Moving down-scale

Jim Kunstler spoke to a packed audience at Mount Allison University last night, covering much of the material in his book The Long Emergency with updated data. You can watch his 2004 TED Talk on The Tragedy of Suburbia.

Kunstler opened with a most informative graph developed by C H Smith:

Yes, that’s right; sometime in the near future, oil will trade for $1,000 per barrel. In this post-peak oil period, Kunstler’s basic conclusion is that the age of continual growth (2-7%) is over. He showed how the US economy was based almost entirely on suburban development and that has now come to a crashing halt. He also predicted the collapse of the aviation industry in the next 48 months. Dwindling oil supplies and higher costs will affect every sector of society, and we will see major changes in:

  • how we inhabit the landscape as our cities & towns adapt
  • how we grow food as we are forced to be more local and use animal power once again
  • how we do business after the collapse of the industrial retail model (e.g. farmers markets vs Wal*Mart)
  • how we will make things on a more local level
  • how collector schools premised on cheap transportation will disappear

There will soon be a major down-scaling of everything we do because we will no longer have the energy to continue with our current system. Kunstler’s suggestion for a pragmatic North American project to get society motivated to tackle these huge issues is to restore our passenger rail service. It’s feasible, much-needed, requires no new technology and will employ many people. Cars (and suburbia) are dead, no matter how many hybrids we buy.

3 Responses to “Moving down-scale”

  1. Dave Ferguson

    Long-haul passenger rail has a role (I was with Amtrak for 11 years), but it’s not a starring one. Trains carried 95% of US intercity traffic in 1910, but that’s like saying the Apple II handled 70% of all spreadsheet transactions–there wasn’t that much intercity traffic in a mainly rural country, and there was virtually no alternative for trips over 400 miles.

    Suburban sprawl will have to end. Regional (<500 miles) and commuter rail may increase, though the denser the area, the more bitter right-of-way and infrastructure fights will be. (I wonder if in the meantime airlines will experiment with “quiet flights,” the way Amtrak has no-cell-phone quiet cars in the Northeast Corridor?)

    I revisited the TED talk, then saw this one by Stewart Brand–not a refutation of Kunstler’s indignation, but a different angle. I hadn’t thought of squatter cities as sources of productivity.


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