Kunstler on the fast approaching long emergency

Posted: May 12th, 2008 by: h-2

Last week James Howard Kunstler had a pretty insightful blog posting, highlighting the fast rising belief in the United States that Big Oil is responsible for the gasoline price rises:

A friend asked me how come the public apparently grasps the reality of climate change but can’t seem to wrap its collective brain around the unfolding oil crisis.

I’m not convinced that the public does grasp climate change. It’s perceived, perhaps, as a background story to daily life, which goes on regardless. Are you even sure Hollywood didn’t invent it — and maybe some boob at Time Magazine is selling it as though it were really happening?

Few have anything to gain by espousing denial of climate change. It’s hard for most people to tell if they have been affected by it. It doesn’t quite seem real. Those who actually make gestures in the face of it –- screwing in compact fluorescent lightbulbs, buying Prius cars — end up appearing ridiculous, like an old granny telling you to fetch your raincoat and rubbers because a force five hurricane is organizing iself offshore, beyond the horizon.

The public appears aggressively clueless about the peak oil story. They do not accept any threats to the motoring regime. The news media is surely not helping sort things out. I saw a remarkable display of ignorance on CNN last week when the new resident idiot-maniac Glenn Beck hosted Teamster Union boss James Hoffa and they agreed that the oil companies were to blame for high fuel prices. To put it as plainly as possible, Beck doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about, and it’s disgraceful that CNN gives free reign to this moron to misinform the public. It’s perhaps equally amazing that Hoffa doesn’t know we have entered a permanent global oil crisis based on demand having outrun supply. These two idiots think that if Exxon-Mobil built a new refinery down in Louisiana, everything would be fine, diesel fuel would go back down to 99 cents a gallon, and it would be Christmas every morning.
Kunstler, April 28, 2008

The misconception that private oil companies are behind the recent gasoline price spikes is important to look at more closely. I’ve been finding this mistaken view too when I talk to people who have not actually looked into the questions of gas prices as they relate to Peak Oil. Essentially, what we’re seeing is how complete the domination of the corporate media is when it comes to how people come to understand complex issues.

This struck me on a recent trip as well, I talked to several otherwise very astute people, along with some others who I asked to explain the rise in oil prices not because I expected a clearly reasoned answer, but because I wanted to hear what it is that the poorly informed mainstream population thinks is going on.

I look at some components of the actual source of oil price rises in this big oil, gasoline, refining margins posting. There you can see the actual price of gasoline has almost nothing to do with big oil at all, and everything to do with two primary factors:

  1. The roughly 45% devaluation of the US dollar in the last 10 years.
  2. Global oil supply peaking while global crude oil demand rises beyond what can be supplied.

The bottom line is and always has been that the growth we experienced since the 1970s was never sustainable. And the words ‘not sustainable’ mean just that.

For far too long the concept of sustainability has been treated as a pleasant idea that will never happen, when all along it has been a core requirement for survival of any species. The absurd claim in fact has always been the contrary, ie, the foundational ethos of our current economic systems globally: non-sustainable growth can be sustained.

Sadly, Kunstler’s reading of the viability of the system is proving to be fairly accurate.

I finally also picked up his book The Geography of Nowhere (review to follow) and am finding it to be quite prescient, especially considering that it was published in 1993. It helps explain why the US population is going to have extreme difficulty adjusting to this new reality, with a very nice historical overview of how the American mind was formed over the past centuries to be what it is today.

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