A View From The Handbasket

Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Doom, I say! Doom!
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:41 PM

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While I can never seem to remember important things like birthdays, phone numbers and wearing pants (oh, wait, that's the recurring dreams post), I have a flawless memory for useless things like... well, like my posts from five months ago. In this particular example of 20-20 hindsight, we find reliable pessimist James Howard Kunstler warning us:

Take a good look at America around you now, because when we emerge from the winter of 2005 - 6, we're going to be another country. The reality-oblivious nation of mall hounds, bargain shoppers, happy motorists, Nascar fans, Red State war hawks, and born-again Krispy Kremers is headed into a werewolf-like transformation that will reveal to all the tragic monster we have become.

Obviously, Jim was dead solid wrong on that count. The mall's as crowded as ever, the Sunday paper's full of bargains, my mother-in-law has a new car, the Daytona 500 got record ratings, and Krispy Kremes are still yummy. (To be fair, the war has become rather unpopular, though it's still got broad support, especially in the Red States.) Kunstler has somehow made a career out of being wrong -- he rode the Y2K doom train for all it was worth seven years ago, and is now Peak Oil's biggest cheerleader. It's worthwhile to note that these sort of Chicken Little antics are supporting pillars of Kunstler's main gig, which is decrying the suburbs and wasteful land use. A worthy cause, to be sure, but he seems to feel that threatening people with imminent cataclysm is the only way to get them to give up their McMansions, Explorers and 40-mile commutes.

Of course, it's easy for me to sit here in March 2006 and say that the winter of 2005-2006 did not completely destroy the American standard of living and that Y2K didn't bring about a Road Warrior reality. It's easy for anyone to do that, which is precisely my point -- reckless doomsaying of the sort that Kunstler and his ilk engage in will probably do more to blind people to the real threat of peak oil than happy talk from the oil companies, who people generally don't believe anyway.

When Kunstler, one of the poster boys of the Peak Oil awareness movement, makes boneheaded predictions that don't come true, it discredits the whole notion that cheap oil is ending. "Aren't those Peak Oil idiots the ones that said we'd be living in caves by now? Morons. I'm gonna go fill up my Tahoe." And thus the problem becomes worse and the crisis will be upon us that much faster (and, critically, with less time to build up infrastructure for alternative energy sources).

So when we wake up to $5, $7, $10 gas in the next several years with no clue of what to do about it, we can blame lots of things. We can blame billion-person countries like China and India who decided they want to live like Americans. We can blame Americans for living like Americans. We can blame governments and corporations for ignoring the problem. We can blame the Saudis for fibbing about their reserves.

And, sadly, we can also blame people like Kunstler, who gave many who were ready to listen an excuse to write the whole thing off as mere doomsaying.

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