many years distant, some of these cities in a land once called America may be robust and cosmopolitan in ways that we can’t imagine now, anymore than a Roman of A.D. 38 might have been able to imagine the future London of the Beatles.”
Location 396-399
“That process is sometimes referred to as an “outside context problem,” something so far beyond the ordinary experience of those dwelling in a certain time and place that they cannot make sense of available information. The collective mental static preventing comprehension is also sometimes referred to as “cognitive dissonance,” a term borrowed from developmental psychology. It helps explain why the American public has been sleepwalking into the future.”
Location 412-415
“Now, exactly a hundred years after the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, I can get on a jet airplane twice the size of a house several times a month and fly halfway across North America in the time it takes to finish a newspaper—and I end up feeling cranky and resentful about the service, to boot! They ran out of pretzels! The air conditioning was set too low!”
Location 446-449
“Because the oil peak phenomenon essentially cancels out further industrial growth of the kind we are used to, its implications lie radically outside their economic paradigm. So the oil peak phenomenon has been discounted to about zero among conventional economists, who assume that “market signals” about oil supplies will inevitably trigger innovation, which, in turn, will cause new technology to materialize and enable further growth. If the market signals are not triggering innovation, then the problem must be overstated and growth under the oil regime will resume—after, say, a normal periodic downcycle. This is obvious casuistry, but casuistry can be a great comfort when a problem has no real solution.”
Location 521-527
“Our investment in an oil-addicted way of life—specifically the American Dream of suburbia and all its trappings—is now so inordinately large that it is too late to salvage all the national wealth wasted on building it, or to continue that way of life more than a decade or so into the future. What’s more, as we have outsourced manufacturing to other countries, the entire U.S. economy has become more and more dependent on continued misinvestment in American Dream suburbia and its accessories. No politician wants to tell voters that the American Dream has been canceled for a lack of energy resources. The U.S. economy would disintegrate. So, whichever party is in power has tended to ignore the issue or change the subject, or spin it into the realm of delusion”
Location 532-537
“Oil is an amazing substance. It stores a tremendous amount of energy per weight and volume. It is easy to transport. It stores easily at regular air temperature in unpressurized metal tanks, and it can sit there indefinitely without degrading. You can pump it through a pipe, you can send it all over the world in ships, you can haul it around in trains, cars, and trucks, you can even fly it in tanker planes and refuel other airplanes in flight. It is flammable but has proven to be safe to handle with a modest amount of care by people with double-digit IQs.”
Location 580-584
“But the base price of a barrel of oil did eventually more than quadruple by the time the embargo was called off in March 1974. And the price rise alone staggered the West and Japan. Already at that time, public transit was a thing of the past and about 85 percent of Americans drove to work every day.”
Position 842-844
“The hostage crisis, which lasted more than a year, finished President Carter politically. Militant Islam’s singling out the United States as the Great Satan among all the other industrialized nations launched a bitter culture clash that continues to this day. Before the hostage crisis was over, Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded neighboring Iran, an acting-out of age-old Arab-Persian religious schisms, border disputes, and political beefs.”
Position 958-962

Thats an overly generous removal of US agency from the whole affair.

“(In consequence, the Soviet oil endowment passed peak in 1986 and three years later the Soviet experiment collapsed.)”
Position 970-971

Kind of suggesting a bit heavily that the Soviet Union died because of that.

“President Ronald Reagan was a cornucopian who believed that the oil supply was virtually limitless.”
Position 983-984

If he thought about it at all.

“By the 1990s, American households were making a record eleven separate car trips a day running errands and chauffeuring children around.”
Position 1013-1014
“In Venezuela, which accounted for 12 percent of America’s oil imports, socialist President Hugo Chavez had wreaked havoc on the national oil industry by firing managers who opposed him politically. Production fell substantially and there was speculation that Venezuela, which had peaked in the 1970s, had such a battered, ancient, poorly maintained drilling infrastructure that production would never recover from the Chavez purge of expertise.”
Position 1045-1048

While possibly technically accurate, this a needlessly ungenerous depiction.

“Communism merely said, “We will bury you,” and Comrade Khrushchev meant that in terms of economic and social progress.”
Position 1081-1082

Nice.

“The avatars of inflamed Islam want to utterly destroy the infidel West, and its Great Satan seducer, the United States, and they mean down to the last beating heart.”
Position 1082-1083

Not so good. He should have followed with: and the US wants them to fuck off forever and let it keep exploiting their lands.

“Another Islamic nation, Iran, ruled by mullahs who inveigh ceaselessly against America and its allies, is transparently building a nuclear industry that can be used for either electric power generation or bomb-making—take your pick.”
Position 1101-1102

Not true.

“We have tried to be nice and we have tried to be harsh. Nothing works, and nothing is going to work.”
Position 1102-1103

Also not true. Because being fair isn’t on the table.

“We are therefore at war with that community—not because of our choosing but because it has declared war on us.”
Position 1123-1123

Are you fucking kidding me.

“This leads to other forms of impotence, such as our chronic failure to respond to tactical insults such as the first World Trade Center bombing, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, the Khobar Towers incident, or the bombing of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the attack on an international residential compound in Riyadh,”
Position 1130-1132

How is establishing forward operating bases in those countries not a response?

“our hesitation to engage wholeheartedly or to complete any military affray we find ourselves in, whether it is against Iraq in 1991 or Somalia, or giving the Taliban a month to escape from Afghanistan after 9/11, or the 2004 Shi’ite insurgency in Iraq.”
Position 1132-1134

This has not aged well.

“The public has heard “experts” and “Cassandras” cry wolf about oil before—and no wolf appeared, life continued normally, so why take them seriously this time? Many people consider the peak oil story another fantasy brought to us by the same alarmists who said that the Y2K computer bug would bring on the end of the world as we know it.”
Position 1155-1157

The problem of prediction, like my recent article about facemasks.

“But it may be in the nature of crises that the conditions leading to them are ignored until it is too late to do anything about them. It may be hard to form a clear picture of a complex situation through a fog of facts and statistics.”
Position 1163-1165

Ditto.

“The denial about global peak in the United States is already fierce, as investments in car-dependent, oil-addicted infrastructure are greater here than in any other nation and Americans consider their way of life a God-given entitlement. “The American way of life is not negotiable,” vice-president Dick Cheney once famously remarked.”
Position 1204-1206
“That decision, perhaps foolish in hindsight, was based on Nasser’s flirtation with socialism and his cozying up to the Soviet Union, which had supplied Egypt with massive amounts of advanced weaponry, including scores of MIG fighter-bombers, in an attempt to promote conflict with Israel.”
Position 1282-1284

Fine, except for the last bit. The Soviet Union had beef with Israel?

“American policy for the past quarter-century has been based on the delusion that Saudi Arabia is stable and that America can enjoy regular supplies of its oil at a fair price indefinitely.”
Position 1400-1401

It endures 16 years later. Wo could have predicted MBS?

“Because the Arabian birth rate is among the highest in the world, the annual oil welfare allotment of ordinary Saudi subjects—that is, non-royal family members—fell from a high of $28,600 in 1981 to less than $7,000 in 2003. Seventy percent of all jobs in the kingdom and 90 percent of private sector jobs are filled by foreigners.”
Position 1411-1414
“In short, with China becoming a presence by necessity in the region, we would be back in a cold war again, or something worse, contesting with a rival world hegemon, this time over energy resources, not ideology.”
Position 1489-1490

Interesting. The last time was also resources in a way. We need vassal nations. Markets. Cheap labor. Countries that become communist are no longer resources for the hegemon.

“Since the UN team was prevented from completing the search, the United States had to do it in person. The fact that nothing was found by American forces after the 2003 invasion does not prove that we didn’t have to look.”
Position 1530-1531

Because vassal nations must be brought to heel and occupation is the punishment/answer. The logic is so internalized.

“That Saddam was not involved in the 9/11 attacks was no guarantee that he would refrain from sponsoring terrorist acts in the future. In fact, the 9/11 attacks might have inspired him to try an extravaganza of his own. In the midst of an international Islamic uprising, the last thing the United States needed in the Middle East was a maverick maniac in a geographically pivotal position. And so the eviction of Saddam became inevitable.”
Position 1536-1539

Literally Cheney’s one-percent doctrine.

“One is that attempting to democratize Iraq is a folly. This may be so. But by “democratize,” we mainly mean holding elections so the Iraqi people can choose their own government. It doesn’t mean forcing them to adopt a menu of permanent democratic institutions against their will.”
Position 1558-1560

This did not age well and he should have known better.

“Ultimately, the United States might be driven out by a combination of Iraqi resistance and political pressure back home. We certainly can’t expect to occupy Iraq forever, or even for a modest fraction of forever.”
Position 1564-1566

Or can we? Sixteen years later and we’re still there, building bases.

“In short, Iran is surrounded by American military force, within minutes of striking by air. This must make the Iranians extremely uncomfortable. We ought to hope that it doesn’t make them crazy. Americans also need to consider how long we can keep all these troops in place and in a state of readiness. The expense alone must be forbidding.”
Position 1601-1603

Again, not even one sentence wondering what gives us the right to push Iran around.

“For all that, the election that took place in October 2004 was a remarkable first in that nation”
Position 1615-1616

Not true. They had a socialist government once.

“It may have been a grave mistake that the United States waited nearly a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to launch its counterattack, because it gave the leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda plenty of time to escape next door into the friendly precincts of sovereign Pakistani territory.”
Position 1611-1613

Yeah that was the problem. Still there sixteen years later.

“However honorable he may be, though, the joke is that he is president of Kabul. He is certainly brave, inasmuch as he has already survived more than a couple of assassination attempts. In any case, American soldiers are there to protect him for the time being.”
Position 1617-1619

Also has not aged well.

“its military and intelligence services riddled with Islamic fundamentalists,”
Position 1624-1624

Does anyone ever describe the Pentagon as riddled with Christian fundamentalists?

“Eventually, all the nations will have to contend with the problems of the Long Emergency: the end of industrial growth, falling standards of living, economic desperation, declining food production, and domestic political strife. A point will be reached when the great powers of the world no longer have the means to project their power any distance. Even nuclear weapons may become inoperable, considering how much their careful maintenance depends on other technological systems linked to our fossil fuel economy.”
Position 1732-1736
“I believe the Pacific coast of North America will be especially vulnerable to raids emanating from the disintegrating nations of Asia.”
Position 1751-1751

Did the ocean get smaller?

“To some degree, all of the non-fossil fuel energy sources actually depend on an underlying fossil fuel economy. You can’t manufacture metal wind turbines using wind energy technology. You can’t make lead-acid storage batteries for solar electric systems using any known solar energy systems.”
Position 1763-1765
“This age-old tendency of humans to believe in magical deliverance and to wish for happy outcomes has been aggravated by the very technological triumphs that the oil age brought into existence. Technology itself has become a kind of supernatural force, one that has demonstrably delivered all kinds of miracles within the memory of many people now living—everything from airplane travel to moving pictures to heart transplants.”
Position 1773-1776
“It is not as versatile as gasoline, but it does a lot of tasks beautifully. Gas is the feedstock—the raw material—for a wide array of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. Ninety-five percent of the nitrogenous fertilizers used in America are made out of natural gas, and so it has become indispensable to U.S. agriculture.”
Position 1801-1804
“Both the mining and the washing require huge amounts of energy, and it has been proposed that any commercial exploitation of the Alberta tar sands would take 20 percent of Canada’s total natural gas production. In the long run, it might not be worth expending the energy from gas to get the energy from the tar sands. If oil from the tar sands themselves were used to process more tar sands, the return would be three barrels of oil for every two consumed.”
Position 1872-1875
“In the early days of conventional oil in Texas, the ERoEI formula was very favorable, around twenty to one. The oil was found close to the surface on dry land in temperate places easy to work in, and it gushed out of the ground under its own pressure.”
Position 1878-1880
“Going a bit further, the fundamental equations that support all gigantic global economic organisms, from oil companies to Wal-Mart to nation-states, may no longer obtain, and human life would have to reorganize its activities on a different basis. Also, once these complex systems and their subsystems halt their operations, restarting them may range from difficult to impossible—the Humpty Dumpty syndrome.”
Position 1889-1891
“Natural hydrocarbons represent millennia of stored solar power collected by plants and distilled by geologic accident. The flare given off by igniting an ounce of charcoal starter lasts a few seconds, but the energy was derived from, say, a prehistoric tree fern absorbing sunshine for nine years.”
Position 1957-1959
“Oil and gas are nonrenewable and limited in supply. We can’t fabricate them artificially from free elemental hydrogen and carbon without energy inputs that would exceed the fuel value of the hydrocarbons made.”
Position 1959-1961

But you could use wind and solar, which is free or at least ephemeral.

“For instance, unless the hydrogen and fuel-cell system of personal transport was as democratically affordable to the broad public as the oil-based system was, how can we expect it to be politically acceptable? It has certainly been demonstrated that a fuel-cell car can be built—at least an expensive prototype. But what if it can be mass-produced only at a price that puts it in the luxury category for ordinary people? What if such cars can’t be marketed for less than $80,000 (in 2005 dollars)?”
Position 2010-2013

Very prescient. He’s describing Tesla.

“However, the psychology of previous investment, aggravated by our national mythology about individualism and country living, has so far prevented mainstream America from even considering this alternative. We’ve poured so much money into suburbia and its accessories that we cannot now allow ourselves to imagine giving it up.”
Position 2019-2021
“Hydroelectricity also raises a fundamental question that I will address below in detail: Can we even build the plants and equipment without an underlying base of cheap fossil fuel?”
Position 2105-2106
“If the DOE estimate of potential sites is correct, the United States could boost hydroelectric capacity by roughly 50 percent of its current level. Since hydro makes up only 10 percent of total U.S. electric generation, we would gain the equivalent of about 5 percent of total current usage if all the potential hydro sites were put to use. The total includes sites that might be considered environmentally sensitive and so a percentage of them might never be exploited. Hydroelectricity is good but utilizing it to the maximum will only fractionally compensate us for losses in natural gas generation that are sure to come. Hydroelectricity also raises a fundamental question that I will address below in detail: Can we even build the plants and equipment without an underlying base of cheap fossil fuel?”
Position 2101-2106
“The single-family house in a suburban subdivision owes everything to cheap energy and to the broad middle classes that cheap energy has made possible.”
Position 2153-2154
“This is one of the main reasons that electric cars have been such a flop during the past decade: The batteries could not be improved to make them significantly less bulky or lighter, or to increase the travel range between charges. What’s more, electric cars would have carried a base price 30 percent higher than comparable gasoline models, while the batteries would have to be replaced every few years for many thousands of dollars more.”
Position 2201-2204

Though we’ve come to accept these drawbacks more, they still fundamentally apply.

“The advanced nations could consciously commit themselves to dedicating some portion of the world’s remaining oil endowment to the production of wind turbines, solar arrays, and batteries—but don’t count on it happening.”
Position 2243-2245

This did happen, at least to some degree.

“Roman architecture would have been impossible without the complex socioeconomic platform of empire. The medieval social platform for northern European life was less elaborate and arguably less complex. Compare these two historical cases with the complexity of social and economic organization that allows oil to be extracted from the ground, refined to gasoline, transported six thousand miles, and used in a highly engineered, fine-tuned machine called a car, driven on a six-lane freeway. If the social and economic platform fails, how long before the knowledge base dissolves? Two hundred years from now, will anyone know how to build or even repair a 1962 Chrysler slant-six engine? Not to mention a Nordex 1500 kW wind turbine?”
Position 2274-2279
“The existing knowledge in basic physics and chemistry is so widespread that it is likely to persist quite a while into the future and provide a foundation for doing more with less than, say, the people of the eighteenth century were able to do with their more limited knowledge”
Position 2281-2283
“Renewables will not be able to take the place of oil and gas in running those systems. The systems themselves will have to go. Even many “environmentalists” and “greens” of our day seem to think that all we have to do is switch inputs. Instead of running all the air conditioners of Houston on oil- or gas-generated electricity, we’ll use wind farms, or massive solar arrays; we’ll have super-fuel-efficient cars and keep on commuting over the interstate highway system. It isn’t going to happen.”
Position 2292-2296
“Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, canceled the synfuels initiatives altogether because he believed that there wasn’t an energy problem that couldn’t be solved by deregulation and government leaving free enterprise alone. Reagan was lucky.”
Position 2326-2328

This whole section is great: explaining politics through the lens of fossil fuel markets.

“Perhaps the least obvious aspect of the nuclear conundrum is this: Atomic fission is useful for producing electricity, but most of America’s energy needs are for things that electricity can’t do very well, if at all. For instance, you can’t fly airplanes on electric power from nuclear reactors.8The U.S. trucking transport system as currently operated won’t run on electricity alone.”
Position 2544-2548
“In the chaotic world of diminishing and contested energy resources, there will simply be a mad scramble to use up whatever fossil fuels people can manage to lay their hands on. The very idea that we possess any control over the process seems to me further evidence of the delusion gripping our late-industrial culture—the fatuous certainty that technology will save us from the diminishing returns of technology.”
Position 2591-2594
“Without the Gulf Stream, Britain, France, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia would have a climate like Labrador’s, colder by twenty degrees Fahrenheit in annual mean. The Gulf Stream has been likened to an oceanic conveyor belt. The force of the warm water flowing north has been described as equal to the volume of seventy-five Amazon rivers.”
Page 176
“If the major shipping ports of London, Bombay, Yokohama, Norfolk, San Pedro, and so on, end up being submerged, humankind will just have to work around it. The disruptions to world trade might be epochal, gigantic, ultimately tragic. It seems obvious that the human race will simply have to adjust, even if that means adjusting to a new reality of severely lower expectations in living standards, comfort, and amenity. In the meantime, however, there is virtually no public discussion of this prospect in the United States now, no talk about making other arrangements. When the time comes, I suppose, many Americans will just have to move to higher ground.”
Page 185
“Developing nations invariably increase their energy use. More cars are used, more electricity generated, more greenhouse emissions sent into the atmosphere. In the Long Emergency, to borrow a remark from author James Flink, “there will only be two types of nations: the over-developed and those which will never develop.”5 China may represent an amalgamation of those two conditions in one nation-state.”
Page 187
“Especially significant is the stupendous amount of paving laid down in the United States during the past hundred years. It prevents rain from being absorbed as groundwater and sends it instead into rivers, and ultimately into the ocean.”
Page 188
“[…] joint study by a consortium of U.S. agencies and institutes projected that over the first half of the twenty-first century a one-third drop in reservoir levels along the Colorado River would cut hydropower generation by as much as 40 percent. The same study also predicted reduced flows in the Sacramento River and the Columbia River.”
Page 189

This has all come to pass.

“Most Floridians live within ten miles of the coast. On the Atlantic side, they depend on the Biscayne aquifer for their fresh water. More than 90 percent of Florida’s population depends on groundwater as the source of drinking water for public and private wells. If ocean levels rise even marginally, seawater will invade the Biscayne aquifer and Floridians will have to make other arrangements.”
Page 189

This is something most people don’t think about: where does my water come from? “The Store” is a lazy and stupid answer.

“Climate change, competition for water, and polluted water sources will also be exacerbated by failures in the electric grid caused by oil and gas supply disruptions. Even if water is available, localities may lack the power to push it through their treatment plants and municipal pipes.”
Page 190
“As the struggle over the remaining oil and gas intensifies, larger numbers of economic losers will be created, and those economic losers will be underfed, ill-housed, poorly doctored, badly informed, badly behaved, and subject to plummeting life expectancies.”
Page 194
“Despite miraculous advances in medical technology, genetic typing, and immunology, the nations of the world are not much better prepared for a severe flu epidemic than they were for the 1918 outbreak. Epidemic influenza is extremely difficult to counteract. Flu vaccines developed in any given year are notoriously ineffective against new strains that come along the following year. It takes seven months or more to create, test, manufacture, and distribute a vaccine developed in direct response to a new virus, and by that time the disease can burn through global populations. If a pandemic broke out today, hospital facilities would be overwhelmed. Nurses and doctors would be infected along with the rest of the population.”
Page 197
“[…] to act out roles following a script in which a terrorist released smallpox in one eastern U.S. city. The result was sobering to an extreme. The public health system virtually collapsed. Hospitals degenerated into chaos. Smallpox spread to twenty-five states and overseas. The national stockpile of vaccines proved to be deeply inadequate. The exercise was called off after four days from the sheer exhaustion of the participants, while the fictional epidemic was still spreading.”
Page 200
“According to those participating in Dark Winter, the results of a bio-terrorism attack on the United States would be massive civilian casualties, breakdown in essential institutions, violation of democratic processes, civil disorder, loss of confidence in government, and reduced strategic flexibility abroad.”
Page 201
“The SARS virus was suspected of being a prototype in this category. Severe acute respiratory syndrome first appeared in Asia in February 2003, out of nowhere, related to the coronavirus typically associated with the common cold. It was much worse than the common cold: It eventually spread to many corners of the world and infected just over 8,000 people, of whom about one in seven died from the disease.”
Page 201
“However, these same energy problems will surely reduce crop production, which would lead to reduced food aid to desperate populations in poor nations, which would then lead to compromised immune systems and the migration of poor, hungry, and probably unhealthy people—and by “migration” I do not mean the orderly entry of people through airport lines, but rather the uncontrolled rush of desperate mobs, tribes, and whole ethnic groups from failing habitats into lands already occupied because they can better support human life. This is an obvious recipe for conflict and woe. Where the refugee camps set up, disease will surely follow.”
Page 203
“A contemplation of these circumstances that occurred seven hundred years ago gives us an idea of what to expect in the Long Emergency. One big difference is that now we can see it coming. However, we in America flatter ourselves to think that we are above this kind of general catastrophe—because our technologic prowess during the cheap-oil fiesta was so marvelous that all future problems are (supposedly) guaranteed to be solved by similar applications of ingenuity.”
Page 206
“Many individual immune systems will be compromised by the hardships of the Long Emergency and disease will seize the opportunities presented, as it always has. AIDS ought to be especially worrisome, because even when people have lost everything, they still have sex. That may be all many people will have, and it will get them in a lot of trouble.”
Page 207

“Lagos, Nigeria, for example, grew from a city of 300,000 in 1950 to over 10 million today. But Lagos, writes Mike Davis, “is simply the biggest node in the shanty-town corridor of 70 million people that stretches from Abidjan to Ibadan: probably the biggest continuous footprint of urban poverty on earth.”10 Most of the world’s new, exploding slums have only the most rudimentary sanitary arrangements, open sewers running along the corridorlike “streets.” In the slums of Bombay, there is an estimated one toilet per five hundred inhabitants.

“Currently two million children die every year from waste-contaminated water in the world’s slums. The enormity of this urban disaster is poorly comprehended in advanced nations like the United States, where the drinking water is still safe and even the poor have flush toilets connected to real sewers. But the slums of the world will probably be the breeding ground of the next pandemic, and chances are, once it is under way, the wealthy nations will not be spared.”

Page 208
“The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present, and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose. —William James”
Page 210
“Globalism was operated by oligarchical corporations on the gigantic scale, made possible by cheap oil. By “oligarchical” I mean that power was vested in small numbers of people running large organizations who were not accountable for their actions to many of the people who were subject to those actions. By “corporation,” I mean a group enterprise given the legal status of a “person,” with “rights,” but in fact devoid of any human qualities of ethics, humility, mercy, duty, or loyalty that would constrain those rights. (Emphasis added.)”
Page 211
“As Wendell Berry put it, “a corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance. . . . It can experience no personal hope or remorse. No change of heart. It cannot humble itself. It goes about its business as if it were immortal, with the single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money.””
Page 211
“Wal-Mart was considered the theoretical equal of Bob the appliance store owner, and if Bob happened to lose in the retail competition because he couldn’t order 50,000 coffee-makers at a crack from a factory 12,000 miles away in Hangzhou, and receive a deep discount for being such an important customer, well, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t been given the chance.”
Page 212
“Populations were, in effect, eating oil, notably in food exports from the United States, where agribusiness had completely taken over from agriculture. Local farmers in Africa, Asia, or South America couldn’t compete with corporate Archer Daniels Midland’s oil-and-gas-based grain crops and U.S. government subsidies. There was no point in even bringing their hardscrabble crops to market when sacks of cheap American wheat sat on the docks of Pusan or Colombo. Farmers in those places felt that they had no choice but to migrate to the city and find some other way to get by. The only comparative advantage that these people possessed was their willingness to work for next to nothing. Cheap oil and free-market globalism turned comparative advantage into a new kind of feudalism, with the corporations as the lords and the overabundant locals as the serfs. And then, when the comparative advantage of cheap labor ($5 a day) of one place, such as Mexico, was superseded by the cheaper labor (99 cents a day) of another place, such as Sri Lanka, the corporations just moved their operations.”
Page 213
“The idea of comparative advantage works when there is a complex local economy intact in the background of each trading partner’s specialized item of production, with a variety of social roles and occupational niches to support the long-term project of community. But a locality geared to doing only one thing for export is ultimately a slave system based on the extractive economics of mining.”
Page 213
“Globalism was primarily a way of privatizing the profits of business activity while socializing the costs. This was achieved by discreetly discounting the future for the sake of short-term benefits.”
Page 211
“One group had all the cheap labor and another group had all the capital, and for a while one group made all the things that the other group “consumed.” Thus, comparative advantage became, for a time, a con game strictly for the benefit of large corporations, which ended up enjoying all the advantages while the localities sucked up the costs.”
Page 213
“The corporations benefiting from this regime often had no physical home of their own, even in their country of origin—and not a few American corporations had moved their official address to Caribbean pseudonations, where the banking and tax laws were more agreeable. The corporations had no allegiance to any particular place or the people of that place, so the destruction they wreaked was as manifest in the ravaged towns of Ohio and upstate New York as in the environmental degradation of China.”
Page 214
“America was hardly immune to the consequences of free-market globalism. In effect, the American heartland was overtaken by a new kind of corporate colonialism, emanating from our own culture, but no less destructive than the imposition of foreign rule.”
Page 214
“Did Americans sell out their towns, their neighbors, the memory of their ancestors, and the future of their grandchildren because they were helplessly in thrall to the blandishments of a cheap-oil economy? I honestly don’t know, though I tend to view the outcome as the result of many collective bad choices made by the public and its leaders. But were those choices inescapable? Certainly the process was insidious and played out over several generations.”
Page 215
“There have to be limits. If we project “housing starts” ninety-nine years forward at current rates, there wouldn’t be a single build-able quarter-acre lot left in the world. Not a few economists would rationalize this outcome by declaring that ninety-nine years from now we will have colonies on the moon or Mars or under the Sea of Cortez. Or that technology coupled with human ingenuity will solve the problem some other way, perhaps by genetically reengineering human beings to be one inch tall, or booting all our consciousnesses into computer servers where unlimited numbers of virtual people could dwell in unlimited virtual environments of endless cyberspace.”
Page 218
“It is assumed now that human beings, prompted by the market, will employ ingenuity to discover a substitute for oil and gas, once the price starts to ramp up beyond the “affordable” range. This assumption is apt to prove fallacious because it ignores the fact that the earth is a closed system, while the laws of thermodynamics state that energy can’t be created out of nothing, only changed from low entropy to high entropy, and that we have already changed the half of our oil endowment that was easiest to get into dispersed carbon dioxide, which is now ratcheting up global warming and climate change, which might well put the industrial adventure out of business before human ingenuity can come up with a substitute for oil.”
Page 219
“The farm depression, which preceded the financial depression by half a decade, was a self-reinforcing feedback loop. As the market prices of corn and wheat plunged, farmers desperately tried to make up for low prices by producing more, which the domestic markets could not absorb, leading to even greater surpluses and more depressed prices.”
Page 231
“By the mid-1920s, the great wave of immigration suddenly ended. The National Origins Act of 1924 and other measures set new highly restrictive immigration quotas that cut new admissions to 2 percent of each nationality from the 1890 census. This choked off what had been a constant half-century-long demographic subsidy of ever more customers for U.S. manufacturers.”
Page 232
“Finance came to be viewed as a productive activity itself rather than a means to promote production. The public was no longer buying stock to invest in enterprises that would pay dividends over time, but merely because one could get rich from buying and selling stocks. As more people bought in, stock prices climbed still higher—a dangerous positive feedback loop.”
Page 232
“Is it fair to say that the by-product of zealous oil use literally converts into such an abstract form of “pollution” capable of poisoning what amounts to a social consensus? This must return us to the idea of entropy. Entropy is the spending down of energy and its translation into negative by-products. Not all of them are physical or material. Air pollution is one expression of entropy. But so is social disorder. So is institutional breakdown. Bodily death is another.”
Page 236

I like his theory of entropy introducers being somewhat fungible. That we cant ignore the detrimental effects of increased social distraction through apps, phones, or pornography. Or the damage caused by loss of trust in the money system. Or as he says, bad parenting.

i’m not sure i agree 100%, but i like the idea and am glad to have read it.

“The entropy produced in World War II was much more widespread and profound than that of World War I. In World War I the action had taken place almost entirely on rural terrain, classic battlefields. In World War II, much of the warfare was urban. The long-range bomber had reached a high stage of refinement in the twenty-plus years between world wars. None of the major capitals had been damaged in World War I. In World War II, hundreds of towns and cities were destroyed in Europe and Asia. Berlin was reduced to gravel; London was badly mutilated; and, of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became radioactive ashtrays. The casualties of World War I had been enormous, astonishing, appalling beyond civilized peoples’ wildest dreams, but the victims had been overwhelmingly soldiers. The casualties in World War II were overwhelmingly civilians and in much greater aggregate numbers.”
Page 240
“[…] share prices remained relatively very flat during this period. The whole notion of investment was different than it would become later in the twentieth century. In the 1950s and 1960s, stock and bond values were linked much more directly with the successful production of real goods. General Motors derived its profits and paid its dividends on the basis of auto sales, not as today, primarily from leveraging interest rates and other abstract numbers games removed from the actual making of products. In sum, the public attitude about the role of finance was extremely conservative. Finance was not an “industry” per se, but a set of institutions designed to keep the idea of money and its accessories credible, so as to allow real industries to function.”
Page 243
“Before the great orgy of mergers and consolidation that began in the 1970s, retail banking was largely local and community-centered. Bankers made loan decisions based on firsthand knowledge of projects going on in their communities—not, as today, based on bundling and selling clumps of mortgages for generic suburban developments they have never laid eyes on.”
Page 244
“For the hippies the natural order of things included items such as stereo record players, electric guitars, motor vehicles for adventuring around the country, cheap bulk whole grains, and other products of an oil-intensive industrial way of life. The hippie platform, so to speak, with all its mystical incunabula, rested on the platform of “normal” American life, and would have been impossible without it.”
Page 245
“At the start of the oil glut, a climactic set of economic relations took shape led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (and joined eagerly by President Reagan and his advisors) that would be called “globalism.” It was not so much a new idea as the logical and inevitable result of mature self-organizing systems elaborating themselves under the influence of renewed, immense energy inputs—the ultimate cheap-oil way of doing business in the closed system that is the planet Earth. It entailed the maximization of short-term profit and the minimization of care for future generations. It was the ultimate generator of entropy.”
Page 248
“also meant the ramping up of a “service economy” or, more properly, the myth of a service economy to replace the old manufacturing economy. I say “myth” because it was essentially absurd. It was like the old joke about the village that prospered because the inhabitants were all employed taking in each other’s laundry. In fact, far fewer actual things of value were being created in the service economy”
Page 248
“It was assumed, for instance, that computers greatly boosted productivity. Much of that gain was either illusory or fraught with collateral social and economic losses of other kinds. Companies that reported higher productivity were shedding employees like mad and the entire ethos of work in America was being transformed from one of people having secure careers and permanent positions with reliable companies to one of institutionalized insecurity for practically everyone below top management in a new general atmosphere of Darwinian corporate ruthlessness—under the rubric of “free-market competition.””
Page 249
“The computerization of corporate America promoted the hemorrhaging of jobs and whole industries to offshore locations and the “outsourcing” of whole departments to other countries. Additional diminishing returns associated with the victory of national chain retail were the wholesale destruction of American communities, including both the “hardware” of towns and the “software” of social roles and networks associated with them. Computers only assisted predatory corporations in more successfully parasitizing existing value in victimized localities.”
Page 250
“Nothing else really mattered except building suburban houses, trading away the mortgages, selling the multiple cars needed by the inhabitants, upgrading the roads into commercial strip highways with all the necessary shopping infrastructure, and moving vast supplies of merchandise made in China for next to nothing to fill up those houses.”
Page 251
“Americans didn’t question the validity of the suburban sprawl economy. They accepted it at face value as the obvious logical outcome of their hopes and dreams and defended it viciously against criticism. They steadfastly ignored its salient characteristic: that it had no future either as an economy or as a living arrangement. Each further elaboration of the suburban system made it less likely to survive any change in conditions, most particularly any change in the equations of cheap oil.”
Page 251
““industry” in its own right helping to “drive” the economy. Among the distortions and perversions engendered by the “stagflation” economy was the rise of corporate cannibalism in the form of “creative” mergers and acquisitions, specifically hostile takeovers, the aggressive use of voting stock shares to gain control of companies that did not wish to sell, with the subsequent filleting and sell-off of assets, and discarding of the bones and offal (employee payrolls and obligations, careers, livelihoods, communities).”
Page 252
“Among the distortions and perversions engendered by the “stagflation” economy was the rise of corporate cannibalism in the form of “creative” mergers and acquisitions, specifically hostile takeovers, the aggressive use of voting stock shares to gain control of companies that did not wish to sell, with the subsequent filleting and sell-off of assets, and discarding of the bones and offal (employee payrolls and obligations, careers, livelihoods, communities).”
Page 252
“In the face of the things like the dotcom meltdown, the LTCM scare, the Enron scandal, and other disasters that eroded the notional value of financial paper, home ownership itself was now turned into a magical generator of unearned riches for both borrowers and lenders. It was consistent with the Las Vegas-ization of the national moral sense, chiefly the increasingly popular belief at every level of American life that it really was possible to get something for nothing. Anyone could see this in the easy public acceptance of gambling as okay and the proliferation of casinos everywhere in the land. Not even the evangelical Christians seemed to mind.”
Page 258
“[…] if there is less gasoline to power up the fleet of cars necessary to service it, and no natural gas to heat the thousand-square-foot cathedral-ceilinged lawyer foyer, then chances are that the house is going to be a liability rather than an asset.”
Page 259
“From 1999 to 2004 roughly a third of all house owners indulged in cash-out re-fi mortgages.”
Page 261

Citation? A bit thin on those, but I’m more inclined to trust that he’s done his homework.

“Behind every extravagant cash extraction lay the belief that at some future date the house would be worth a lot more than the re-fi price and could be readily flipped.”
Page 261

This happened. House-flipper became a career option.

“After the mid-1990s, there was hardly a technical distinction to be made anymore between high-risk borrowers and everybody else in the casino atmosphere of America society. No one was at risk anymore because in the something-for-nothing economy it was impossible to be a loser. Or so went the herd thinking.”
Page 261
“By the time you read this, it is very likely that the housing bubble will have begun to come to grief.”
Page 262

That’s a bingo.

“The failure of the GSEs would make the S&L fiasco of the 1980s look like a bad night of poker. The failure of the GSEs would pose a far graver situation than the LTCM flameout. It could easily bring on cascading failures that might jeopardize global finance. This time, the American public would feel the pain.”
Page 263

On the money.

“If the folks who lived along this highway put in gardens to make up for the escalating inadequacies of an industrial farming system starved for fossil fuel “inputs,” would they be able to feed themselves? Did any vernacular knowledge survive in a populace conditioned to think that food came from the supermarket? Did they know anything about cabbage loopers, powdery mildew, or anthracnose? Would they be able to prevent catastrophic crop loss? How would they defend their crops against deer, rabbits, woodchucks? Would any of them know how to build a garden wall, or even a fence? Where would they get fencing material? Would they have to sit out among the potato hills and the bean rows at night with loaded shotguns? And what would they do for light when they heard something munching out there? Would they know how to keep chicken, sheep, cattle, including breeding and birthing them?”
Page 268
“Because human social and economic systems are essentially self-organizing in the face of circumstance, the big questions are how much disorder must we endure as things change, and how hard will we struggle to continue a particular way of life with no future?”
Page 270
“The U.S. economy of the decades to come will center on farming, not high-tech, or “information,” or “services,” or space travel, or tourism, or finance. All other activities will be secondary to food production, which will require much more human labor.”
Page 271
“[A] hundred years ago, just before the introduction of the fossil fuel-based technologies, more than 30 percent of the American population was engaged in farming. Now the figure is 1.6 percent. The issue is not moral, academic, or aesthetic. Rather it’s a matter of those ratios being made possible only because cheap oil and automation made up for so much human labor.”
Page 272
“The lucky suburbanites will be the ones with the forethought to trade in their suburban McHouses for property in the towns and small cities, and prepare for a vocational life doing something useful and practical on the small scale,”
Page 289
“Wal-Mart will not be able to profitably run its “warehouse on wheels” when the price of oil fluctuates chronically (always along an upward trend line),”
Page 290

They benefit now from Covid-19 by gobbling up cheap oil futures at negative prices.

“We will never again experience the explosion of products, choices, and nonstop marketing that characterized the late twentieth century. The public may look back on the big-box shopping era with deep and mournful nostalgia, but we are apt to discover that happiness is still possible without the extraordinary advertising-driven compulsive materialism of recent decades. We will still have commerce. We will have trade. There will be shopping. We will have some kind of medium of exchange. But we are not going to live in a perpetual blue-light special sale of cornucopian wretched excess.”
Page 290
“Even if we can’t get all the tools and the products we currently enjoy, we will retain a lot of basic knowledge that the people of Jefferson’s day just didn’t have. For instance, we will still understand that infections and many diseases are caused by microorganisms, not bad air, phases of the moon, or evil spells, and that knowledge alone confers powerful advantages in daily living.”
Page 291
“Large-scale corporate enterprise has brought humankind much material comfort in two centuries, but at the price of fantastic unintended consequences (externalized costs) ranging from the destruction of local communities to climate change.”
Page 292
“We should probably conclude that the abandoned big-box structures will not last more than one generation under any circumstances. Pretty much the same thing can be said about malls, strip malls, and chain restaurant buildings. Eventually they will be the salvage yards and mines of the future.”
Page 294
“One final thing worth noting on the subject of rail: From 1890 to about 1920, American localities managed to construct hundreds of local and interurban streetcar lines that added up to a magnificent national system (independent of the national heavy rail system). Except for two twenty-mile gaps in New York state, one could ride the trolley lines from New England clear out to Wisconsin. The story of the conspiracy by General Motors and other companies to destroy the U.S. interurban system is well documented. The salient point, however, is how rapidly the system was created in the first place, and how marvelously well it served the public in the period before the automobile became established”
Page 303
“[…] high school in our time amounts to little more than day care for virtual adults in which some learning might incidentally take place, much of it of dubious value.”
Page 305
“The Southwest also faces increasing friction with adjoining Mexico. This is not a racist provocation but a description of reality. No other first-world country has such an extensive land frontier with a third-world country. The income gap between the United States and Mexico is greater than that between any other two contiguous countries in the world.”
Page 310
“In any case, it is human nature to consider a place “home” if you were born there, or have family there, or have spent some portion of your life there, and people are naturally reluctant to leave home. I daresay that many Americans now living in the Southwest will not be disposed to understand what is really happening—that the carrying capacity of their home region has been suddenly and drastically reduced—and they will hunker down hoping for a return to better times.”
Page 314
“After air conditioning became widely affordable, southerners hardly went outside anymore, unless it was in a motor vehicle. Anything about southern vernacular architecture that once had been graceful in adapting to the climate was cast aside for the pleasures of air conditioning and cheapness of construction.”
Page 318
“The gigantic smear of suburbia that runs almost without interruption from north of Boston through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Washington, and northern Virginia is not going to be a happy place.”
Page 328
“While it is true that many blacks have joined the middle class, at least in terms of jobs and pay, a disturbing aura of cultural separatism persists, supported by the multiculturalists in education, with terribly demoralizing effects on that substantial minority of the minority who never made it into the middle class.”
Page 336

This analysis is basically useless. See The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (a book rife with citations). See the white assets vs. black assets before and after the 2008 crash. See how blacks are the first victims of every shock. That blacks are systemically disadvantaged is not theoretical. It’s legitimate to argue that affirmative action is not a viable solution, but you can’t pretend that the systemic discrimination doesn’t exist. There may be no other solution than “stop being racist”, which, good luck with that.

“The grievance and belligerence that smolders under the surface of the hip-hop saturnalia is unattached to any coherent political claims beyond the debatable clichés of “structural racism.””
Page 337

As above, this section did not age well. Structural racism is proven. It had been proven then, too.

“Any place can become a Beirut under certain unfavorable circumstances.”
Page 338

Laughably ignoring the irony of Israel’s own racist involvement there. Kunstler has a blind spot for Israel’s perfidy.

“I’m aware of having already lived more than a half century through the greatest fiesta of luxury, comfort, and leisure that the world has ever known. I enjoyed central heating, air conditioning, cheap air fares, cable TV, advanced orthopedic surgery, and computers.”
Page 342
“With Katrina, all the common supports of civilized existence went down and stayed down: electricity, telephones, sanitation, drinking water, public safety, and food distribution. The behavior of those left behind in the flood seemed as desperate as their circumstances, while government at all levels floundered spectacularly.”
Page 347
“[…] the price of housing in most of the hot markets, such as the San Francisco Bay area, had lost any historically comprehensible relationship to salaries or rents. In Miami, sixty thousand condominium units were either under construction or emerging from the permit approval process. An estimated 70 percent of the buyers there were “flippers” or speculators, and those who had bought with creative interest-only or adjustable-rate mortgages stood to be reamed if the market cooled and they could not expedite their flips.”
Page 352
“The BBC reported that unofficial estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths varied from 10,000 to over 37,000.”
Page 358

War will still kills more than Covid-19. The difference is in the victims: wars kill people who don’t matter. Like malaria.

“China also faced horrendous environmental problems and was governed by a weird crypto-Communist bureaucracy that, despite all the trappings of free enterprise, ruled by force and violence.”
Page 361

Here, he’s utterly failing to see the irony that he’s kind of describing America as well.

“They couldn’t buy the idea that we could get blindsided by a permanent global energy crisis. And they had been so successful—become so rich—moving little pixels around video screens that they seemed to assume that the energy rescue remedy was just a few mouse clicks away. I couldn’t persuade them that life is tragic—in the sense that happy endings really aren’t guaranteed, not even for Americans.”
Page 362
“As a registered Democrat, I have worries about the failures of my own party, the putative opposition to the neocons now ruling. Why has not one national Democratic politician come forward and proposed to fix the American railroad system—the one project we could certainly address with confidence?”
Page 363
“The environmental movement, especially at the elite levels in places like Aspen, is full of Harvard graduates who believe that all the drive-in espresso stations in America can be run on a combination of solar and wind power. I quarrel with these people incessantly. It seems especially tragic to me that some of the brightest people I meet are bent on mounting the tragic campaign to sustain the unsustainable in one way or another. But I maintain that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won’t care if we make bad collective decisions or whether we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization.”
Page 365
“It will be salutary for the nation to see those who engineered the banking collapse come to greater grief than the mere surrender of their Gulfstream jets and Hamptons villas.”
Page 367

None of this happened. We were more hopeful then.

“The tragic part of all this, of course, is that the temporary plunge in oil prices has prompted an incurious American public to assume, once again, that the global oil predicament is some kind of a fraud. Given the flood tide of fraud they have been subject to in banking and investment matters, I suppose you can’t blame them from thinking that everything is some kind of a scam.”
Page 373

Just like they believe Covid-19 is now a scam.

“I’ve said enough about this in the past, but it’s worth reiterating that a failure to get comprehensive passenger rail service going will be a sign of how fundamentally unserious we are as a society.”
Page 374
“[…] the earlier fiasco in Georgia, where the U.S. prompted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to send troops into the South Ossetia region and the move was answered by overwhelming force from neighboring Russia, leaving the United States looking feckless and retarded for its troubles.”
Page 375
“My guess is that neither the United States nor Israel will attempt to take out their facilities anytime soon.”
Page 376

Wrong. Stuxnet. It was an act of war. Largely ignored.