Book Review – The Long Emergency

If every last drop of the remaining 1 trillion barrels could be extracted at current cost ratios and current rates of production – which is extremely unlikely – the entire endowment would last only another thirty-seven years.

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Howard Kunstler

God damn this is a depressing book. In more ways than one. Kunstler sets out to single-handedly prove that we’re running out of oil and that society as we know it will collapse. Very doomsday.

I agree on one point: we are running out of oil. Don’t know when, but eventually there will be no more, and it will probably suck. However, Kunstler takes it a step further and says that not only are we running out of oil, but we’re running out NOW, and we have no tech to save us and global warming/climate change/global climate disruption/OHGODWE’REALLGONNADIE is going to happen and everyone living in suburban America is going to die a horrible slow death. And the people in the South are screwed because everyone west of Texas is going to end up being part of Mexico, and all the hicks east of Texas are going to kill each other, and Texas will be filled with hicks and Mexicans killing each other. And dying because there’s no water. Along with your puppy. But apparently New England, aside from the major metropolitan areas, will be fine. So go move there, you damn yankees.

Really, though. He makes some strong logical arguments, which are refuted with equal logical strength by The Skeptical Environmentalist. Believe what side you will. He also states that none of the alternative energy sources we’re developing are going to save our asses. He makes some good arguments regarding infastructure and the fact that nuclear power can’t currently be used to fuel our vehicles.

And that’s great and all. He’s just got one big-ass problem.

He doesn’t source anything.

Apparently he just pulls some numbers out of his ass or something. Really. The above quote about thirty-seven years? No source. At all. No sources, no bibliography, nothing. Nada. Zip, zero, zilch. When he does source, he tends to source crap like The New Yorker or CNN Online or other bullshit. Magazine articles, as opposed to peer-reviewed articles. That makes me think all of this is just plain old bullshit. He literally cited only a single source that has any credibility at all.

And that, my friends, killed this book completely. How can I believe a word of what this guy is saying? And he’s not saying thinks like “Many Americans now live in suburbs.” No, it’s crap like “Worldwide discovery of oil peaked in 1964 and has followed a firm trendline downward ever since.” That shit needs some sources. Who says that, and what data do they have to back it up. Even Al Gore fucking had sources.

So in the meantime, I’ll just sit here and wait for the hicks and the Mexicans to start rioting.


7 Responses to “Book Review – The Long Emergency”

  1. rabblerabblerabble

  2. Craig Says:

    I read this book several years ago, and you’re right, it’s fairly doomsdayish in tone. The lack of sourcing is an issue as well, but all that aside I think the book has at least one thing going for it, and that’s the fact that it will hopefully get anyone who reads it (or hears about it) to actually consider the consequences of running out of oil, or it becoming prohibitively expensive.

    Based on all the reasonable evidence and figures I’ve seen (from sources that should be somewhat reliable/accurate), I think you would have to be in denial to think that we are going to be able to have oil remain affordable forever. It may be decades from now, or the one ahead of us, but supply is likely to get tighter at some point, and the price will go waaay up. While there are plenty of academic types out there thinking about solutions to this problem, it seems most of your average joes don’t think about it, either because they never had it brought to there attention or because they don’t want to have to consider what it would mean to their lifestyle.

    Planning ahead means considering what if scenarios, and this book is an example of that. What he describes may not be too likely, but if we can’t find a replacement energy source by the time oil does become more expense than most can afford, the world is *really* going to change from how it is today.

    • It’s not just energy. If you really look into it, petroleum is used in a lot of the synthetic products we use. It’s in plastics, it’s in medications, it’s even in my moustache wax. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s used in foods, though that’s a whole other ballgame there. Energy’s a big deal, but we need to consider alternatives for a lot more than just power if we want to completely separate ourselves from oil.

      • Craig Says:

        Yeah, you’re absolutely right, I just forgot to mention that in my comment. Now that you’ve reminded me, I’d say that it’s *because* it’s used in so many other areas that we tend to take for granted that we will be really screwed if it becomes too expensive (or runs out, which is lees likely)

    • Oh yes, I fully agree there. It definitely got me thinking “What if he’s right…”

  3. Buddy of mine, former Director of the National Coal Inventory, Canada, likes to say “Whatever the outcome, the future will be ecological.”

    I returned to The Long Emergency because i wanted to compare its ideas and viewpoints with those of Paul Gilding in a new (2011) book called The Great Disruption. Gilding (a much less entertaining writer than Kunstler) makes many of the same basic points: our social and economic practices have created conditions that will result in escalating consequences–financial crises; weather and climate events; energy, food and freshwater collapses. It’s his view that we are in the early stages of experiencing these conditions, but can’t yet see them for what they are. Gilding calls himself an optimist because while the ‘disruption’ itself will likely be ugly and long-lasting, humanity, he believes, is always at its best deep in the 11th hour, when its capacity for innovation and collaboration are most needed. In other words, there will be an aftermath in which humanity–chastened and made wiser, he believes–will continue with the human project.

    Kunstler, in fact, bristles when people call him a pessimist or an apocalyptarian. In his view, he is simply stating: “These are the conditions, here are the consequences,” and sees nothing inherently pessimistic about that. He doesn’t lend optimism to the the nature or preservation of the suburbs or North American over-comsumption, and clearly doesn’t see any of that as a successful experiment, but I don’t see how that by itself makes him a pessimist–unless a pessimist is someone who, after describing calamitous choices, suggests that there will be consequences. We’re been emotionally coddled by the extraordinary conditions of our lives and recent history, and we have never been good students of long history. Bad things happen, and it’s not a movie.

    Both Gilding and Kunstler discuss how difficult or almost impossible it is for individual and whole societies to confront such prospects and to rapidly respond or radically adjust. I suppose this is the ecological function of catastrophe–to change the game whether we are ready and willing, or not.

    • Craig Says:

      I don’t think it’s pessimistic to point out that a way of doing something is not sustainable. If more people could look rationally at what is and isn’t sustainable we would probably be able to avoid the worst of the predictions for the future.

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