James Howard Kunstler: Colbert Appearance and a Response to Critics

First off, here is JHK on Colbert (Flash required, methinks). It's smart, it's funny, and it's worth your time (6 min).

For those of you in Canada, the video can also be seen on youtube here.

And, Jim has sent us a reply to the critics of World Made By Hand (link to Amazon)...it is posted here in its entirety.

I don't intend to mount a "defense" against all your complaints, but would like to make a few brief points:

The facts support the position that the Y2K computer situation was a serious problem. Billions of dollars and untold man-hours were spent correcting it. It was, however, a very limited problem, and it is fatuous to assert that just because it was successfully corrected means that we shouldn't have taken it seriously.

Complaints have come from many quarters that in my novel the feminist revolution appears to have been discontinued, or that my female characters are not sufficiently valorized. To me, these complaints show an impressive incapacity to imagine that social arrangements might be different under very different practical circumstances. In "World Made By Hand," the corporate milieu no longer exists. Issues of "glass ceilings" and "equal pay" tend to be irrelevant. All the people in the novel are essentially working within their competence. But the divisions of labor are not what they used to be in the age of WalMart and Time Warner. The major female characters are treated sympathetically as real people with pretty complicated lives.

The supernatural elements in the novel were introduced for a purpose: to suggest that the consensus about reality defined by Enlightenment ideas is yielding to a different consensus about reality -- one less grounded in empiricism and logical positivism. I went this way because it seemed probable that socio-economic changes so profound would have to produce changes in fundamental views of reality.

Robert Rapier's recent review of World Made By Hand can be found here.

Wow, Jimmy kept his cool!
Way to go.
A lot of silence from the audience on his salient points though.
I'm thinking he needs a better venue.
I'd like to see him on Glenn Beck :)

After Jim's description of Beck this week I don't think that will happen. I think too that the dictum of "Don't waste your time arguing with those who won't be convinced." applies to Beck and his audience. PT Barnum's dictum of "It doesn't matter what they say about you as long as they spell the name right." is only true for those selling illusions or snake oil. For Jim time better spent might be a few hours with his neighbours in the local coffee shop.

"Where a bad tree thrives, a good tree will flourish. But where no
tree at all can be found, nothing will grow."
-A Voyage to Arcturus- David Lindsay

My take on it is that Beck has been warning folks that they had better get ready for when TSHTF.
I don't think he has the whole picture yet(he needs to read TOD) but I'm not hearing anyone else talking about it on the MSM.
Actually I think JHK and Beck aren't that far apart-
JHK: "...you could drill in ANWAR and I'm not against it"
Beck: " I'm in favor of drilling through the heads of Santa's reindeer to get at the oil"

Then let's pound him with emails to read TOD. :)



Go forth people.

"Actually I think JHK and Beck aren't that far apart-..."

They'd never get along. Note how often JHK has disparaged the NASCAR set in his column.
[edit] And I'd be willing to bet Beck has a Salad Shooter.

Just one thing I'd like to add --

What many seem to be missing here is that the purpose Colbert serves is one of satire. And since, in our world, satire is the entre to social commentary the fact that Colbert has characterized Peak Oil at all is a sign of awareness.

Like others here, I don't think he attacked Kunstler at all. Rather, he presented every opportunity for Kunstler to tear down his obvious clowning. For those seeking Peak Oil awareness, this is a huge boon. Kudos to both Kunstler and Colbert.

Yep Robert, you nailed it. Colbert was giving him softballs to hit..."Can't I just put a can of cream of corn in my flex-fuel tank and it will run?" Colbert is great at drawing you in to believing the character he is portraying. Look what he did to Bush at the Press Club speech awhile back.

Jim, kudos, thanks for putting yourself out there and congrats to getting on a popular comedy show. Let us know if you ever get on Jon Stewart. He would play you more on the up and up and would probably have a better discussion.

This was a strike for educating the hip college crowd...that's the main audience for Colbert and Stewart even though some old farts enjoy them as well.

Since I'm not in college, I guess I'm part of the old fart crowd ;).

As usual, I've been worrying over the Kunstler bone for a little while and I'd like to add a few caveats...

1. Kunstler did a public service to help raise awareness about Y2K. Without preparation, Y2K, though not likely to result in the end of civilization, could have been a bit worse. So in my opinion, it's better to over-prepare for an emergency than to not prepare or to be poorly prepared. Y2K response vs Katrina, for example. So though the end of the world according to Kunstler did not happen with Y2K, I still think he was right to sound the alarm.

2. The case of Peak Oil is a bit different. The civilized world ran quite well before computers and though system crashes result in loss of productivity and the need for hard copy work-arounds, the issue of peak oil, I would argue is a bit larger. You'll need 10-20 years of really hard work to mitigate peak oil. You'll need billions if not trillions of sunk investment. And you'll need to make some really damn good energy substitute choices to navigate the problem.

3. Where I disagree with Kunstler is his 'doomed sense of inevitability.' As a free will guy I tend to operate under the assumption that applied will and effort changes things. There is no magic but the simple kind involved in hard work and applied human intellect. If we were to create a scale with 1 representing ultra doomer and 10 representing ultra cornucopian, I'd put Kunstler at about a 4. He's a doomer, but at least he's a rational one. But I think he's overlooking advances being made in alternatives, renewable energy, and energy efficiency right under his nose. Furthermore, we've got to realize that there's a lot of fat we can cut out of the current system before we start hitting muscle, bone, and vitals. Though Kunstler is entirely justified in saying "The world doesn't have a creamy nougat center," I don't think his criticism of alternatives is quite as justified. Even if alternatives make up for half the energy loss of oil, we might be able to pull through on radical increases in efficiency.

In any case, the challenge of peak oil is before us. The question in my mind is will we rise to meet it or will we cower or otherwise fail to face it. In all, I like and respect Kunstler. You don't have to agree with everything a person says, after all. He's doing the right thing and he's bustin his butt while others sit on their hands or point fingers. So my extended Kudos remain.

"As a free will guy..."
"There is no magic..."

Kinda contradictory there.

Somehow, Mr. Marston, I don't think you fully grasp what 7 billion people really means, nor what 2.3 billion more of them trying to live "western" lifestyles truly means.

DIYer - "And I'd be willing to bet Beck has a Salad Shooter."

I've got a salad shooter and a food processor and a set of acrylic serving utencils and I haven't even gotten started. But I also have a set of stainless steel cooking ware by Caphalon as well and I would imagine that when I die the grandkids will be fighting over them.

JHK's point about salad shooters is not that they are necessarily evil but at a time in history when we need to prioritize we need to stop producing and buying junk.

A Voyage to Arcturus was one of the early sci-fi influences that went beyond the normal fantasy.
I didn't know anyone else was aware of the chewy nature of the writing-

Sorry to swerve off topic but here's some good Lindsay links:

Thanks PG for the links.

Admittedly I'm not that familiar w/Colberts' schtick but I've heard Jim on a radio interview once where he acerbically corrected the host right at the very beginning and it went downhill from there.
You don't win many converts by tearing their ears off and sending them back via said Salad Shooter.

Kunstler is the worst thing that has happened to Peak Oil, IMO. His Chicken Little ranting about Y2K exactly mirrors his ranting about the end of cheap oil, undermining the whole thrust of the peak oil thesis. He's an easy target, an attention-seeking blowhard who overuses hyperbole to the detriment of everyone.

The worst thing? Well... He made it to the mainstream media. He is not an asshole. That is good enough, though I admit that someone else would have be better.

BTW: Why is Al Gore so concerned with Climate Change but not so much with Peak Oil? He is aware.

Mr. Kunstler - great job. The guy Colbert was obviously trying his best to ridicule you and get a laugh.

At a minimum you helped get the message across to the audience. Maybe they will look up peak oil and learn something.

I have a hard time listening to people like Colbert but I endured his speaking to the end. He probably knows all about the oil situation, he just wants to get a laugh and make a buck.

My hope for the coming recession is that it will reacquaint the public with the subtle art of intelligent satire (and cause better music to be made of course).

Stephen Colbert (character)

Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A. (pronounced /koʊlˈbɛər/) is the fictional persona of political satirist Stephen Colbert, portrayed most notably on The Colbert Report. Described as a "well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,"[1] the character is a blustery, self-obsessed right-wing commentator with a strong distaste for facts. He incorporates aspects of the real Colbert's life and interests, but is modelled primarily as a parody of cable news pundits, particularly Bill O'Reilly.[2]

Regular Daily Show or Colbert Report audiences are well in on the joke. The Daily Show (despite being on Comedy Central) is probably the best political show on US television. The Colbert Report is a spin-off from The Daily Show.

SanDiegoObserver - Oh you totally missed Colbert. He was completely supportive of the issue. He's the one who mentioned "peak oil," "geothermal" and "tide energy," not Kunstler. In fact I thought this was a super venue for the issue. The audience is politically savvy, young, willing to go an extra step in accepting the Colbert character and...it's national TV for goodness sakes! (Not to mention the potential online play this could get.) Kunstler was at ease and had quite a lot of time to get his point across. Mazel Tov!

BKhere, I agree completely. I thought Colbert was trying to help Jim get his ideas out while still remaining in character. I have seen him do that before with people whose ideas he really respects.

Agree that this reached an important audience. I enjoyed seeing Kunstler present his book a month ago and brought my 17 year old son with me. He was highly amused to find out that there was actually a room full of people talking about the things his parents talk about at home, as he thinks we're weird. That night was a turning point for him, in accepting the subject, as Jim gave a nice talk. Now he sees it as an excuse to get a scooter, which he wanted anyway! To show him Kunstler on Colbert Report only a month later helped validate the person and subject in his young mind.
I thought that Colbert and Kunstler looked like they were having a good time and was curious to know if their conversation extended much beyond the show--I suspect it may have.

I'd like to see JHK on Stewart's The Daily Swow.

Adn then Larry King Live and Anderson Cooper 360 perhaps also Keith Olbermann's Countdown - among others. Bill Mahr when it comes back on. Even Moyer's PBS show.


Michael Moore was on Larry King (CNN) the other night and mentioned Peak Oil. He talked about humanity sliding down the depletion curve and about having a pessimistic view as to outcome.

The guy Colbert was obviously trying his best to ridicule you and get a laugh.

I disagree; Colbert served up for Kunstler on a golden platter. Creamy nougat center - looked like Colbert was going to laugh there. It must be wicked hard to keep up with him in a live situation. Kunstler did great. And yeah, getting laughs is essential. A creamy nougat with your peak oil, sir? Cheese doodles?

cfm in Gray, ME

IMHO, you don't understand his satire.

I think Colbert helped him along.

Just look at it. This is the Comedy Channel we're talkin' about here.

You need to watch Colbert a little more.

Deadpan is the new kickdrum.

He's one of the most popular talkshow hosts on the air right now, particularly among young people. His reverence is verging on culthood on the internet - John Stewart (the parent show) was never this popular. He's spoofing O'Reilly (which Stewart achieves by simply playing back conflicting videos of his own words) as the megalomaniacal right wing Talk Show host. That's the schtick. And it's really, really funny if you're familiar with the horrible people he parodies.

Even if the topic needed a few more minutes... This is possibly the most friendly reception I've seen him give anybody - he set up the softball questions, and Kunstler managed as well as anyone I've seen at hitting them out of the park. Combative *enough* to get his point through, without getting too technical or oppositional.

If you want to see a pure hit job(with no substantive reason or analysis behind it), there are plenty of talking heads who specialize in that kind of thing - defending the status quo consensus against new and unfamiliar points using nothing but rabid venom. Pit him in a 5 minute interview against a genuinely oppositional host(Beck could play the part, if Jim thought government could help us significantly) and IMO someone with Jim's temper would either walk out or give him a black eye.

Kunstler struck me as quite burdened and agitated by the gravity and somberness of watching the world unravel before his eyes. I know the feeling; I have had the opportunity to present publicly about Peak Oil myself recently at academic conferences and in college classrooms, and I feel, and probably come across to audiences, exactly the same way.

Unfortunately for Kunstler, his audience and the setting consisted of a bunch of swine trampling on pearls, and dogs turning to attack the one casting holy things before them (to borrow two metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount). I do not envy Kunstler in the least for the thankless task of trying to wake people up in a setting like that.

Keep up the good work, Jim.

Colbert's political and cultural preferences are not a secret to his regular fans. He's a pro-science, pro-environment liberal, a stance that doesn't preclude him from having a sense of humor. He's also not a mean guy, which is probably why Kunstler came across so mellow in the show--I had expected him to alienate the audience with his usual bristly in-your-face approach. Instead of a dogmatic curmudgeon, he sounded like somebody you might be willing to take seriously.

Kunstler struck me as quite burdened and agitated by the gravity and somberness of watching the world unravel before his eyes...

Elegantly put. Or like watching some kind of real-time, slow-motion disaster movie where you're at once part of the audience and part of the cast.

Don't feel too bad for JHK, he does quite well. That said, he is very valuable to us all. Being outspoken on any subject invites criticism, warranted or not. I first read an exerpt from "Long Emergency" in RS a few years ago. Changed my life. Keep up your work doing what you do concerning PO. We all play a role in raising awareness.

My take on the Colbert thing was Colbert was "playing" the idiot as a foil, setting up rediculous points for Kunstler to easily topple. Probably more effective in that approach than a Charlie Rose type forum. But, really, any word at all from JHK on any show is a good thing.


Congratulations to Jim for a superb effort on the Colbert show. It may not be the ideal venue, but at least a lot of people were watching and heard the message.

I witnessed major Y2K failures in 1998 when systems were isolated and their clocks moved forward. The reason nothing happened at midnight on Dec 31, 1999 was that problem systems were either fixed, replaced, retired or turned off.

Jim gave an excellent talk here in February. I don't 100% agree with his argument but he does provide us with an urgently needed framework and vocabulary with which to have a discussion about our future.

The facts about peak oil don't scare me nearly as much as the delusional state of politicians, popular media, and the public at large.

Great job, Jim! A tough venue in which to try to advance your thoughts, though. You come across a lot better briefing architects about PO and bad buildings. Your new book will also be a home run. Have you thought about putting it online for download? You might be able to reach a wider audience, worldwide, that way. Keep up your good work!

PS. I was charged with coding the Y2K fix for one of Verizon's systems. When I would brief management that it was a month-to-month system and really didn't need much coding done to get through Y2K, their eyes would roll. Their hysteria was huge. I could have gotten tons of resources to rewrite the system, but I tried to save them money instead. The system made it through Y2K just fine and is still running today.

I watch the Colbert Show on a regular basis and while he is a wild man who frequently runs over guest, I felt he handed Jim a golden opportunity. It was Colbert that used the term Peak Oil. He also let Jim talk a great deal more than he lets his guests. He literally feed Jim the opportunities to make his points. Colbert, to me, appears to be on the money with PO. I sure would not discredit him. Jim message hit home.

I was thinking exactly the same thing. As you said, usually, Colbert gives you three minutes, Jim got 6. Usually Colbert doesn't facilitate the guest making points--in this case he did.

Yes, it's clumsy and gives one that feeling they get when watching a bad sitcom when they feel discomfort, but that's Colbert's mechanism. Irony/sarcasm makes (smart) people think...

ditto PG, ditto Wrighttracks - see my comment upthread.

Second the ditto. Thanks for posting that, PG.

Agreed. Colbert was throwing him easy pitches. Even the Y2K question was a gimme, albeit somewhat awkward and not suited for the fast-paced banter.

This is always the burden of the Cassandra, isn't it? (Nooo...we wouldn't know anything about that here...) Add on Jim's at-times-polemic style (which I happen to love), and well, it tends to facilitate not-so-well-founded/naive criticisms.

Jim can handle it. There's a lot we can learn from his resiliency over the years.

I was pleased to see the clip. I bought World when it first came out and thought it well done. I am now waiting for the 2nd edition of GeoDestinies.
---My brother-in-law was a semi-retired computer programmer specializing in a not quite obsolete programming language still used by some department stores.. Y2K became his pension.

I thought JHK did fine, and I'm often quick to jump on what I see as his achilles heel of class-baiting.. Maybe he was playing down his notorious tone a bit, knowing Colbert could use it against him, but I was kind of hoping they'd USE it, and end up 'Settling some growing dispute the old fashioned way, with MUD-WRESTLING!'


JHK's reply to the complaints about sexism in his book are of particular interest:

Complaints have come from many quarters that in my novel the feminist revolution appears to have been discontinued, or that my female characters are not sufficiently valorized. To me, these complaints show an impressive incapacity to imagine that social arrangements might be different under very different practical circumstances. In "World Made By Hand," the corporate milieu no longer exists. Issues of "glass ceilings" and "equal pay" tend to be irrelevant. All the people in the novel are essentially working within their competence. But the divisions of labor are not what they used to be in the age of WalMart and Time Warner ...

I haven't read the book myself (just ordered), but JHK obviously pulls no punches when it comes to addressing issues that are even more taboo in Western society than 'peak oil' – the possible interconnect between fossil-fuel driven prosperity and 'women's liberation'. If society is about to shift from the age of 'brain power' to the age of 'brawn power' (human and animal muscle, so to speak), I reckon we can expect a return to a more 'traditionalist' division of labour between the sexes.

I googled in 'peak oil' and ' feminism' .

First hit:

Peak Oil for Women, and the Men who love them

(dated 2006-07-11 17:14 — by Jewishfarmer)


The way women live now in the Western world is almost entirely a result of cheap energy and its byproducts. I think it would be easy to lose track of how much contemporary feminism, with its focus on women in the workplace, and on the politics of equality is shaped by cheap energy in the forms of birth control, easy access to medical care, formula, breast pumps, drive-to daycare, Social Security, etc ..

Full article here:


I've put it on my recommended reading list.

I'm going to split my comments about JHK answers to his critics.

Essentially, most of the manual labor done in the world, especially agricultural labor, is done by women. Men don't use 'brawn' to sit on top of the pyramid, they use force. Whether it be physical violence or social norms.

Though there is no way to predict the future, the genie is out of the bottle, and the only ones who will be able to put it back in the Western world are women themselves.

After all, the force required to pull a trigger, poison someone's food, or slit a throat in the night is well within the range of the average 30 year old woman - especially one who realizes that men who want to subjugate women again are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

This is not really a fossil fuels question, even for those who dream of the end of a fossil fuel driven society leading straight back to their own fantasies.

Kunstler is simply a bit too old to realize that women a couple of decades younger than him simply aren't used to being treated as chattel any longer. Which is one of the major sources of male frustration in American society, one that Kunstler addresses, without ever really acknowledging how it affects his perspectives too.

'Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female - whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.' - Simone de Beauvoir

Expat: My understanding of Kunstler's comments is that he is extrapolating the rise of the Religious Right in the USA over the last 30 years to an energy constrained future. He is theorizing that the stresses caused by oil depletion will cause a dramatic rise in the popularity of societies based around traditional thinking and superstition. Some of the criticisms are attacking JHK personally, as if he is advocating the stripping away of equal rights-it is just a fictional novel.

I understand the point, and it is well taken.

However, Kunstler is fairly convinced that a future with less fossil fuels is likely to look like the past, especially the one he finds desirable - a past which includes several groups of people returning to their 'natural' roles.

I have read a bit of his latest book, in excerpts available on the web, but my opinion is based much more on reading Kunstler over more than a decade. He is a quite typical white American middle class male, roughly a decade and a half older than I, which tends to let me at least understand the source of his various nostalgic pinings. It doesn't make me sympathetic to them, however.

Your view is interesting-maybe Kunstler is like an ink blot test-I have read quite a bit of his stuff but never was aware of any comments regarding women or feminism.


There's a fascinating book on the topic of the sexual division of labour which you might like to read (or 'look inside the book' at Amazon):

Divided Labours: An Evolutionary View of Women at Work (Darwinism Today series)


One of the reviewers writes:

Over the past three decades, western societies have been spectacularly successful in eliminating many forms of discrimination against women. In some important areas of the workplace, however, women as a group have not enjoyed a high level of success. For example, there are relatively few female firefighters, female fighter jet pilots, and, more importantly, relatively few female top executives. In Divided Labours, Kingsley Browne suggests that the under-representation of women in certain risky professions is consistent with evolutionary theory and should not be assumed without serious proof to be the result of social or individual discrimination.

All this has nothing to do with peak oil per se of course -- but clearly a society in which manual labour is going to predominate is not going to be one which fosters 'gender-blind' employment practices. Men will again be doing all the heavy lifting, bringing home most of the bacon etc.

Whether that is a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing' is an entirely different matter.


If you look at most hunter gather societies, in general, women do most of the gardening and much of the trapping of small game. This production of food is what keeps the group fed. And it is groups because most radical individuals don't last very long. The hunting/"bringing home the bacon" is status related. In Hunter gatherer societies, the men are defining themselves as high status through procuring lots of meat and through territorial defense. In some sense, todays "high danger" jobs are status statements. And high status transforms into sexual access. Look at Wilt Chamberlin and his stated number of "conquests". Look at the costumes that male strippers wear for women (cop, fireman, playboy).

But returning to the statement of "heavy lifting". In general, women do most of the work in a family unit and as I stated above, raise/grow/capture most of the food. Unlike men, women's stress levels goes up when they come home from work because they tend to have 2 to 4 more hours of housework. If a woman gets married and is in a good relationship, her life-span actually decreases a couple of years because of the added responsibilities while if the man gets married and is in a good relationship, his life-span increases a couple of years.

So be careful when you speak of "heavy lifting" and "bringing home the bacon", because women are the ones that are doing most of the work AND raising the pigs for bacon. If we do revert to a less energy driven society, more work will have to be done by hand. And that means everyone will be doing the work.


As Nate Hagens puts it: we evolved from best of the best. The same goes for religions and cultural systems. Not that I am a religious person - but it has to be acknowledged, that obviously religious society was more successful if almost every society developed a form of religious belief.

Almost every widespread religion also puts man above woman - it seems that society has performed better this way. I am not suprised by it. I will admit, I am a man, but my reasoning goes beyond that. I won't go into intelligency, the difference there (if exists) is small and irrelevant. However - average man is far more rational than average women. Rational societies fare much better than irrational.

It is not disputed at TOD, why US went to Iraq. We know why. But was that irrational? Hell, if US (and Europe) wants to continue BAU (for limited time, but every month counts) they need to do something. 4 thousand dead US soldiers? You really think that they care about it? High costs? Money doesn't matter, energy matters.

Do you guys (and gals) here think that people in US and Europe really care for the world poor? The hell we care. We don't give a shit, we help them only to feel better. With high food prices, westerners will want to feed themselves first. Our automobiles will be second. Hungry mouth in Eritrea? Not even close.

EU commisioner admitted today: biofuels are cause for food price increases. Is EU going to change biofuel policy? You guessed it.

Your logic is impeccable-obviously societies filled with idiots are more successful as almost every society is filled with idiots.

=) Well, yeah, but you need to teach and organize all these idiots to get better results (10 commandments for example).

I think that a stupid person performs better, if he just obeys some extremely simple rules. Conversely, the society fares better as well.

However - average man is far more rational than average women.

Of course. That completely explains Elliot Spitzer.

Charles, you write:

So be careful when you speak of "heavy lifting" and "bringing home the bacon", because women are the ones that are doing most of the work AND raising the pigs for bacon. If we do revert to a less energy driven society, more work will have to be done by hand. And that means everyone will be doing the work.

A lot depends on how you define 'work' or 'heavy lifting', and I don't know whether an objective comparison between the sexes is really possible. Apart from that, I tend to agree with you. BTW don't forget that a lot of educated women in Western societies don't have any children at all, so they (a) probably live longer but (b) constitute a kind of genetic cul de sac and thus (c) their societies will be replaced by other societies in which women do have children because God tells them to do so or whatever. But all that is a bit off-topic. At any rate I think Kunstler is certainly right: a post-peak society is going to see the disappearance of a lot of discretionary occupations and an expansion of brawn-power jobs, where men inevitably predominate if only for purely biological reasons.

where men inevitably predominate if only for purely biological reasons.

Even cultural reasons have their biological causes.

I think that women have been given all these rights only because they are a much better consumer. They were gatherers in hunter and gatherer societies, right?

Consider the causes. Women are reproductively valuable - men, not so much. Warfare and hunting are both dangerous things. Losing a bunch of men in a disaster doing these things slightly reduces the gene pool. Losing a bunch of women halves the size of the next generation.

Polygamous relationships (and Levirate marriage, etc) allow a society to maximize its reproductive capacity. For most of human history, the trials of pregnancy were the major limiting factor in the survival of the society. If most of a society's women had more than two children reach reproductive age, that guarantees the survival of the society.

The rise of female rights and equality is quite strongly tied to the fact that we no longer have the pitiful life expectancies, the high infertility rates, the high infant and child mortality rates, and the high death-in-childbirth rates that generations past had. We are capable of so far beyond replacement-rate fertility that we no longer have to protect women, marry them off young, trade them like cattle, keep them back by the caves and the fields while the rest of the men go hunting or go to war. Most of us no longer have to be able to rape and enslave a competing tribe in order to absorb their population after killing their warriors.

Men being selected for the best disposable warriors/hunters is what gave them the aggressiveness, the promiscuity, the muscle distribution, and in most societies, superior rights.

As long as we maintain some semblance of civil society, and a majority of our medical and nutritional implements, it's at least possible to preserve equal gender rights. Preserving gender equality is another matter.

Very good points. I suppose in the future women will preserve equality until the society is going to remain overpopulated. Once the population falls, we are back to old times.

Medical care will be reserved for the rich I guess.

Over the past three decades ... consistent with evolutionary theory ...

Am I the only one who thinks the above is hugely hilarious?

You're not the only one.

This represents my evaluation of Kunstler to a tee.

He's a typical US right-wing traditionalist with a contempt for government backed up by the breadth of his intelligence and historical knowledge. In such a stance, the downsides of peak oil are inevitable, and nostalgia is attractive, never mind the fact that we have around ten times as many people or that all our technology isn't just going to go away automatically.

He conveys the pinnacle of the nostalgic New Urbanist position (both optimistic and pessimistic on various topics), and after you read a book or two, and check out his blog, you really respect how well he's thought it through, without necessarily being pulled to agree with him (any more than you'd commit to the other poles of this debate).

BrianT writes:

[Kunstler] is theorizing that the stresses caused by oil depletion will cause a dramatic rise in the popularity of societies based around traditional thinking and superstition.

Also because the 'smarts' (such as the hyper-intelligent women who read De Beauvoir) don't reproduce very successfully, and the upcoming age of poverty will discourage them even more from passing on their genes. Ditto for the smart males, of course. While the underprivileged will continue to practice procreational sex, comme toujours.

Since the underprivileged are less intelligent than the De Beauvoirs, they are also more likely to fall prey for old-time religion, or seek scapegoats. The Arabs. The Jews. Big Oil. Feminists. The Godless ones, etc. etc.

And as you say, Kunstler is predicting , not advocating a rollback.

Let's not shoot the messenger.

It may have slipped your attention, but the birthrate for America and Europe has fallen like a rock - long before anyone heard of peak oil this trend was already well underway. If it weren't for immigration (legal and otherwise) Europe and Japan would already be in deep population decline and the US would be right behind them. The rollback has already started, because the number of south american catholics, etc., who embrace and advocate large families is already well on the way to displacing the "intellectual" class of rich caucasian americans.

On a slightly related note, it's a simple fact that women have children, and that requires maternity leave. Children get sick and have to be cared for - as do elderly parents - and when it is no longer possible to just farm the kids and mom & dad out to strangers so you can go "fulfill" yourself, you're going to have to care for your family yourself - and men's strength, stamina, and endurance are far more valuable elsewhere than babycare, education for the young, nursing and eldercare. Women have been doing these roles for 100,000 years or so and that hasn't really changed just because feminists want to wave their magic wands and make evolution go away. The fact that rich women hire poorer women to do these jobs for them is itself proof that women are far better suited to these jobs than men are. And when they can no longer afford to hire out their responsibilities to their kids, their parents, and their community then they'll just have to do it themselves. That's just reality.

Expat writes:

Essentially, most of the manual labor done in the world, especially agricultural labor, is done by women.

That may be true of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, but hardly the entire world.

I wonder what percentage of manual labour is done by women in the energy sector -- coal mining, North Sea oil, etc. Pretty low, I guess (at least in the 'brawn' dimension).

Perhaps it's time for feminists to protest against the 'under-representation' of women in deep-sea diving, uranium mining etc.. :-)

No, it is also true in the strawberry and aspargus fields in this region of Germany (a certain governator imports his own 'Spargel' from around here, by the way). Of course, both crops are high value (Spargel costs more than meat in a restaurant) and seasonal.

And neither require much in the way of anything but stoop labor to produce. But it is true that pretty much only men drive the tractors - I guess because tractor driving an air conditioned machine with hydraulic controls requires the sort of brawn that only men possess.

As for the energy industry - I knew a female union welder in the Bay Area. She was the token woman, and hated that fact, especially since the rest of her co-workers always let her know that. She was also generally the welder they used when skill was required. The dismissal of her being female while using her skills because the quality of a weld on a bridge matters was the sort of thing that women generally avoid dealing with over a life time career. Men would too, of course, except that the system is designed for them.

However, it is true that in upper body strength, males are more powerful. Women, in turn, have more endurance - which is why they are much more involved in agriculture. Working in a field for 12 hours is about endurance, after all.

I am often curious about the prediction that the loss of net energy is going to result in a loss of Liberty, Democracy and Quality of Life, whether for women or for everyone. In part, I see this reaction as similar to those who paint the future as a return to some recent or notorious era (19th century, 'dark ages', or stone age), since that is what is most available to our imaginations, and is the 'loss of progress' that this deprivation of our Power Drug might threaten to 'punish us' with.

Not that I think the loss of energy will be a picnic in any way- (save that we might be eating a lot of our meals out of tattered baskets, sitting on the ground with the ants..) but I still suggest that we are still moving forward.. many of the things we've learned will be lost or discarded, but countless others have become part of us now, and no different than the age-old tragedy of Sexism that persists today as a testament to the resilience of cultural traits, good ones and bad ones, we now have added to that legacy and where we move from here will be affected by it. We're still informed by the earlier Democracies and social experiments that came and went, and these helped form the basis for the American system. I have no reason to think that they won't do so again. We learned a little, and clearly not enough about the role of Women in the governance of some of the 'First Nations' in the Americas, and these customs were not developed in an age of Oil or Technology. Jefferson was not able to bring that aspect into the Constitutional Convention, unfortunately, but the records are still there. (Sorry, no time for linking.. got to pop more corn for 'La Nina')

Best Hopes for a fuller perspective on the history of our societies..


Yeah, there is so little left to lose after BushCo's assault on our freedoms. Why would the future be as bad as today? Why would we want to keep this headlong rush into fascism that we are experiencing now?

The truth is, much of Western Civilization's "freedoms" are due to cheap energy. Before fossil fuel, the cheap energy came in the form of slaves. Powerful people, like the Dark Lord Cheney, have traditionally accrued power through force and will use the cheap energy that is available. It is only through an extreme effort of LIBERALISM!!!! that we see any semblance of freedom in pre-fossil fuel societies. If we maintain some modicum of LIBERALISM in our society, it will be a miracle.

"The truth is, much of Western Civilization's "freedoms" are due to cheap energy. "

Well that statement is the one I'm challenging with my post. How do you substatiate this, and separate Causation from Correlation? The industrial revolution and Corporate Personhood also swapped outright slavery for 'Wage Slaves', Company Towns, Monopolies etc.. Economic Genocide.. so isn't it fair to say we've been losing freedoms as fast as we've gained them?

How cheap was the energy when the Bill of Rights was written? And yes, I KNOW there was slavery.. but save for that blindspot (which was already growing in awareness by the Revolution), the Founders were still idealists, rooted in the Enlightenment.

We've been taught to equate 'Toys' with Freedom, so we can believe we have a lot of both. Somehow, crushing debt is just supposed to be the 'triumph of a Free Market'..

"It is only through an extreme effort of LIBERALISM!!!! that we see any semblance of freedom in pre-fossil fuel societies." What do you mean by this? What are the freedoms that you are looking for? Did Aristotle have any, or Isaac Newton, or Medieval China.. What about small societies? Convince me that you are actually looking at real histories, and not purely 'feudal cliches', because I'm not at all sure that 'Noone was free' in earlier times, and that it is all from the beneficence of this Wonderdrug called oil. There have been liberal and conservative movements throughout history, and it behooves us to know about them, and not just imagine that everything before the modern age was 'Primitive'.. That's pretty limited thinking, I'd say.


by the way, when you say "LIBERALISM!!!!" like that, it actually doesn't sound like anything very liberal at all. I know a lot of 'Liberals' who are actually definitively reactionary conservatives. Their viewpoint is locked ('Liberal' means UNLocked, free), their intentions are set in stone. It's worth looking at what these terms really mean to us.

one needs to study history to understand what cherenkov is pointing out.

One might back up one's assertions with some examples. I have.

Favorite bumper sticker seen near here..
"My Goddess gave birth to your God."

Liberal in the current context typically refers to economic liberalism. That's why Tom Friedman and Hillary Clinton are "liberals" - neo-liberal economics. Even the liberalism of "pluralism" is based on that. I've even found some dictionaries that define it in that sequence. The conflation of economic liberalism and tolerance is very confusing because economic liberalism - as expressed in "free trade" and globalization - destroys pluralism. In the long run it cannot tolerate pluralism and diversity.

I do believe that we will find we have no womens' rights, no gay rights, no human rights, no civil rights, no rights of any kind unless we keep - I'd rather say take - economic rights. One can see how corporate power and its enforcement by government allies is working to strip the general population of economic rights. The pie is shrinking. What will be fair and who decides? Will we give up that power via RealID and some authoritarian scheme and miraculously preserve women's rights? It seems to me that the weaker - women, children, the marginal - are going the be the ones taking it on the chin.

Susan Faludi's "Backlash" is a good study. How behind so many flags, so many campaign signs of wide-stance candidates, in so many depressed communities, it's the women, children and marginalized that take it on the chin. My guess is that's more or less along the lines Kunstler is thinking.

cfm in Gray, ME

Well put.

Still and all, It's been interesting in this thread thinking about the reminder of how much 'borrowed brute force' men have been able to glean from Petrol to reinforce this everpresent illusion of the 'stronger sex'.

I worked on a little Documentary in NY where Downtown CEO's went to train/fight at this legendary boxing gym in Brooklyn, and would have 'Tournaments', but the trainer that I shared a cab with said some of these guys were unwilling to take on fights in a straight elimination, and had to approve who they would fight against. He said they were manically unwilling to be put in a situation where they might lose.

The insecurity that has been fostered in so many American men is one of the more frightening aspects of this whole thing to me.

I actually also just shot an interview for Boys-to-men with a young Somali man who talked about how he and the boys around him had to grow up and take on heavy family responsibility by like 13.. and he sees these American-raised boys just wandering through their teens without requirements or real guidance. Talk about a setup for a fall.


Hi cfm,

Thanks - that's interesting about "economic rights", and it's difficult to define them, in a way. A really important point to explore further - about the laws that established corporations (and keep and expand "their" status and abilities to act.)

re: "My guess is that's more or less along the lines Kunstler is thinking."

We don't really know what he's thinking, do we?

Sharon has an account here and her own blog. It'll be interesting to hear her take on JHK's book.

Casaubon's Book?

Oh,yes -- peak oil meets George Eliot. Now that's a new take!

By that flip-sounding remark, it seems you haven't read anything Sharon has written.

It was I who read her article on 'peak oil and feminism' -- and added it to my list of recommended reading, actually. You may not have been following the discussion very closely. :-)

The way women live now in the Western world is almost entirely a result of cheap energy and its byproducts...

Of course, the same thing can be said for men in the Western world. All of the trappings that go with separation of home and workplace are dependent on cheap energy and its byproducts: large factories, huge office complexes (eg, Wall Street), enormous transportation and communications networks, etc. What aspects of the overall social system get rolled back as we "power down" is, I think, hard to predict.

For myself, I suspect things will vary a lot by region, or smaller. As the Engineer-Poet has pointed out repeatedly, zinc-air systems appear to have sufficient energy density to be used for heavy traction applications like industrial farming. Note the use of "sufficient"; zinc may not be as good as diesel, but it appears to be adequate. And it doesn't take a lot of high explosives to make the power lines from Canadian hydro sources stop well short of New York City. Upstate and outstate New York could well have adequate energy resources to maintain a more efficient, localized version of the current social structures.

Hi mccain6925,

re: "Of course, the same thing can be said for men in the Western world."

Good point(s).

The hydro dams that I have visited in Quebec looked as if they should last for at least a couple of centuries. Also, there was recently a fairly large natural gas discovery in the St Lawrence valley. People in upstate New York should be able to count on electricity (and maybe gas) from Quebec and coal (with perhaps gas and some oil) from Pennsylvania. There is also a lot of usable 19th century infrastructure in NY state such as railroad lines and canals.

Regionalism in North America is stronger than most people realize. Joel Garreau divides NA into nine regions.

Many Canadians have long considered the central government in Ottawa to be unnecessary. Maybe the Bush administration has unwittingly gotten Americans ready for Peak Oil by proving how useless Washington can be as well.

Anyway, when TSHTF, where you are will be an important indicator of survival.

Large dams are subject to serious forces, so even though they appear (and are) massive, they still have failure modes. I watched a program about one of the large western US dams a few years ago, and it is threatened by erosion around the sides. In the long run, nothing can compete with geologic forces and nature. Compared to the forces that move continents, create mountain ranges, and carve river channels and canyons, we are puny. I would not bet on several centuries.

Back in the 1970s there was a typhoon in southern China, some dams overflowed and broke, and in the end over 100,000 people died.

A lot of it was poor design, and the problems foreseeable and avoidable, but still - nothing lasts forever, is the point.

Well done to both parties.
The very fact that it stayed ontopic simply means that more people are getting to hear about it,
and having one or two more of the blanks filled in.

This can only be a good thing.
There is, afterall, no such thing as bad press.

'Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.' - Simone de Beauvoir

No, this is not the feminist critique of Kunstler, it is the other one, based on this quote -
'...the consensus about reality defined by Enlightenment ideas is yielding to a different consensus about reality -- one less grounded in empiricism and logical positivism.'

Let's dismiss logical positivism - after all, just about everyone under the age of 40 did several decades ago.

But this idea of 'a different consensus about reality -- one less grounded in empiricism' is just absurd, and not merely in a way acceptable to recent French philosophical frameworks.

Explanations about reality do not replace reality, nor do they create a consensus about the effects of reality. (Yes, I'm skipping a lot to make a point.) A river flooding, or a crop suffering from failure due to disease or drought is not a matter of consensus - it is reality, regardless of our shared consensus.

Showing a society not following Enlightenment principles is not real hard - after all, easily 75% of humanity could be described that way already. But as some Russian aerospace engineer remarked when hearing a comment that a Russian design looked like a copy of advanced American engineering, the laws of aerodynamics are not a matter of American belief.

Any society which no longer bases itself upon empiricism, at least in such non-trivial areas as food production or weapons technology, will be at best a footnote in the pages of history books written by those who do use empirical methods, regardless of their beliefs.

Sometimes, Kunstler is his own best proof.

The guy must have struck a nerve-to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a novel is just a novel.

Hi Brian,

It's a novel that (as reported) relates to "discussions about energy and our future". As opposed to, say, something to take one's mind off said conversations.

Aniya: I haven't read the novel, from what I have heard it doesn't sound like a realistic portrayal of the future IMO. I can only assume that Kunstler was attempting to entertain the reader. You could be correct that the novel is written from a male point of view for a male reader-I don't know, but it is still just a novel. Re the future, technology isn't going to just vanish mysteriously-you could literally (and they possibly will) take 50% of the population of the USA and throw them overboard and the system will still keep on keeping on (look at India for example).

Hi expat,

Thanks for your comments.

When I replied in the other section, it was to add - (hopefully, a substantive point) - to the points of people who had read the book (I haven't) and had something to say about the relationships between men and women and the portrayal of women.

To Jim, re: "To me, these complaints show an impressive incapacity to imagine that social arrangements might be different under very different practical circumstances."

What are the "complaints" really about?

When one experiences, or has experienced social arrangements that we can describe by means of statistics: rape statistics, sexual abuse statistics, "domestic violence" statistics, "bride-burning" statistics, female infanticide statistics, so called "sex"-trafficking statistics - (Aside: the definition of what constitutes "sex" is constructed...by whom? ie.,when the word is used in contexts where the end result of use of force/coercion is termed "sex")- and so forth - I'd say, it isn't imagination that is required to construct an image of these "arrangements".

The "arrangements" have been lived and experienced. Are currently being lived and experienced (see references below), both in the country of the "glass ceiling" (US, et al) and outside of it.

What requires imagination, it seems to me, is a way to put oneself in the place of “the other”.

Re: “reality” v. “consensus about it”. An individual’s experience can be described by an "empirical result", when, for example, an act as experienced by a human being is verified, by, say, some "witness" to what we might term empirical damage (i.e., genital mutilation, scars, damaged reproductive organs, rates of contraction of HIV via rape, to give just some examples). Much of the current "empirical evidence" regarding the treatment of women and children (of both sexes) has been amassed in an era wherein individuals decided to allocate resources (including their time and attention) towards that end.

Is it safe to say the reality itself (as experienced by the statistical victims) does not necessarily change when and/if the efforts to understand this reality change?

At the same time, we can ask, does the formation of an empirical verification require some kind of empathetic leap as its basis?

We have the approach of empathy (or, what I might call a type of imagination) and we have the approach of empiricism.

Here are some examples of people allocating resources towards an empirical understanding of the experience of "the other", particularly (but not exclusively) the female and child “other”:

To find such an effort at M.I.T. brings a smile to my face.

"Founded in the summer of 1999, Stop Our Silence (SOS) is an ASA recognized student organization at MIT that fights to end sexual violence and violence against women. We believe that there is a continuum of violence that begins with sexual harassment, and ends with rape, domestic violence/dating violence, incest, and sexual abuse. SOS focuses on awareness, prevention, and support for the entire MIT community."
http://web.mit.edu/stop/www/home.htm. One out of four women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus.
--Hirsch (1990). National Victims Center. Retrieved August 16, 2000, from the World Wide Web: http://www.ncvc.org/ index.html

Additional information can be found at:
http://www.rainn.org/index.php, http://www.intersectworldwide.org/rape.html.

I think we're confusing two different things here.

There's what is desirable, and what is likely.

Is it desirable that in a post-collapse world, men and women will have basic equality and egality? Absolutely, that's desirable in any time or place.

Is it likely in a post-collapse world? That's an open question. As Kunstler said in his interview, a novel like this doesn't have to be accurate, it just has to be plausible. Is it plausible that in a post-collapse world we'll see men gain yet more power over women, and a great differentiation of work roles by gender? I think it's plausible.

Now comes the question as to whether Kunstler in describing what is plausible is also advocating it. Does he think the world would be better if women were more under men, and if they had separate spheres of work?

I don't know - reading his novel might give us a clue, but it might not. Primo Levi wrote a novel about Auschwitz, that doesn't mean he thought it was a good idea to do mass murder. But then of course there were The Turner Diaries... But the point remains: description is not always advocacy. I don't think it's a writer's duty to describe only utopias.

Hi Kiashu,

Thanks for your comment. If you meant to reply only to my post, in part I attempted to respond, in a very narrow way, to the author himself, who said, "To me, these complaints show an impressive incapacity to imagine that social arrangements might be different under very different practical circumstances."

I differed with his take on what he called "complaints" about his depiction of relationships between men and women, and roles of women (re: a couple of specific posts from other discussion).

Yes, "desirable" and "likely" are two different things, and we can talk about either of them or any combination (intersection of same).

When the author says that something requires an "impressive incapacity to imagine", I'd say that recognition of - or (to place it in the future tense), the possibility of - "something" (namely, "different social arrangements" under "different practical circumstances") requires very little imagination. Perhaps none at all.

It does not require imagination to observe (or, perhaps, even to experience) what goes on continuously today - though, of course, perhaps not in one's immediate neighborhood. (Then, again, perhaps it does.)

What helps people to become more astute observers?

"A victim who begins to articulate the experience of the victim is no longer a victim - he, or she, becomes a threat." (James Baldwin.)

Aniya, I agree with what you've said. If his sad depiction of women were the only problem, I think the book would be still worth reading. But according to Sharon Atyk's review, the problem is less with the depiction of women and more that they're not really depicted at all. Kunstler seems to find them literally unimaginable, they're just blanks. Which makes his book not worth reading, for me. If I want cardboard characters I'll read a comic.

Any society which no longer bases itself upon empiricism, at least in such non-trivial areas as food production....

We have an example of this, from the Soviet Union itself.  The rejection of Darwinian principles in favor of Lamarckian inheritance, promoted by Lysenko, is allegedly one of the reasons USSR production collapsed before WWII.  Scientists who rejected Lysenko's proposals as unfounded wound up in the gulags, or dead.

"Intelligent Design" proponents are trying to repeat the mistake here.


The problem about reality is that you can't make it up. Even ideologists cotton on to this at some stage.

The Soviet Union did survive for 7 decades precisely because their leaders didn't fully adhere to their own ideological and reality-denying precepts. Lyssenko was eventually put out to graze. The SU eventually permitted farmers to grow their own food in small allotments. Otherwise the entire country would have starved, rather than a 'mere' 20%. The SU won the Second World War, after all. With his back to the wall, Stalin re-introduced Mother Russia and old-fashioned tribalism. The Commies may have thrown Darwinianism (empiricism) out through the door, but when push came to shove they occasionally sneaked it back in through the rear window.

Lighten up, it's a novel. Extrapolation. A possibility, not a directive or manifesto.


expat, I'd just like to say: I enjoy reading your thoughtful stuff. May you and your genes live long and prosper ;-)

And: Kunstler rocks in that video. But his shirt collar is a little bit in the way . . .

J. Daehn, Hannover

"I think too that the dictum of "Don't waste your time arguing with those who won't be convinced." applies to Beck and his audience."

I think too that the dictum of "Don't waste your time arguing with those who won't be convinced." applies to Kunstler and his audience.

“Yin and Yang” holds that there is a fundamental bifurcation in human affairs, cleanly dividing half of us from the other half, by our own consent albeit without our conscious knowledge. Half of us behave as if we live in a world of cause-and-effect; we are always consumed with some kind of project, staking out a territory of things within our control and then getting a “system” to work throughout that territory in a specific way, to achieve objectives we have declared for ourselves. When we are not engaged in such a project, we think and perceive as though we still are. We see the world this way. These people are called “Yin,” and the way we go about interacting with the world around us is confusing and mysterious to many others. Those others don’t see as much of the world as it is, compared to the way they want it to be. Those people are the “Yang,” able to sustain an enviable mind-melding with the emotional state of others around them, ingenious and efficient at communicating their hopes, desires and complaints to others, able to energize a consensus. But not so keen on understanding how systems work, defining areas of influence or manipulating things within that area to achieve previously defined objectives. That just ain’t their bag, baby. Building better mousetraps is for the Yin, who as children, played with Erector Sets and Lincoln Logs. The Yang are better at cheering and booing, since as children, they participated in sing-a-longs while the “Leggoes” and blocks gathered dust in the closet. - House of Eratosthenes

This argument attempts to turn the dualism of Yin-Yang into a false dichotomy.

Interesting description, but I'm not sure how you are trying to connect it with Kunstler/Colbert, and the Book, etc..

Following your previous post, this overview has the ominous ring of those 'There's two kinds of People' statements. You described people who would not be convinced or changed on either side of this issue.. so I'm trying to fit that into this Yin/Yang system. Are they related?


". . . Others don’t see as much of the world as it is, compared to the way they want it to be. Those people are the 'Yang,' able to sustain an enviable mind-melding with the emotional state of others around them, ingenious and efficient at communicating their hopes, desires and complaints to others, able to energize a consensus."

But we all are mixtures of Ying and Yang, with Yang the default position. We view our worlds through the stories we tell about them. Since the Enlightenment, we've learned to check our stories against evidence, against experience, but we still tend to disregard or downgrade information that doesn't fit our narratives. Changing the narrative can be wrenching.

Nelson Goodman wrote a series of books, notably "The Ways of World Making," pointing out that each of us creates our own world. We are born into a world of confusing sights, noises, sensations, and must sort them out into experience of a world. The worlds we make are similar because made of similar experiences, according to the patterns of our family (tribal) language, but they are contained within each of our organisms. Within our minds, dreams are as real as experience -- we have to learn to distinguish. We do indeed see the world "as we want it to be." Checking it out takes training and effort.

We now live in a world of science and evidence; we know the earth is round and goes around the sun; disease is largely caused by micro-organisms; all life on earth is related; homosexual people exist in all societies. But the stories we tell strongly influence our relation to evidence. We don't expect God to speak to us today, but we happily affirm old stories in which God speaks, and serpents and asses do as well. We don't feel a contradiction until it's forced on us. The rightwing has made a science of persuading people to be loyal to their group narratives, treating the facts as detractions.

The downgrading of US education, and control of the official narrative through media consolidation, are no accidents. Good that we have -- for now -- the Internet to spread fact-based stories and to support one another against the group propaganda. Ying and Yang work in all of us, and Ying needs all the help it can get.

The facts support the position that the Y2K computer situation was a serious problem. Billions of dollars and untold man-hours were spent correcting it. It was, however, a very limited problem, and it is fatuous to assert that just because it was successfully corrected means that we shouldn't have taken it seriously.

how about a little intellectual honesty?

Writing this in April of ‘99, I believe that we are in for a serious event. Systems will fail, crash, seize up, cease to function. Not all systems, maybe only a fraction, but enough, and enough interdependent systems to affect many other systems. Y2K is real. Y2K is going to rock our world.


Who is to say that a billions of dollars and untold man-hours won't mitigate peak oil?

"Who is to say that a billions of dollars and untold man-hours won't mitigate peak oil?"

Well they might, but so far, we're just a few thousand days late and several Billions of dollars short.

At least with a 'Computer Problem', there was a fresh generation or two of programmers, and it was easy to point out how much this could/WOULD interfere with profits and property. It was not as vague a threat as one where business owners can't tell whether to believe the hype about 'Alternative Sources'.. energy is vital, but it is enough removed from people's immediate experience that the threat of losing one source or another quickly becomes academic. In short, the danger is easy to overlook or get distracted from.

'Who is to say it won't?..' That's not a very prudent question, is it? Isn't it worth taking some real precautions to assure civil society keeps going, since we don't know if we'll have a problem starting up again if it 'Stops'? Like with Nuclear.. you have to look at the Failure modes, and try to be REALLY ready for them and not just take refuge in some ideological belief that the 'System' will protect and correct things on its own. That's belief in Magic.

"Well they might, but so far, we're just a few thousand days late and several Billions of dollars short."

could you source that please?

The difficulty of measuring consensus opinions on when the event will happen, particularly from something as dogmatic as Peak Oil, is the major reason (not that alternatives are questionable) that we havn't thrown our all into this. If the world was absolutely certain that it would happen on June 25th, 2016, we would be able to have something along the lines of the Y2K preperation (but maybe two orders of magnitude larger), and be ready in time.

A consensus range of 2005-2025 is what I still give to people who ask - most respected opinions fall somewhere within those two decades, with a majority falling in the first decade. A tighter range is too unlikely for me to estimate correctly, given how random the event is and how much confirmation bias and immediacy bias is present in the debate. The megaproject planning is simply not reliable three or four years off, the Hubbert linearizations are premised on a theoretical world run by apolitical robots, or on illusive psychohistory, and self-reporting of reserves is subject to complete, rationalizable manipulation.

The Hirsch Report, which blew off currently noneconomical alternatives and adopted a strategy of massive Coal to Liquid programs, said we'd need 20 years to prepare for Peak Oil overall.

* Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.

* Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.

* Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.

My conclusion has been that FUD on the topic from people like CERA causes direct, significant suffering not just in our children's lives, but in our own.

I agree.

A small quibble - re: "The Hirsch Report...blew off currently noneconomical alternatives" . PHEVs and EVs are currently economical -they became so at about $1.75/gallon.

You asked whether a commitment time and money couldn't do the same for Peak Oil as it did for Y2K. My answer simply means that in the event that those various signs of impending energy problems..

"This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them." Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1979

"America is Running out of Energy" (paraphrased) GW Bush, 1999

..were our chances to start taking notice and becoming ready, using less, having the Wind/Solar whatever else making real headway. We were goaded into continued denial and inaction, as you continue to insist on today. 'Oh, the market will figure it out and make it work.'

Sorry, I think you're dangerously wrong, and we don't have any backups in place.

Keep whistling in the dark, hoping against despair, that someone, somewhere, somehow is going to pull your rabbit ass out of the fire, john15.

Hi Grey,

Let's hope we can keep as many "rabbits out of fire" as possible. I have the impression you work on it. Perhaps if john15 does, this will also help.

about those interdependent systems.

Waste Management, North America’s largest waste management company, and Linde North America have announced a joint venture to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, located at the Altamont Landfill near Livermore, California to convert landfill gas into a clean vehicle fuel. The project offers a unique opportunity to “close the loop” by fueling hundreds of collection trucks with clean fuel produced from garbage.

The companies will partner to install systems to purify and liquefy the landfill gas Waste Management collects from the natural decomposition of organic waste in the landfill. When the facility begins operating in 2009 it will be able to produce up to 13,000 gallons a day of LNG.


Our wastefulness is both a good and a bad. that's why it's so complex to predict what will happen because of peak oil. that's why I reassert that not too many people are qualified to predict what will happen during peak oil.

what are kunstler's qualifications to tell us that alternatives won't fit the bill?

"..not too many people are qualified to predict what will happen.."

Nobody is qualified to predict ANYthing, John. It's a matter of anticipating vulnerabilities and trying to set a course which will be able to deal with them.

I don't like Kunstler's insult-laden style, largely because I think it WEAKENS, not strengthens his message.. but I do think he really does point out the many vulnerabilities in our setup, the absolute paper-thin 'Margin of Error' that we have around us. 'Just-in-time' EVERYTHING. I think Cash-machines and 'On-the-way Cellphone Scheduling' are great exemplars of this whole approach.

Your 'Complex to Predict' statement sounds like the protests of the Climate Skeptics, saying 'since there's still debate, since the 'Models' are imperfect, then why should we cut carbon emissions?' I'll leave you to fill in that blank.


I don't recall seeing posted on TOD this C-Realm podcast featuring Kunstler speaking at New Urbanist convention and Homer-Dixon. It's quite good.

cfm in Gray, ME, Milliways

Kunstler said that solar/wind/wave weren't going to help. What exactly is? I think it is time for a WWII effort on the part of the US. We built something like 246,000 airplanes in that time period, now we must build 8 million windmills. We developed the atomic bomb in that period. Now we must develop a way or ways to store electricity on a large scale. Dispand NASA, gut the Defense Department, and stop immigration and remove any and all tax breaks for children, plus add tax penaltys for a mother having more than 2 children.

Comedy Central blocks viewership in Canada. So we can't see the video. We are bummed.

Thanks cowpoke, put up under the flash player...

"The facts support the position that the Y2K computer situation was a serious problem...it is fatuous to assert that just because it was successfully corrected means that we shouldn't have taken it seriously."

This is misleading - no one suggested that "we shouldn't have taken it seriously".

The complaint is about the fact JHK said that disaster was inevitable and unpreventable - in other words, that no amount of preparation would make a material difference. He made "unequivocal, unqualified predictions of disaster from Y2K", and they are very, very similar to his predictions of inevitable disaster from peak oil.

IMHO, these kinds of predictions are counterproductive, reducing the credibility of peak oil analysis on the one hand, and scaring people unnecessarily on the other.

Hi Nick,

Coming back lack to this discussion, the point you raise is important.

re: "He made "unequivocal, unqualified predictions of disaster from Y2K", and they are very, very similar to his predictions of inevitable disaster from peak oil."

I have not read Kunstler's Y2K writings.

Assuming that your characterization of them is a fair one, that still leaves the next point, namely, is this "unequivocal, unqualified" characteristic also true of his predictions about "peak"?

I'm not in a position to speak to that, so for the sake of argument, I'll accept this.

Then, the point is -

1) "Reducing the credibility of peak oil analysis" is a critical point. Analysis has to be qualified - premises, methods, the POV and possible biases of the analyzer, etc. - in order to be meaningful.

Analysis can lead to predictions. At the same time, there are important qualifications - if X,Y, Z. continues as it does.

The reasons XYZ may not continue are as follows. Then we list those.

2) "Scaring people unnecessarily". I'd say it's not so much a matter of scaring them, as it is presenting and fostering helpless as a feeling and powerlessness as the only state of being - the only option.

Fear can be an intelligent response that prompts life-saving action.

Fear can be paralyzing.

Expressing fear can be an honest revelation of one's own feelings.

People can express fear for the express purpose of making other's feel afraid for some other goal on the part of the person expressing it.
Threats usually work via fear, for eg. "I want to make you afraid of what I might do to you if you don't do what I want." Or some variation of this. Just to pick a rather general example.

3) In any case, not to be too picky about your word choice, because you make such an important distinction.

To leave off the qualifications, is to ignore what humanity has learned.

We have learned enough to see this coming.

We have learned enough to find ways to mitigate it.

We have learned enough to at least see the need for difference in the way people interact, even if particular individuals (or most people) do not understand how things can be done differently. Some people here at TOD characterize this as the need for different social, political and economic arrangements.