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404 of 426 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fuel Drop + Climate Change + Disease + Water Drop = Great Depression.
This is a brilliant piece of work, indeed so compelling that after glancing at it over morning coffee I set aside a work day and simply read the book. I take away one star because there is no index, no bibliography, and the author is very poor about crediting his sources. On page 163, for example, his observations about 300 Chinese cities being water-stressed, and about...
Published on October 24, 2005 by Robert David STEELE Vivas

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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If Only He Could Have Been Bothered to Fact-Check
I had read the Rolling Stone article, and I was positively stoked to begin this book. During the first half, I was fascinated, but then, I am neither a geologist nor an engineer.

I was even willing to overlook Kunstler, in the early pages, defending fellow prophets of doom Thomas Malthus and Paul Erlich, and claiming that they were right after all, despite the...
Published on August 29, 2008 by Amazon Customer


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404 of 426 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fuel Drop + Climate Change + Disease + Water Drop = Great Depression., October 24, 2005
This is a brilliant piece of work, indeed so compelling that after glancing at it over morning coffee I set aside a work day and simply read the book. I take away one star because there is no index, no bibliography, and the author is very poor about crediting his sources. On page 163, for example, his observations about 300 Chinese cities being water-stressed, and about the Aral Sea disappearing, appear to have come directly from Marq de Villier's superb book on Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource but without attribution. This should have been footnoted.

Having said that, I consider the book itself, despite its run-on Op-Ed character, to be a tour de force that is very logically put forward. Indeed, although I have seen allusions elsewhere, this is the first place that I have seen such a thorough denunciation of how cheap oil underlies everything else including suburbia and Wal-Mart cf. Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. I am also quite impressed by the author's logical discourse on how communities have sacrificed their future coherence and sustainability for the sake of a few dollars savings on Wal-Mart products.

There is a great deal in the book that is covered more ably and in more detail by the other 600+ books I have reviewed at Amazon, and indeed, replicates much of what I write about in The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political--Citizen's Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption but, I have to say, with a different twist that I admire very much.

I find the author's exploration of how cheap fuel led to wasted water, helping create cities and mega-agricultural endeavors that reduced our water at the same time that we consumed centuries worth of unrenewable fossil fuel, quite alarming.

I sum the book up on page 180 by writing in the bottom margin: "Fuel Drop + Climate Change + Disease + Water Drop = Great Depression."

I disagree with those that consider the book excessively alarmist, and agree with those that find fault with the author's documentation. An index and an annotated bibliography would have doubled the value of this book. The author is clearly well read, logical, and articulate--an unkind person would say that he has also been lazy in not substantiating his arguments with what intelligence readers value most: an index and a good bibliography that respects the contributions of others to the argument.

The author in passing makes a good argument against our current educational system, and I for one believe that we need to get back to a system of life-long education accompanied by early apprenticeship and real-world employment and grounding for our young people. What passes for education today is actually child care, and the smartest young people, like my teen-ager, consider it to be nothing more than a prison.

On balance, a solid 4, a solid buy, and worth its weight in gold if you act on his advice and begin planning an exit strategy from those places likely to run out of water, fuel, and transport options in the next 20 years.
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167 of 178 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and eye-opening, but too dire, October 29, 2005
Here is the argument that novelist James Howard Kunstler presents in this most engaging narrative:

(1) We have a "one-time endowment of concentrated, stored solar energy"--i.e., oil.

(2) At this point in history, give or take a few years, most of that stored solar energy will be gone. ("Peak oil" is upon us.)

(3) The unprecedented growth of our society is predicated upon cheap energy and needs a continued supply of it to maintain itself.

(4) That growth consists largely of a gigantic highway and road superstructure with massive suburban developments in places that cannot sustain their populations without cheap oil ("nobody walks in L.A.")

(5) This land use structure is particularly and exclusively designed for the machines of cheap oil, cars, 18-wheelers, SUVs, etc., which will become too expensive to run as the oil patch rapidly depletes.

(6) There is no substitute for oil--not coal, not nuclear power, not solar cells, not wind power, not hydroelectric power, not hydrogen fuel cells, not cold fusion, not corn oil--nothing will be adequate. The idea that human ingenuity will come up some sort of alternative fuel at the price we are paying today is just a pipe dream.

(7) Our government has its head in the sand.

Kunstler augments his argument with these major points:

One, regardless of what energy source we might dream will replace oil, we will have to build the structures--nuclear plants, hydrogen fuel "stations," solar panels the size of New Mexico in the aggregate, massive forests of wind mills, etc.--from an oil platform, at least to begin with. Note that we now use energy from oil to mine coal and to build wind propellers. We use energy from oil to build nuclear reactors. Even solar panels require an investment of energy up front to build the panels. These are massive investments that nobody is really planning on. By the time we get our heads out of our wahzus it will be too late: there won't be enough cheap oil left to build the infrastructures necessary for a transition to alternative energy.

Point two is that our gargantuan agribusiness is almost totally dependant on fossil fuels to (1) manufacture fertilizer; (2) to run the machines that plow the fields and harvest the crops; and (3) to fuel the pumps that pump irrigation water up from aquifers or from elsewhere.

Point three is that we are also running out of water. Desalination requires massive amounts of energy. The fossil aquifers are rapidly being depleted. Every year water must be pumped from greater depths until the aquifers run dry. Even aquifers that naturally replenish are being drained faster than they can replenish.

Point four is global warming. Suffice it to say that some places may go under water and other places may experience unpredictable climate change. The Gulf Stream may cease to run, throwing much of Europe into something close to an ice age while tropical conditions with topical diseases will move north.

Point five is that globalization, which is currently making us in the developed world rich--indeed richer than any peoples before in human history--is really a ponzi scheme in which we rob the future in order to pay for current prosperity. Additionally, we are exploiting the labor and resources of others to support our high standard of living. When oil runs out, our ability to benefit from globalization will be greatly diminished and consequently our standard of living will plummet.

The net result of all this, according to Kunstler, will be starvation, war, pestilence, and at best a reversion to a standard of living that prevailed before the oil window opened. Human populations will shrink until they reach an equilibrium with the natural resources of the planet.

This is the salient point behind Kunstler's argument, namely that we have already, many times over, exceeded the natural carrying capacity of the planet, and are currently being artificially and temporarily subsisted by a one-time beneficence that cannot be replaced. When oil becomes too expensive for the masses, the result will be what he calls "The Long Emergency" which will be extremely painful at best and at worse catastrophic. Already he sees the wars for oil being fought, and further down the line, he predicts wars for water.

I agree with Kunstler that we have too many people on the planet. And I agree that our government and governments elsewhere have their heads in the sand. However what I see happening is a long glide from oil to coal (and attendant pollution) to a great reliance on nuclear energy (with all it dangers) to gradually reduced populations, to a gradually reduced standard of living (especially in the US)--which might not be so bad. We would have less obesity and chronic illness caused by too much consumption and too little physical activity.

But I disagree that the "long emergency" will be as terrible as Kunstler envisions. As long as the slide down the slope is gradual, human beings will adjust to it, as we have adjusted to the many changes that have taken place since we left the hunting and gathering way of life thousands of years ago.

In particular, I think even Detroit can make small cars that get 100 miles to the gallon. At the same time I observe that commuters today in and out of our cities travel at an average speed of around 30 MPH. I think we can commute in bicycles at almost that speed. What really needs doing is a massive re-education and relearning program leading to a complete change in the cultural ethos so that we value living modestly within our means and in harmony with the planet's resources. This means gradually reducing our numbers and our demands on the earth so that we return to being part of the earth's ecology, not its cancer.
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108 of 116 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Oil, Bad SF, July 22, 2005
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I heard about this book on Treehugger, the (n)Utne Reader and other places, and eventually the library here managed to ILL a copy for me. It's about the role of cheap oil in our society, and about what the end of cheap oil will likely do to us.

Read this book.

The back cover is the scary image of a horse pulling a ruined car. The same image is the cover of Stirling's Dies the Fire, and I find it frankly impossible to believe that this is a coincidence. In any case, Kunstler seems to be fairly well known as a social commentator who hates suburbia and advocates a return to close-packed urban communities, a "Smart Growth" booster, in other words.

He begins with a reinterpretation of the twentieth century in terms of fossil fuel use, especially World War Two. As Murray and Millett agree in A War to be Won, I have added this idea to my lecture on WWII, which I recently delivered twice to summer students. He sees the 1973 embargo as the warning, which the US ignored (all except me; my whole life has been a bracing against the end of oil). Hubbert's Curve, which I'd heard of while I was still in Northern California, is a central issue in this book, with the peak predicted very soon, if it hasn't come already.

The Mainstream Media are talking more and more about the end of cheap oil, but no one is talking as starkly and unpleasantly as Kunstler. He then goes on to explain why several popular forms of "alternative" energy won't work. I wasn't sure that I believed all of what he said. I am not an engineer, but windmills (to generate electricity and pump enough water for stock) can be made without oil. Plastics can be made from fermented vegetable sludge; I ran a game once based on such a world. Also, recycling will preserve existing stocks of metals and even plastic for a long time, if we make it mandatory to recycle everything, and do it right now.

Other things he says make a lot of sense. Fusion or zero-point stuff won't save the US: there isn't time to build ten thousand huge power plants, even if the technology becomes available this week. But in the Mojave, where I live, the problem isn't shortage of energy. It's that the area is a commuter suburb. Yes, growth will stop here when gas hits five bucks a gallon. But this area could do all its local commuting in electric cars powered by solar panels on peoples' roofs.

He's right in his basic thesis: that long before we run out of oil, the end of cheap oil will shut down the car-based American suburban culture which I dislike, and am part of.

(sigh)

His section on epidemics makes sense, and much of this has already been made clear by books such as Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague. His indictment of suburbia has been answered, although not convincingly, by many writers. He's right about Wal-Mart.

He's right about oil being behind the farming boom of the 20th century. But I am not sure that sending masses of people into the fields, Cambodia/Kampuchea style, as he seems to want to do, is going to be more efficient than converting tractors to run on electric batteries powered by solar panels on the farm where the tractor runs, and then using electric trucks to move the produce at 25mph across the US. Tractors and fertilizer are so much more efficient than hand labor that every nation which could adopt them did so.

I don't understand all the stuff about finance, and I don't pretend to. However, any major dude can tell you that the US economy is going to go to hell when gas hits five bucks a gallon. His weird and kind of abusive language when he talks about housebuying is a prelude to his really mean closing to the book.

The last chapter is a strange mix of serious prediction and low-rent science fiction, with some generalizations about the regions of the US that show that Kunstler doesn't know very much about some areas or have a lot of empathy for them. For example, I think that Oregon won't be in as much danger of invasion from China as he seems to believe,(without fossil fuels, that is) and Portland's gravity-flow water system means that very low-tech repairs will keep the water system working there for a long time.

All in all: a good book to shock people and make them think. A bad handbook for the future of the US. This review is one of many. Read it. Make up your own mind and then make plans. But whatever you do, don't ignore the end of big oil.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Useful Material!, December 18, 2005
Kunstler's prime concern is the impact of declining oil production - predicted by various experts to occur within the 2000-2010 span. The impact will be particularly felt in transportation, and acerbated by China and other nations' new demands. (Increasing China and India's use to the current world average requires a 35% increase in world oil production - Amos Nur, Stanford). Worse yet, continuing the rate of increased use requires an approximate doubling of production, per other experts.

Kunstler then goes somewhat overboard in his predictions of what this will cause - production will become more local and smaller in scale (yes - hopefully somewhat reducing imports), food production will become our primary focus (will certainly increase), homes and shops in suburbia will be abandoned (perhaps in the long run), the value of education in areas other than vocational arts will greatly decline (coal-generated electricity, hopefully with less pollution, will continue and power computers, hospitals, technology, freezers, etc., while technology will still be important in decentralized production), chain stores will fade away (very unlikely).

Why am I more optimistic? The current fuel cost/ton-mile to move product is about 2 cents, slightly higher if refrigerated. (Trust me - I'm a truck-driver; while it is double that of about three years ago, it is still low.) Triple that and you still couldn't find the impact per package at the grocery store. Further, more and more trucks are moving "piggyback" - by train. (Train fuel efficiency is about 2.5 times that of a truck. Forbes, 2/13/06) As for suburban houses - eventually most of us will switch to hybrids (50 mpg currently), high-mileage diesels, car-pool, take the bus, and/or bicycle.

Another Kunstler worry is an influenza pandemic featuring a variety similar to that of 1918. Again, I am more optimistic. My understanding (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2005) is that the flu virus only has 8 genes - vs. 20,000 - 25,000 for humans. While it is also true that researchers took five years starting in 1997 to learn how to grow the 1918 flu in eggs without killing them, the material also reported that they had improved since then. Hopefully they will also quickly learn an alternative means of producing vaccine without relying on eggs.

Not all of Kunstler's worries are overblown, however. I personally believe he is not worried enough about terrorism - missing Russian suitcase bombs that only need their neutron triggers replaced (via Iran or Pakistani reactor?). Less likely, but still possible, is infection via designer germs that Russian scientists were reportedly previously working on.

Then there are existing bugs that are mutating - AIDS, SARS, Ebola, mad cow, and who knows what else in the future. Scientists don't seem to be having great successes against these potential disasters.

Finally, food production is likely to become more of a problem due to population growth, declining water tables, increasing salinization of irrigated land, and potential effects of global warming - more bugs, drought, and storms.

Kunstler is to be commended for thinking ahead - particularly regarding the future of oil supply vs. demand. This topic deserves much more public analyses and discussion - eg. what would the impacts be of much improved fuel economy world-wide, population stabilization, less unnecessary travel?

Clearly the Bush/Cheney energy policy is a "happy-talk" disaster if forecasts of a near-term oil production peak are close to correct. Conservation is not just a "personal virtue," but a survival necessity.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peak Oil Alarm Bells, May 11, 2005
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Kunstler's portrayal of the coming "Dim Ages" is designed to scare the hell out of you. His provocative language is often valid, but other points are much more speculative or not fully informed. So it's more like a worst-case scenario for the aftermath of Peak Oil (+ global warming, financial meltdown, etc.). A key contention is that even if we try to switch to renewable energy, we won't have enough fossil fuels or time to support the conversion process or to maintain the new infrastructure. The result, he predicts, will be a relocalization of the economy around small towns surrounded by farmland. He sees global pandemics as the most likely way nature will rid itself of surplus human population as ecological overshoot intensifies.

Kunstler may be right when it comes to the possibility maintaining the suburban US lifestyle, but we all know that there is a huge amount of waste in this lifestyle. Also, just because fossil fuels are used today for something, doesn't mean that we may not find good, if perhaps somewhat more expensive, substitutes. Transportation is, of course, where the decline of oil will have the biggest impact, with airline consolidation already imminent. But Kunstler dismisses synfuels made from coal, which are politically likely despite global warming. That is, when the going gets tough, coal will be one of the first things politicians will turn toward - we'll be lucky to make progress on clean coal.

Kunstler does recognize that nuclear power is a much better strategy, given the reality of global warming. But he opts for nuclear because he dismisses wind power as unmaintainable - too subject to breakdown, requiring too much fossil fuel support. Here many would disagree, given a many decades supply of coal and nuclear, plus the remaining oil and natural gas, to build the renewables and reduce population impacts.

Kunstler is widely read but doesn't have technical background to fully evaluate what he reads. A prime example of this is his assessment of the "global peak" of oil on p. 24. He defines this as the half way point - the year when half the oil has been used up. Actually the peak is, of course, the peak - the date of maximum oil production. Geologists only forecast that it will approximate the half way point because some version of the law of large numbers should apply to the fact that production profiles of individual wells and of regions are approximately bell-shaped. Production techniques could, and are, changing this to some degree, and we may have already passed the half-way point. Also, this half way point is half way to recoverable oil, not all oil, as Kunstler believes. The USGS includes 50% more oil out there - oil that geologists like Campbell and Deffeyes think will never be recovered at any price.

Later Kunstler states that the earth is a closed system (p. 194), and he repeats the death-through-entropy mantra over and over. Of course, life exists on earth precisely because it is not a closed system - it has a continuous supply of solar energy input to overcome the natural tendency toward dissipation and disorder (entropy). Most authors emphasize energy and efficiency, not entropy. Kunstler even declares that "efficiency is the straightest path to hell" (p. 191). He's right in that efficiency applied to non-renewable resources just uses them up more quickly, a major point of Campbell. But for renewable resources, high efficiency means transforming order without dissipating much of it - the reverse of death-by-entropy.

Nevertheless, Kunstler's wake-up call is much needed. Some of his alarm bells may be false alarms but others certainly signal life-threatening blazes.
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229 of 269 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent General Overview of the Consequences of Peak Oil, April 22, 2005
I have been following Jim Kunstler's work for about a year, and in my opinion he--and others--are providing an important national service by attempting to warn us of the consequences of Peak Oil. Mr. Kunstler's most recent book, "The Long Emergency," is an excellent general overview of the topic, plus some addtional information on other threats to the world in the 21st Century.

Believe it or not, Mr. Kunstler is actually not propounding the most pessimistic scenario for a post-Peak Oil world. He is trying to warn those who will listen to start preparing for a radically different world in the years ahead.

In my opinion, everyone would be well advised to read this book, as well as some of the other recent books regarding Peak Oil.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Asking the right questions, but draw your own conclusions, July 13, 2006
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This best thing about Kunstler's The Long Emergency is that it raises the right questions. I don't agree with some of his analyses and would advise the reader to take them with a grain of salt, but Kunstler does lay out the issues, starting with a history of the oil era and then following it with an assessment of where we are today and what the problems facing us are. What he does best is framing the problems and then going beyond the most obvious questions by taking things one or two steps further, showing how most of the currently proposed solutions are based on erroneous assumptions.

For example, one of the most common proposed solutions is replacing gasoline engines with ones that burn ethanol. Kunstler takes it a step further, pointing out how all of the discussions ignore the fact that we're assuming our current capability to produce the grain needed for ethanol production -- a capability that is in fact based on oil-era methods, including farm equipment run on oil & gas fuels, irrigation systems powered by electricity generated by oil & coal, fertilizers and pesticides produced from oil & gas byproducts, and lastly the grain processed into ethanol using heat and electricity derived from oil, coal and gas powered means. Once you take oil, coal and gas out of the picture, the cost of producing that same amount of ethanol rises dramatically. Ethanol is one solution that will need to be developed, but Kunstler points out that it's not going to be the relatively inexpensive replacement fuel that most people currently think it will be.

This may not be the best book dealing with the issue, and again I do not agree with all of Kunstler's projections, but he does cover all of the bases in very clear terms and raises important questions that, even if you disagree with his particular analyses, will ultimately have to be answered. And sooner than most people realize. I highly recommend that people read this book _now_. We are facing a daunting future and we are running out of time if we're to try and do anything about it.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If Only He Could Have Been Bothered to Fact-Check, August 29, 2008
I had read the Rolling Stone article, and I was positively stoked to begin this book. During the first half, I was fascinated, but then, I am neither a geologist nor an engineer.

I was even willing to overlook Kunstler, in the early pages, defending fellow prophets of doom Thomas Malthus and Paul Erlich, and claiming that they were right after all, despite the fact that the predictions of either man never came to pass.

Then, during the second half of the book, Kunstler started discussing things I actually know quite a bit about, to wit, human disease and history. Oh, Holy Cats, how incorrect his facts were. In the words of another reviewer, he gets it Just Plain Wrong.

For example, he says that historians don't really know what the cause of WWI was. Huh. I guess the Army War College and every 20th Century History department need to talk to Kunstler, so they can be properly informed of their ignorance. Yeah, WWI's causes are complex, but just because Kunstler doesn't know what they are doesn't mean that nobody else does either.

He also claims that global warming will accelerate the spread of diseases that were previously confined to a specific geopgraphic area, which is probably true. However, we have already seen diseases migrate a good deal because of the volume and speed with which humans jet around the globe on a daily basis. Kunstler ignores the profound upside to this, being that, for the vast majority of us who are not immunocompromised, this challenges and boosts our immune systems.

Or how 'bout when he says that the 1918 flu jumped directly from birds to humans, without the usual influenza pit stop in pigs. If that's the case, why was the 1918 flu first noticed on a Kansas pig farm? Or when he claims that we still don't know why the 1918 flu proved fatal to so many young adults- uh, yeah we do. Because of cytokine storms, which turn your own immune sysstem against you- the stronger the immune system, the worse you're affected.

The worst offender, however, is when he claims that HIV (which he incorrectly calls AIDS) is on it's way toward mutating from a blood born pathogen into one that's carried on air. Give me a break. I have had five years of schooling training me to be an HIV educator, and I have never heard or read anything remotely like this from an even somewhat reputable source. Why did he make this claim of HIV, and not, say, hepititis B (another sexually transmitted blood born pathogen), which infects 1.7 billion more people than HIV does? Because "AIDS" sounds scarier, that's why.

All this JPW stuff in the second half of the book makes me doubt the veracity of the first half, and that was only reinforced when I made it to the very end and read Kunstler's racist rant against Mexicans and African Americans. He had already skewered every subset of white people that were remotely different from him, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

I've checked "The End of Oil" out of the library, so we'll see how the first half of "The Long Emergency" holds up, fact wise. But if you're really interested in reading an Apocalypse Story, I'd suggest picking up Stephen King's "The Stand".
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Human Nature Threatens to Prevail over Self-Preservation, July 10, 2006
James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long Emergency", stabs himself in the back by engaging in cultural bias and political divisiveness, as alluded to in other reviews. This is to be pitied for the value of the message should take precedence over the messenger. A house divided will fall, and that's exactly what will crumble over our heads if Americans cannot even agree that an energy crisis looms.

Innovation that remains untapped for lack of funding, public support and political foresight will not spare us the consequences of our collective procrastination. The precursors to growth are not the blind forces of capitalism operating in economic and moral isolation, but foresight (opportunity), necessity (need) and cooperation (agreement). Nothing worthwhile will materialize so long as we are more inclined to argue than put our collective heads together in search of energy and economy-preserving solutions.

In order to become successful progenitors of 21st Century free-market progress, a shared understanding must exist that holds that the march of progress not be inhibited by status quo energy, technology and lifestyle assumptions. Therefore, it is not necessary to agree on the timeline of peak oil, the cause of global warming, the precise outcome or the political slant of the author - it is only our willingness to adapt to change that history, our children and grandchildren if you will, shall remember. How successfully we are weaned off our oil dependency depends on how seriously we've prepared for the long emergency. Given that the average American saves less money than at any time since the Great Depression, clearly we are no longer a culture accustomed to saving for a rainy day.

Consider: How many people were prepared for Hurricane Katrina -- despite multiple warnings over the years by The National Weather Service, geologists, engineers, journalists and government officials, all of which confirmed that New Orleans is sinking even as the levies remain in disrepair? The point? Those who survive change are those who prepare, whereas those who scoff at those who build a proverbial ark in the middle of a desert, or dismiss those who prepare for famine by setting aside seven years of crops in the midst of plenty thrive. Reality defines itself; we cannot simply wish away anything and everything that threatens our complacency simply by attacking the messenger.

What do we gain, after all, by burying our collective heads in the oil shale? Even as formerly cost-ineffective methods of oil extraction take on a new attraction as crude demand skyrockets, there is no denying that world demand in China and India, in particular, will eventually exceed supply. Yet history -- human and ecological -- is fraught with examples that nothing lasts forever. Or had we forgotten that?

Make no mistake: Gas prices are not going to fall; they will increase to $10 a gallon and beyond over the next 20 years, and while this will make energy alternatives more economically viable, it will do nothing to alleviate one's immediate "transitional concerns" (health insurance, retirement needs, college tuition, etc.). Quitting our oil dependency cold turkey is not a tenable option, but this seems to be the path of least resistance: Do nothing until it is too late.

Human nature is generally resistant to change until it is forced upon us. The free market, likewise, is a reflection of human nature: If alternative energies are indeed viable -- as seemingly attested to in Sweden and Brazil -- where are the new-technology robber barons of the 21st Century, waiting in the wings to capitalize on new energy before someone beats them to it? Ah, but then therein lies the problem: It's not energy per se, but infrastructure -- the physical manifestation of force of habit -- that keeps us locked in step. Unless government and private industry partner for an energy and infrastructure overhaul -- as is the case in countries where 21st Century progress has been more forthcoming -- little will come of our new energy pipedreams, but for a few short-lived, proof-of-concept developments.

Suburbia sprung up during an era of plentiful, cheap real estate and government-subsidized highway development; likewise, the great railways of yesteryear sprung up before the advent of big rigs and personal automobiles. So too will we need to retool our entire 20th Century way of life in order to transition to 21st Century technology. The problem? Long before New Energy comes on line we will need a whole lot of old energy to get us there -- and that crude will cost us increasingly more to extract and refine -- which, in turn, increase taxes and inflation even as retirement benefits, affordable healthcare and Social Security, among other social safety nets, decline. Therefore, even if New Energy solutions presently exist, it does not yet appear that a miracle will spare us from disaster, and this is the argument that Kunstler makes.

Consider how difficult it is for government to fix potholes in a timely fashion, or for private industry to supply the demand for flu shots, or for homeowners to fork out the money to replace aging septic systems and sewer pipes before they pose a hazard. In fact, no unpleasant and costly task is earnestly attended to without necessity to drive home our motivation. Therefore, it is naïve to believe that 21st Century energy and transportation solutions will be forthcoming long before our individual livelihoods are harmed in some form or fashion. Rather, it will take personal and economic devastation, Kunstler implies, before society agrees on the whole that tangible solutions -- rather than abstract arguments -- are feasible. Unfortunately, one look at the hot and cold reviews on "The Long Emergency" testifies to the reality that the public are largely of the mindset that we have the luxury of debate rather than a urgency of self-preservation. Unless we heed Kunstler's rude wake-up call, ignorance is likely to prevail until undeniable economic circumstances force us to act.

In closing, whether or not you agree with Kunstler's politics is really beside the point. Human nature is generally resistant to change. Yes, we will adapt and innovation will answer the challenge -- eventually. But if the free market alone foresaw an answer it would have found a way to profit from it by now, yet it has not and likely will not until every last drop of viable crude has been extracted and refined. Let's hope wiser minds stop quibbling over details so that the Big Picture is attended to long before The American Dream is dashed.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't be afraid when you crack open this book..., January 27, 2006
..because it will scare the bejesus out of you. And that may be very beneficial for you. At least I think it was for me.

Kunstler's point is to sound an alarm and to open up our eyes to the somewhat fragile foundation of today's society and economy. Things we now take for granted, like how we live and work, and how we interact with others, are going to have to change in a big way. The author presents a very readable and captivating series of arguments that are mostly, but not totally, backed up by solid facts. The brutal consequences of his conclusions had me awake at night.

Kunstler is primarily an author, a social critic, and something of an historian. His description of the history of oil and its affect on politics and society are fascinating reading. His chapters on the current dependence of industry, farming, and community life on cheap oil are very well written. He is very much not a scientist however. Some simple factual errors (an example being his incorrect description of how hydrogen and oxygen are separated from electrolyzed water) led me to have suspicion about his conclusions, which are naturally extrapolations and hence likely to have error. He is dismissive of solar photovoltaics, despite his personal owning of a solar cell unit at a vacation cabin on an island. He doubts that solar panels can "continue to exist outside the friendly confines of a fossil fuel economy", which is a common theme echoing around this book: technology X exists, but it is necessary to have abundant cheap oil to use it. He can't seem to visualize that manufacturing or transportation or agriculture or commerce can adapt - that if oil gets expensive, other energy sources (granted, maybe not as easy or as cheap as oil) or alterantive means will come into play and become internalized by society.

His weakest chapters are on his vision of a future society, about the breakup of nations and regions, and of conflict. Kunstler sees a pre-oil 18th Century social order as not only inevitable, but as the only solution to the end of the oil era. Admitting to other possibilities would make the book less frightening I suppose. So he only gets four stars from me.

I do recommend the book, primarily as an eye-opener, to shake out of complacency borne of the scale of today's high-technology life. It is helpful to read unsettling ideas, it gives fresh perspectives. To that end, my highest recommendation is for every member of Congress to read it!
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