Kunstler radio interview

Thanks to Past Peak for linking to this Kunstler radio interview. He basically summarizes The Long Emergency for us, but it's still kind of interesting to hear it in his voice. Sometimes he gets pretty snarky in his books, so I was kind of surprised to hear how calm and reasonable he sounds.

Here's a rundown of some of the topics he touches on:
  • Food production: Right now food travels long distances. It's going to have to become much more local.
  • Suburbia: People regularly commute, and the school busing system is unsustainable.
  • Economic growth: Not going to happen with fuel shortages. The government isn't telling us about Peak Oil because it would immediately damage the economy.
  • Sustainable cities: The most successful places will be the smaller cities that don't have unreasonable energy demands, and that are near local agriculture.
  • Agriculture: Will necessarily involve a lot more human labor (and Kunstler hints at a return to share-cropping). He doesn't think we'll convert strip malls to agriculture; he thinks they'll be the "ruins of our time".
  • Alternative energies: Discusses why coal, natural gas, solar and wind power can't combine to replace oil. (This is addressed at length in the book.)
  • Political instability: The "formerly middle class" will be puzzled about and angry at their loss of entitlement. This will lead to interesting political shenanigans.
  • Why the populace is uninformed: Poor leadership and a lot of wishful thinking about alternative fuels. We believe that this is just one more thing that we'll overcome with technology. Besides, we're distracted by the easy recreation afforded by cheap oil.
  • Does Kunstler hold out hope? Yes. Humans are resourceful, and the people who come out of this will be more in touch with the meaningful aspects of human life, namely, better community.

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I had the same reaction to hearing him speak on-screen in The End of Suburbia. I saw it before I got far enough into The Long Emergency to be thoroughly disappointed, and as I read his (imo) superficial political and social critique in the final chapters, I thought: where's that funny, reasonable sounding-guy who was in the movie?

While I am convinced that we are going to see a peak in global production very soon (if it hasn't already happened), it is still unclear to me what the slope is going to look like on the backside of the curve. I've seen some troubling things regarding the rates of depletion as a result of some of the techniques we are using to increase production from the large mature fields that make me fear the worst. On the other hand there is all this unconventional stuff that if we are lucky can be brought on line. Not quickly enough to avert a peak, but maybe quickly enough to ease the slope of the decline.

Kunsler although very self assured in his vision, knows no more about this critical aspect of the post peak world than I do. Which is to say, he doesn't know very much at all about it. His take is certainly credible. It is one potential outcome, if the slope has a particular shape. But the fact is that there is almost no way right now to know with any degree of certainty what the slope will be. And that is the entire nut.

If we manage a long plateau and a gentle slope, we have many possibilities for a transition to a post fossil fuel economic reality. Yes, we won't be able to simply graft our current wasteful habbits onto a post petroleum world, but it won't be the discontinuity that Mr. K is peddling.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that the slope of that curve will be such that there simply won't be the time or the available energy to make transition to a post petroleum economy. Then the picture that Kuntsler paints becomes much more likely.

So, I think that weak part of his argument is the certainty with which he makes it. What we do know is that we are very close to a maximum in global petroleum production. But I don't think that we can predict at this point in time what the slope on the backside of the curve is going to look like, although there are some troubling signals.

I saw "Suburbia" when it first came out. I thought Kunstler was pretty optimistic about us being able to power down to local economies and to the "yard-sale nation."

What I worry about post-peak is that oil-producing nations will begin hoarding resources rather than selling them cheap so that we can all drive big cars.

This economy is way too debt-ridden and fragile to take any kind of oil shock. I don't think things will go well. Not well at all ...

Thanks for posting the audio. I have been a disciple of Kunstler since Georgraphy of Nowhere. If you want to hear him from that era, a great spiel is online at


It's very visually oriented and its too bad they couldn't include the slides, but to get a flavor of some of the referenced pictures you can see his eyesores


The early one are best in my opinion. The manner in which we settle the land has great effect on our transportation needs, commercial and social relationships and so the New Urbanism is very much central to addressing the problem of energy depletion IMO. Problem is it took a long time for us to screw up in this area and it will take a long time to recover. How much time do we have ?