Petrocollapse Roundup: Kunstler

Of all the presentations of the day, Kunstler's was the one that probably stuck in people's minds the most. He spoke with the rhythm and passion of a preacher who knows how to hit just the right notes to satisfy the converted and cast enough doubt in everyone else. However he did not present much in the way of data to support many of his claims. Instead he deftly challenged people's preconceived ideas of how they should view certain types of so-called "progress" that we have experienced in the 20th Century.

As a speaker and writer I admire his pugnacious attitude, but as a front person for the movement, I have to say that he's a bit too strident in his rhetoric. Basically there are only so many people (mostly liberal/progressives) that like to be publicly and continuously insulted for just living their lives as they do. Still he serves a good role in making some people re-examine their lives.

UPDATED: Link to the text of his speech

The key modern American cultural theme he hammered at as the cause for our current predicament was the centrality of the Consumer in the way we view ourselves and how we interact with each other. He said that just the word "Consumer" should be a negative term when you think about it and yet we carry with a sense of entitlement and pride: "I'm the Customer, therefore I'm right". He compared that to earlier periods in history when people were valued for their contributions to the community, instead of their ability to consume ever greater quantities of stuff or as Kunstler put it "cheese doodles".

He went on to say that the Consumer mindset has influenced the whole way that we view the world, entering into a self deluded fantasy world where you get things by complaining instead of producing it yourself - never accepting any sacrifice, always demanding more and more without respect for how exactly we produce ever greater quantities to consume. Politicians can only ignore this Consumer mindset at their own peril, thus they run ever greater deficits, never able to make the tough decisions because they have to give the Consumer what they want. Rather what Kunstler argues for is a brutal "reality based" world where people are not able to escape the realities of the impact they have on the world due to their consumption patterns.

All and all a pretty good critique of one of the many ways that our current culture is simply not prepared to deal with the stark realities of peak oil and one of the many ways in which we can learn from our own past, before we were corrupted by the Consumer mentality.

One of his best lines in the Q & A when he was asked about his comment on the fanatics (right wing was implied by the question) that would be elected in the post-peak-oil world. Kunstler gave a very good retort in my opinion - "I would be just as worried about so-called Progressive fanatics as much as right-wing fanatics".

I agree with Kunstler.  I agree with his negative view of consumerism.  There are many many aspects of it that requiring critiquing.  He can justify his critiques on a variety of grounds:  ecological, moral, and aesthetic.  He should continue to do this.
Hey Peakguy this is Rob. We met last night at the "ginger man". Kunstler really has a unitque way of finding humor in some of the most disturbing topics.
Hey Rob, it was nice to meet you too. Thanks for making the trip in to the city. And yes, I didn't mention the humor, but he does have a way of winning people over. I just wonder how that works on the SUV owners of the world who most need to hear his message. In his own way he is pretty folksy.
I heard Jim Kunstler speak last year and Dallas.  IMO, he is one of the best public speakers I have ever heard--very funny and very caustic.  I am helping the Greater Dallas Planning Council and Southern Methodist University with a joint presentation by Simmons & Kunstler in Dallas on 11/1/05, at 7:00 P.M.   Our plan is to do an extended joint Q&A with Simmons & Kunstler both answering questions.  

IMO, Simmons/Kunstler are to the unfolding energy crisis as Churchill was to the pre-World War II period--trying to warn anyone who would listen of the dangers ahead.

The title of the event is:  "The unfolding energy crisis and its impact on development patterns."

SMU is working on trying to have a DVD of the event available, but that is still up in the air.  

You can order tickets online, from SMU (through the Environmental Science Department), at:

Jeffrey Brown

Jeff, I commend your efforts on the SMU event. Maybe you can find some local folks to start a local TOD site. We would love to have more local voices talking about how we can all make our communities more sustainable and less prone to the problems of peak oil.
Right now, to the extent that I can, I'm mainly giving talks to local groups on Peak Oil.

I would be happy to serve as a technical resources if anyone wants to set up a local group.

Jeffrey Brown

The conditions that make Peak Oil acceptance across our nation, and across our globe, difficult are conditions that are even more deeply entrenched in our state.  Probably because of our oil history, our culture prides itself in it's gluttony, even more so than other states.  And, that's not a stereotype.  It's pretty damned true.  Since it's so entrenched, the already difficult work of bringing peak oil to the public consciousness is going to be geometrically more difficult here.  That is precisely why we need it.

I say hoorah for any effort that challanges people in other states to reconsider their attitudes towards us.  We are as equally birkenstocks as we are cowboy hats, and it's just a matter of making ourselves realize it.

As an aside, I'm currently residing in Austin having recently moved from Abilene (West Texas Futures, anyone?), and will probably be living in San Antonio in the coming months.

Cole Wenger

Do the DVD!  Tell them it will stop me from driving in from California. ;-)
Actually audio podcasts might be easier and more convenient.
Having read the other thread, I would advise everyone not to kill the canaries while we are still in the mine...
Like TRE, I also agree with Kunstler. Those of us over 50 years of age remember a time when people were not labelled "consumers". But many younger people, those born after 1970, grew up with this MSM usage.

Now in the 21st c. this economics label has been reified (v, to consider an abstract concept to be real) and accepted in the culture. Consumer confidence, the consumer price index (and also worker productivity). These are common terms. Even for older people, it's hard to remember when American citizens were not labelled this way.

What is the outcome of this? It has meant that
  • shopping and buying things are the main culturally sanctioned activities (as opposed, say, to participating in a democracy)
  • people are regarded with respect to economic status, not their personal welfare. Homo Economicus, not Homo Sapiens
  • the corporate mission of making and selling you stuff is legitimized and made central in the culture.
The results of this have been a disaster. Marketers target children. TV is mostly a channel for psychological manipulation that serves advertisers. People eat poorly. Many can only think in terms of sound bites and have short attention spans. Political messages have the status of cheeseburgers. Everyone must have the latest SUV. And the rest.

TOD readers are unlikely to passively accept this labelling but the large majoritiy of Americans do; this acceptance is largely unconscious. "Consumerism" is the driving force behind unsustainable growth. Worse yet, it is America's chief export. As Richard Heinberg says, it's time to powerdown.
FYI--following is an excerpt from a recent, and very long, interview with Jim Kunstler.  You can find the link on the Energy Bulletin website, I think under the 10/2/05 update.

Kunstler on Financial Sense Online
Jim Puplava, Financial Sense Online


JAMES KUNSTLER: The effect of the two hurricanes alone has been very, very impressive, and even though we're a week past the second storm, the reports are not nearly in even about what the damage has been. And we're still reeling from both of those storms. Yes, I agree with you, the potential for acceleration is very impressive and these tend to have mutually reinforcing effects on each other, and ramifying effects. As I said a little earlier, right now, because of the effect of the hurricane, and the rise in oil and gas prices, there are individuals all over America who are deciding not to buy those houses that they thought about buying back in August and July. And when you add up those choices, they may add up to the end of the housing bubble, and the end of the housing bubble may add up to a lot of people in the financial sector turning around and thinking, "well, you know what, this stream of bundled debt and investment revenue that we've been counting on, never coming to an end, seems to be coming to an end, what are we going to do? How are we going to cover our casino bets that we've made all over the world?" We seem to be heading into what you yourself have described on your website as a perfect financial storm.

JIM: Well, I couldn't agree more. I think at this point the energy of that storm is just gaining force, and I think we're going to see in the next 12 to 18 months, events unfold that we've never seen before, and it's going to be quite a bit of a shock.

In conclusion, Jim, if you wanted somebody to read your book and walk away with one important point, what would that be?

JAMES KUNSTLER: Oddly enough, it's something we haven't talked about. And it has to do with people thinking that we'll get through this somehow, we'll come up with something. And in a way, I have my own thoughts about that because I'm basically a cheerful person, and in my own way I'm also an optimistic person. I'm not really a doomy-gloomy guy.

I would leave you with this thought: that the American people have historically been a generous, brave, forward looking, resourceful group, and we've shown great courage in the face of adversity before. I think we've become kind of a somewhat sloppy and complacent people in the last 25 years or so, but it doesn't mean we can't recover a lot of those virtues that are really part of the fiber of our national character. It's still there and can still be recovered, and I think we're going to be able to do that. It's not going to be true for every place and everyone, but I think that's going to help us a lot. So I have a lot of faith just in our national character, and the better angels of our nature, as Abraham Lincoln said.
(1 October, 2005)

I, for one, advocate shooting the messenger, especially for the earlier thread on Petrocollapse. It was the messenger that turned The Oil Drum into a forum for conspiracy theories and linked peak oil with a bunch of preposterous delusions.

The Oil Drum has previously managed to maintain a level of credibility unique among peak oil websites. The petrocollapse thread was a giant step backwards in credibility building and a leap forward in associating peak oil with World Trade Center conspiracies, alien invasions, and the paranormal.  

I think there is room for critiquing conferences and events associated with peak oil, even if there tends to be strong disagreement with many or even all of the participants.

Ruppert I can do without.  I'm not sure he brings anything to the discussion.  Kunstler has merit as a critique of consumerism, but I do agree that there are many better representatives of the anti-consumerist viewpoint.

At the heart of peak oil is the idea of energy production, consumption, geology, physics, and economics.  That should remain the focus.  Kunstler should be playing a very very minor role in all this.  He's a critic of consumer society and suburbia.  That critique, in essence, can be summerized in a small paragraph.  And as an expert on energy, economics, or visualizing how society will deal with depletion, I think Kunstler brings nothing.  No real expertise--other than some ideas on how to redesign society.

Same goes for Heinberg.  A few ideas on sustainability living.  Nothing more.  They aren't experts.  But they've been able to build up a lot of frequenty flyer miles through their many speaking engagements.

Here's another perspective that is in agreement with the above post (shooting the messenger).  Part of my ad hominem discussion earlier is that one should, at some point, ignore certain aspects of a problem, including people.  It's just not discussed.  Don't even speak to it.  All the 9/11 stuff, for example.  One can easily say:  not discussed.  Geopolitics, fascism, etc, etc.  One can also easily say: not discussed.  Same goes for survivalism.  Join a survivalist online bulletin board to discuss survivalism.  It need not be attached to peak oil, and degrades the level of discourse.

Excuse me, but!!  We would not have so much Peak Oil, if we did not Consume so much of the OIL we did have.

Kunstler is right We CONSUME to much, We Built to many OUT THERE housing projects.  If we had more tight knit nieghborhoods we would not have CONSUMED so FAST what OIL we did have.

Peak Oil is all about a Consumtion rate.  WE just CONSUMED our selves past the Peak by doing everything Kunstler points out.

                (See above or is it below Chicory)

Later tonight and tomorrow peakguy and I will comment on people like John Darnell (Bartlett's science advisor) and David Pimentel (a Cornell biologist who's an expert on organics and alternative energy). These are people that I trust you will find more credible--the whole conference wasn't the extremes (but they're more fun to write about).

I strongly disagree that just by mentioning people like Ruppert, we're doing either peak oil or the website a disservice. As I said in the other thread, many people are coming to the topic on the basis of Ruppert's and Kunstler's writing. It's up to a webiste like this one for people to point out where their arguments go wrong, if you think they do. I DO NOT think that appropriate action is just to ignore them, at least not right now when we're still desperate for the issue to be getting more national attention. If you think they're wrong, explain why.

I agree that "just mentioning people like Ruppert" doesn't do TOD or peak oil a diservice. But when 30% of the thread is rants on the US government blowing up the World Trade Center, you have wandered deep into lunacy and are clearly undermining efforts to make peak oil mainstream. I believe in peak oil and  love TOD, but reading that comment stream really makes me doubt the motives and judgement of a huge segment of the movement. It is going to send others running and they will never come back.
I have to agree with Jack here.  As I said in my comment to Prof G's earlier post on Ruppert/FTW, a serious discussion of the lunatic fringe just leaves behind a stain here at TOD, and undermines the site's credibility.  

There are enough serious scholars and commentators out there that we shouldn't have to wander down these dark alleys of conspiracy fantasy.  

Jack (and TRE) --

I routinely see some pretty weird stuff at TOD but that pales in comparison to limiting discourse on the cultural side of things with respect to peak oil. I could do without Ruppert and Kunstler is certainly no peak oil expert, but let's not get into some PO fascism kind of thing. If you think something is bullshit (9/11 conspiracies, whatever), just say so. Let's not shoot any messengers, OK? If I thought that what I say about deepwater drilling or criticising the oil markets had to go through a "correctness" filter, I wouldn't post here at all and neither would anyone else except card carrying TOD party members. I hate even having to say this.
See my above comment.

But to add a bit.  We would still have Peak Oil, But without what Kunstler pointed out we would have had Peak Oil in 20 to 30 more year forward from now, and M King Hubbert would not have been talking about the US Peak in 1970 but maybe in 1990.

SO in my Humble Opinion, Kunstler is right to be in the PEAK OIL debate!  

Ruppert has always been a little out there in my opinion.

I have been following these issues since I first made it to college in 1981,  I had been a "tree hugger" long before I know that term.  I have been at one point or another able to live off the land, most of my life.  I hold no college degrees, have no "paying" job, and have lived on less than $(US)10,000 for more than half my life. But I also vote every chance I get, and I am socially active in my neighborhood.  Having no degrees does not mean I did not go to college, I have over 120 passing at 2.0 or better credit hours of college, from three places of Higher learning.
Laughs, I have a Top Secret Security Clearance and Am A+ computer certified.


               (Chicory see above)
          Penny-Royal a member of the mint family, eaten as a stomach restive , or as a tea.

I for one disagree.  What is so good about the Oil Drum is that it is willing to talk about the full range of the Peak Oil spectrum.  This kind of talk will pass away soon, but at least it has not been recognized in the context of civil discussion.
The petrocollapse thread was a giant step backwards in credibility building and a leap forward in associating peak oil with World Trade Center conspiracies, alien invasions, and the paranormal.

Umm... no one brought up alien invasions, or paranormal activity. Not to say that those two topics haven't been associated with 9/11, but stop and think about it: if our government was in any way culpable in 9/11 then it would make perfect sense to have an active disinformation campaign intended to associate questioning the event with the most outlandish rubbish in the hope that both will be rejected. And indeed, this is what appears to be happening.

The thread associated with the earlier posting on Ruppert did indeed mention World Trade Center anomalies, especially in regard to the collapse of Building 7 (which few people are even aware of), but I have to point out that Ruppert himself does not promote this line of inquiry - he brings a policeman's "motive, means, and opportunity" approach to his investigation which I find pretty iron-clad.
I think it's a big big mistake for progressives of any variety (peak oil, social welfare, peacenik, etc) to make hay from attacking the American people.

Way to go nowhere, people.

That basically goes back to the hippies and the youth rebellion of the 60's, attacking 'the establishment'. We know that the American people don't reward such attacks with leadership.

If you want indefinite rule by the corrupt pollution crazy oligarchy, just yell as loud as you can to every hardworking American trying to scrape by, deal with medical bills, stagnant to declining wages, fewer good jobs, expensive education. Just YELL at them about CONSUMERISM! Spit on them! Trash them!

Way to go nowhere, obviously.

We need to understand the anxieties and fears of working people and structure our political pitch around hope and help.

For example, push for universal health care, higher minimum wage, energy efficiency, etc. We can push a better more equitable govt and economy and as part of the picture fund peak oil R&D, mandate fuel standards, develop mass transit. But it has to be part of an ETHIC of CARE.

I see this thread having more than one theme but a big one is if TOD should give Kunstler the time of day.

Why not?  I do not care for some of his theories, but I do not see him as a threat to the credibility of TOD by his stature in PO forums or his ideas being debated here.  The debate has been informative to me even if I do not buy the conspiracy argument around 9/11 and I hope open debate continues.  Debating Kunstler's speech at a conference here on TOD need not be feared.

The only thing to fear is fear itself.


I certainly feel chastized now for criticising consumerism which is, after all, the root cause of so many of our problems. Unsustainable growth driven by insatiable demand is a big problem. As a "progressive", I've been for all the good things you list all my life. And what have I seen in all that time? I've seen things get worse and worse and worse.... Before people can change, they've got to learn how to question the status quo. Somebody has got to tell them the bad news. Although if PO theories are correct, and I believe they are, people are going to be receiving that news in any case.
Time to drop another happiness link.  It's a different one, I'm not repeating:

As I said in comments over there:

I've got some posts on this [happiness and consumption in industrial societies] too, going back a ways on my blog. It is a key missing piece in conservation and environment discussions ... but at the same time I don't think general society will buy the argument from environmentalists.

If "happiness scientists" make the pitch that we should understand (and perhaps get off) the "hedonic treadmill" ... maybe it WILL make some headway.

... I guess I should just be happy with that ;-)

But people are so consumed by the drive to purchase more. When someone has no savings, no mortage, medical collections, and 2 kids, but still needs to get that car with the $600 monthly payment, there is something wrong there. And this happens more then you can even imagine.

If education is going up, medical care going up, wages going down, why are people still shopping at Best Buy? Right now its because their houses went up as well and there is no reason why they shouldn't take out a HELOC to buy that plasma TV.

I think yelling is the only way to get over the screaming of the advertisment.


The bloggers are largely responsible for the directions each thread takes, so one could argue that there is at least some interest in those topics you deride, however inappropriate to PO.

It's something that happens in blogs, and unless you want to stifle freedom of expression, it is a necessary pimple. In most cases, people generally get steered back to the topic by their peers. The exception is usually when there is something to be learned or else something very controversial being debated.

I'd rather have the occasional stray thread appearing than edited comments, wouldn't you?

There is a huge space between editing comments and actively introducing conspiracy theorists. I agree with your point about  the direction that threads take and have felt that TOD has taken the right policy is avoiding any form of control.

My feeling is that there are dozens of peak oil websites that pump out this drivel constantly and about one respectable peak oil website - this one.

My point is about continuing to focus TOD on the high quality analysis that it is becoming know for. This should not be misconstued as a pitch for censorship.

Jack, you did say "I, for one, advocate shooting the messenger, especially for the earlier thread on Petrocollapse. It was the messenger that turned The Oil Drum into a forum for conspiracy theories". Ianqui and peakguy were the messengers. If shooting the messenger is not censorship, I don't know what is.

I stand united with you against drivel. Advocating shooting the messenger is drivel. Sorry, but this pisses me off.
Camille -

you mean compassionate conservatism isn't working?


I won't argue whether or not TOD should discuss how people will react to any future "final" emergency.  I will mention that sociologist William Catton in OVERSHOOT discusses human behavior at some length, and he believed that serious ecological crises can lead to horrible human behavior (he specifically mentioned Nazi Germany), and I think he believed that the sharper the crisis and/or the more unprepared the people, the worse will be the social consequences.  So I think it is possible and important to usefully discuss human behavior, politics, ethics, and so on, although perhaps one has to be quite careful and intellectually rigorous to do it well.
For your reference, I have posted a link with Kustler's text above or you can just click here
Where I live anyway, it's the liberal/progressives who tend to read Kunstler, and they're the ones installing solar panels and buying the small, efficient cars.

It's the consumer Republicans who seem to think "the American lifestyle is non-negotiable" and continue to drive around in Escalades.

So you might be generalizing too much about who likes Kunstler.

Re:  Kunstler & Ruppert

Just to clarify one point.  Jim Kunstler thinks that Ruppert is crazy regarding the 9/11 conspiracy theories.  

In regard to politics, this is another reason I like our Simmons/Kunstler lineup in Dallas.  

Simmons comes to the PO topic from the Republican Party and from decades of oil and gas experience.  

Kunstler comes to the PO topic from the Democratic Party and from a vastly different business background.  

But they have largely arrived at the same point regarding PO.  

Jeffrey Brown

As a direct quote from Kunstler in his speech:

"The desperate defense of our supposedly non-negotiable way of life may lead to delusional politics that we have never seen before in this land. An angry and grievance-filled public may turn to political maniacs to preserve their entitlements to the easy motoring utopia - even while reality negotiates things for us.

I maintain that we may see leaders far more dangerous in our future than George W. Bush.

The last thing that this group needs is to get sidetracked in paranoid conspiracy politics, such as the idea that Dick Cheney orchestrated the World Trade Center attacks, which I regard as just another form of make-believe."



I don't mean to sound conspiracy theorist here.  I'm just trying to be a rational person, who's trying to understand how he came to what sounds like an irrational idea.  I do not suggest that anyone in our government orchestrated the attacks.  If you even take the most cynical approach possible, I doubt that the Bush/Cheney/Rove machine would have attacked a target that housed in it the businesses and people who were the masters of creating wealth in our society.  That would hurt their own bottom line.  

But, and, you really need to understand the point it is not my intention to be inflamatory here, is it not possible that the real perpetrators of the attacks are not the ones this administration has told us?  We've come to understand that the facts given to us by our government should not be understood to be true, scientific facts, but either the solution to the problem that seems to fit the data the best or the solution to the problem which seems to work out best for, in their eyes, the public.  Facts were contrived from false pretenses, and sometimes seemingly no pretenses, leading up to the War in Iraq.  It is pretty hard to negate this.

That being said, almost all of the "facts" given from us about who carried out 9/11 were given to us by various branches of the government; from the cockpit audio data from air traffic facilities, to radar data gathered at military complexes, to seemingly damning evidence in the form of "chatter."  I am not suggesting a massive conspiracy here, but simply trying to argue for objective analysis.  Is it not possible that through a mixture of human error, deliberate misaction, and stretching of the truth for political gain, that the official story of 9/11 differ, in at least a significant part, from the way it was?  And, if that's true, shouldn't we, as rational people, try to go back and reconstruct a better theory that matches better data?  

What I'm not saying is that the administration conspired a national coverup, gave money to the Saudis to have agents perform a suicide attack on our country, or any of that.  I am simply saying that accepting the status quo, especially one that emerges from an already thick stew of corruption, is a bad, and potentially dangerous, idea.  

For all we know as certain, it could have been a band of underground Peak Oil advocates who thought such an attack would cause severe demand destruction, thus saving the world for several years from the onslaught of Peak Oil.  Unlikely, but it's as sound of a hypothesis as any other.  

Mother Nature doesn't care what party they belong to, be it the Big-end up or Small-end up, egg-breaking Party (alluding here to Guliver's Travel's).

The rocks are only so porous. The volume of the Earth's crust is finite.

(as for Gulliver, see: )

(as for finite Earth, see Isaac Asimov's 1974 talk at: )

Something happened when I updated the post to include the transcript of the speech, it's now only on the NYC website, hope to resolve this shortly.
Sorry if I'm picking on what to some may seem a minor detail -

I utterly detest being referred to as a "consumer" and I hate it when someone says that because something is "good for the consumer" it therefore has positive value.  I am contemptuous and frightened at the apparent willingness of some Americans to see themselves as consumers, i.e. dependents instead of producers / pillars / owners of small businesses / citizens.  The way to kill democracy in America is to get everybody to buy into being a consumer.  If we like freedom we should fight tooth and nail against those who want us to see ourselves as "consumers".

(Meanwhile, the Democratic Party seems to be trying to appeal to me as a consumer - a half dozen opinion surveys I've received from Hillary or DNC all seem to ask what I want...  I think the correct answer to such surveys is "I want you to stop asking us what we want!!!")

In any peak oil scenario, I think being a consumer goes right out the window and must be replaced by (a) self-reliance in terms of meeting one's own personal needs and (b) active membership in a community, striving along with each other to find a path where we can retain our humanity in the face of terrifying crisis.

That's not a minor detail, it's a big part of the problem. I also detest the idea of being called a consumer. As if our entire existance is all around how best to shop for stuff instead of produce something of value.
1) Regarding Jack's comments about the paranormal:

As a lifelong atheist and skeptic I am NOT into the supernatural and paranormal. But the argument about "maintain[ing] a level of credibility unique among peak oil websites" has always amused and saddened me.

Such credibility is borne of the worship of technology, science, and numbers instead of heavens, religion, and gods.

I shudder in the presence of such arguments because "we the people" overwhelmingly believe America is a Democracy under God (one way or the other). You can't get more paranormal or supernatural than that.

2) Regarding Westexes's James Howard Kunstler quote:

As others have mentioned in this thread, I too am a fan-in-general of Kunstler's approach, tone, and rhetoric. His was one of the first voices I encountered on my Peal Oil journey to enlightenment. But there are times when his brands of "consensus trance" and "outside context problem" make me cringe with frustration and dismay.

His "the American people have historically been a generous, brave, forward looking, resourceful group, and we've shown great courage in the face of adversity before" riffs have always made me wince.

In the words of Michael Ventura:

"Most people reading this are haves. So am I. We are implicated. It is written in the Tao te Ching: 'Prosperity rests on disaster; disaster is hidden in prosperity.' This is true of our prosperity, whether Republicans or Democrats rule Congress and the White House. If our leaders are criminals that should come as no surprise, for we live on theft. We've invented polite words for our theft ('capitalism,' 'the global economy,' 'the free market'), but in fact it takes a lot of muscle and legalized theft for 5% of Earth's population to gobble 50% of its resources. Our way of life is a criminal enterprise, and it takes criminals to run it. For more than a century we've depended upon thinly veiled criminality for our good fortune, and we damn well are implicated.

Which is the underlying reason most Americans want to know nothing about their governance. To know would be to admit responsibility. To admit responsibility would put one in the moral dilemma of either taking action toward a more just world and thereby ultimately undermining one's own prosperity, or ignoring it all in the desperate attempt to live happily ever after. Many will believe anything that allows their fearful desperation to pose as righteous happiness. Any lie is welcome, and those who point out the lies are mightily resented. Democrats are as loath as Republicans to face the real problem. George W. Bush and the right-wing cabals cause tremendous and needless suffering, but they are not the fundamental problem. The problem is the way we sustain ourselves. The way we sustain ourselves causes much more suffering than Bush does. The way we sustain ourselves has brought disorder to every corner of the world and undermined the viability of the planet itself. Collectively, we are the maddened coven.

But we are also harried people trying to live our lives and cause no harm. That contradiction is the root of our madness: We are mostly good people sustaining ourselves in a manner that does great harm and evil, and we're stuck there - unable to face the contradiction. Even when we try to face it we are without the concepts or the means to right the situation. So we complain about politicians and argue about evolution. Doubtless, better leaders would do less harm, and it would be a boon if science could be taught freely in our schools. But rotten politicians are an effect of the problem, not its cause. Desperate fundamentalism is an effect, not a cause. The cause of the general chaos is the way we sustain ourselves. The fearsome imbalances in society and in nature result from our means of sustenance."

The United States has always--ever since its ruthless imperial inception--been about resource theft, slavery exploitation (of one form or another), and rapacious brutality.

The socially engineered notion of America as generous, brave, forward looking, and resourceful is just another form of the paranormal in this human primate's opinion.

3) Although I have a soft spot for Kunstler's direct deliver and unique charm I find myself aligned in heart and mind with Jan Lundberg:

"The prestigious insiders in the peak oil 'movement', Matthew Simmons and Robert Hirsch, want to see economic growth continue. I do not. Such members of the establishment as Simmons and Hirsch want the present industrial society to continue. I want to see a transformation, and it so happens that the effects of peak oil promise to provide it.

Several other well-known peak oil authors and activists prioritize 'regime change' in the U.S., or at least a host of policy reforms. I do not. Such authors and activists would do better to fully understand the implications of peak oil and what is likely to happen that will sweep away agendas. We don't know what is ahead, but it might be unrecognizable to the typical oblivious citizen who ought to be learning here today with us.

One reason for my stance is that petrocollapse, like peak oil, is inevitable and is right up ahead. There is little the government can do about it except to try to protect the most powerful elites. This will not work in the long run, and more equitable means of people helping one another will jump in. I'm accused of being too optimistic about a new culture of egalitarianism and mutual aid, when I predict cooperation and solidarity will be the order of the new day. I frankly do not see any alternative if we are to survive as a species, and if peace is the only state we can allow at this juncture."

4) In closing I share more words from Michael Ventura:

"Amid this massive disruption, we will be forced to pay attention to where we are. You can't go elsewhere for culture; you must cultivate it where you are. You can't go elsewhere for beauty; you must create beauty where you live. Family life will be literally closer: a Georgia gal won't take a job in Seattle if it means she may not see her mother again for many years. With long-distance travel a rarity, communities will become more conscious of being communities. I'm no optimist, but perhaps, perhaps, many will realize that we're all in this together, and that our well-being and our neighbors' are entwined. Above all, the frantic pace of American life will slow down. Way down. That'll drive some people crazy, but others - perhaps, perhaps - will discover a truth put best, once again, by Caroline Casey: 'Beauty is abundantly available to the unhurried mind.' "

Regardless of where we fall within the sociopolitical spectrum, no matter which set of belief filters we cling to in our feeble attempts to understand a universe far beyond our comprehension, may we find beauty in the unhurried mind as the gathering storm clouds unfold before us.

And, in the words of James Howard Kunstler, "I will be impertinent enough at this point to conclude by wishing us all good luck. We're going to need it".

Peace in struggle,
David Emanuel

Regarding the notion of Americans brave, generous and forward looking...

I think such statements are as valid as any other general statements applied to any other nation. Basicly this is crap. Whether americans, russians or cambodians, people are like what their living arrangement is. You can not expect a rotten living arrangement to produce armies of noble and highly moralled people.

But! I highly justify and even applause words like that. 99% of the people in this planet are not capable of having a critical attitude towards themselves. And 99.99% are unable to be motivated for any action unless they are given some hope. For me it is  noble lie meant to spare and engage the public. Such lies are an essential part of the "american way" but you can not "fix" this way overnight, right? If you ask Kunstler for his opinion in private conversation... I'm sure you'll get completely different answer.

awesome post david.  

i agree that our culture of consumerism is one of the major root causes of the destruction we are inflicting upon this world.  if we could combat unsustainable consumption, we would also go a long way to ending corporatism, fascism in our government, and the dissolution of poorer, resource-rich nations' way of life.  as others have said, this drive to endlessly consume distracts us from the real work of participating in our democratic system of government (or what's left of it).

i too believe that while very useful (if ethically and socially examined), science has been one of the most destructive forces in the world and blind reliance or faith on it will do nothing but dig us deeper into the pit of desperation.  I do admire TOD, but to believe that only science is useful, and anything that approaches similar large-scope problems from a humanistic, ethical, or artistic perspective is not "rigorous" is foolhardy.  science has never lead to "progress" unless thoughtful, ethical people ensured it was utilized properly.  unfortunately, in our current society, most either have blind faith in religion (not spirituality, mind you, but dogmatic systems) or complete confidence that only science is helpful.  

whatever happened to a proper synthesis of ethical pragmaticism with humanistic and artistic understanding?  we need a new balance, and both an understanding of the world around us and the one within us if we are to survive in a meaningful way.  i like to use the term "empathic analysis" to describe this synthesis, where 'analysis' is the ethical pragmatic portion, while the 'empathy' comes from humanistic and artistic realms.

best wishes,


RE: Consumerism.

I cringe when this concept comes up, seriously.  Yes, our culture of consumerism is WAY overblown.  Yes, we should drastically cut back with "keeping up with the Joneses"  Yes, the consumer class steals an unfair amount of resources from the lower production class.  But, to blame consumerism totally really falls close to the "blaming the victim" meme.  While it is not always false, it does cause kneejerk-ism.  There is more cause of blame in the upper production classes (read, corporate executives and investers) than in the consumer, mid-range group, who, in turn, deserve blame for stealing from the lower production class.

Excuse me, as I just know this will turn into a Marxist rant, but I am young, and this is my primary purpose in life now.  Accept it.  I spent the first 8 years or so of my life in a southeastern Ohio, urban factory town.  This was pre-NAFTA, and so production, while lower than before, was still the primary mover of the local economy.  Therefor, almost everyone one I knew, my parents, my extended family, my older siblings who were in the workforce, were blue collar.  Imagine The Roseanne Show, minus the genetic retardation, and you have a very accurate picture of my family. (Coincedently, Roseanne was a show of pride for my family, and we still beam when we watch it.  My white collar friends don't particularly get it.)  While I'll more than likely end up white-collar, my blood runs blue, and I know this group of people.  So when you say that this group, which is FORCED to sell it's labor to produce and manufacture, should curb it's very limited consumption, which is of a small percentage compared to it's production, can you not see where this could be annoying, almost demeaning?  

Move away from this hidden indictment of the few remaining blue-collar workers in this country (who, may I remind you, are mostly immigrants now; a group which has it's cards even more stacked against them) and redirect the anger towards the gobs of people in the middle to middle upper class who basically serve as paper pushers and adult baby sitters, who consume way above their real production value.  

don't put words in my mouth.  i never blamed the lower middle class (or blue collar worker) for their consumption.  you would do well to understand another's position before chastising it.

unsustainable consumption needs to end.  period.  most of it is being done by the middle class and above.  whoever is doing it (the well off mainly), and whoever is encouraging it (multinational corporations, governments and their propaganda) needs to be stopped.  i am far from blaming the poor or people just getting by for their virtual slave relationship to the corporate-government state.  instead, i think those people (in the US, but especially in developing nations) are the ones being destroyed by corporate consumerism.  those people have very little choice.  it is the people who are living well above the poverty line who do have a choice and they must stop rampant consumption. we also should redefine corporations, so they are not legally persons, strip them of civil rights, and reenact public charters of corporations enforcing strict limitations to their activities, lifetime, and any privileges we give them.

I apologize.  When I'm writing comments, and I typically produce very long ones, by the end of it, I tend to forget that I am actually replying to a real person.  At the end of my arguement, I did not mean to imply that I was blaming you specifically.  As a matter of fact, the idea for my comment was kind of cemented by coincedence when reading your post, which happened to have brought up the consumerism topic.  So, I didn't really mean to direct it at you specifically, but to the more general attitude of consumerism I hear on these boards and off.  

It actually seems to me that we share very similiar views on corporations.  They are not human beings, and to acknowledge them as such destroys our humanity.  Charters are a necessity.

no problem.  apology accepted.  i'm glad we have some similar views on these issues.  

as you said, corporations are not people, but by legally declaring themselves as citizens, they become monsters that wreak havoc on our society and destroy the poorest, most disadvantaged and least empowered human beings.  

Well, there are and has been societies where the producer is the hero and consuming is despised. The gone Soviet Union for instance. Not a better solution. obviously.

But I will give you a new viewpoint on consumerism. The human mechanical energy output is less than 2 kWh in a day. In the energy viewpoint this is a trifle. But as a consumer a person uses a lot more energy. So man is much more important as a consumer commanding vast energy than as a producer contributing only a little energy. Obviously we can think other way round: man commands as a producer vast energy in the form of production process, so he is most important as a producer. Both of these views dismiss the fact that the living standard in the rich countries is based on energy, not on human labor.


Though I am a Christian first.

I like your post. IT makes one think a bit more about what it is that is going on out there.

While reading the "Ventura" quote, I was sure I had read part of it before. It did sound for a bit like "Kunstler", for a bit anyway.

I am not sure what time frame we have been that "brave etc etc" country that Kunstler mentions.  Maybe I need to go reread history a bit more.  LOL, Okay history is written by the winners, and the USA has been the winner thus far.

 Maybe I should learn Chinese or Russian before this is all over.


           Pecan, Southern Nut tree, Harvested in the fall, this nut can be used out of shell, or ground for flour, or added to soups and stews as a chewy treat.  Be sure not to cut the trees for fire wood, in most cases you need a male and female tree for nut production.

You got to get out more. Haven't you ever been to an Old Testament Christian church? Having people scold them is a central tenet of the Fundamentalists.
I for one dread being a consumer, and realize the "consumerism" is part of the problem.  But to isolate the end user and cast blame in his or her direction kinda misses the point, doesn't it?  A more interesting discussion might be to start with the consumer and then follow the lines of the networks that lead from consumption (or over consumption) to other players in the game.  

When I think of consumers that I know well (take my wife...please!)  I don't see any short term remedy (and that's in that case of people like my wife who realize that we all consume too much).  I think people feel helplessly enmeshed in the modern economy and couldn't break the cycle of consumption even if they tried.

Of course, this particular topic has everything to do wth Peak Oil.  Consumption and population growth are driving the upward movement of oil consumption annually.  But, it's not just an American problem (though we certainly consume the most)...It's not as hard feeling as discussions of how many rigs are down due to recent bad weather, but is absolutely part of the bigger picture.

I for one welcome insight from the social critics, but I also lament that we don't have critics who are as well informed about the social, political, and cultural issues that surround Peak Oil as we do have for the technical expertese about oil development, production, and market behavior...etc.

Very interesting questions - why blame the consumer, and how to get them (= us) off the treadmill?  
(1) Do not blame the consumer, but, like Kunstler, hold up that mirror and ask, is this what/who we want to be?  Will we have a democracy in 2050 if this continues?  Will we even have a livable environment in 2050 if it continues (consumption ==> global warming)?
(2) Advertising is a major problem, creating need where none existed.
(3) My wife thinks the solution is to teach kids the arts including music (harmonica, fiddle, bones, not just cello or oboe), woodworking, cooking, and so on - whatever you need to feel (and be) independent.  This can be done as a free community after-school thing (which her parents did years ago).  
(4) ...
It's not "Advertising".
It is brainwashing.
There lies the rub.
Governement officials have learned how to "advertise".

The only defense is to teach our kids how brainwashing works, so they can be "on guard". (Being on-guard is of limited effectiveness though.)

Some articles on the brainwashing of America:

Oh for pity's sakes, we are all "consumers."  
whats the big deal?

Kunstler is a genius and it is from long term respect for him and his books, Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere etc. that got me interested in Peak Oil in the first place.

Our family has SUV's, we live in the burbs, and we love Kunstler and pass his books along-- I have given many coipies of ALL of his non-fiction books to local libraries and city councilmen.

He is a necessary and brilliant voice in  the national discussion on Peak Oil.

The big problem I see with those who believe that civilisation will collapse when petrol does (the die-off people) is that removes any motivation to change how business and government work. Eat, drink, and spend, spend, spend, for tomorrow we die. It is just as useless an argument as those who believe that oil companies are just sitting on trillions of barrels just waiting for the right price. God gave us brains capable of creating the technology we enjoy and non fossil fuel solutions exist if we have competent, rational leadership. The GOP can't do this because competent republicans are not interested in the enormous pay cuts government service entails (unless you steer no bid contracts to a company you own stock in). The Dems just make promises they know they can blame the GOP for blocking. That's been politics for the last 30 years. I believe life will get bad enough to change how business and governments work long before any petrocollapse occurs.
I have to confess, as a novice, to feeling a little unease reading this thread and the Tolkien thread. There's nothing wrong with them, particularly, and in some ways both threads have their uses, but I confess I come to The Oil Drum to get a read on things and there are certainly very useful posts that I have seen elsewhere on The Oil Drum that help me to get a better picture of the oil and energy situation.

But I have a number of questions I wish I could get answers to. This may not be the right place and I may post some of these questions again elsewhere.

  1. In the US, how much did demand drop during the 70s? What were the amounts and percentage? What was the most effective during that period: less driving, better car mileage, lower speed limits? Without the immediate impact of cars with better mileage, how much could 'consumers' realistically be asked to cut back on driving and speed and what would those moves save?

  2. It's only a general impression, I admit, but it seems the Europeans and perhaps the Japanese in some areas seem to be using far more alternative energy than we are. Even if nuclear energy is not counted, it looks like they're considerably further along than we are. How much of their alternative energy is the result of large projects or the result of smaller scale activity? Again, it's just my impression and feel free to correct me, but I get the impression much of the U.S.'s alternative energy is at the level of cottage industry. How committed are any of the major corporations (beyond the usual pr campaigns) to alternative energy? Is there any leadership from anywhere in the corporate sector at this time? Are there executives who would like to change the trends?

  3. Is there some good modeling on what would happen if a gas tax were imposed and what the likely consequences would be of a $.25, $.50, $1.00 tax on gas? Politically, it's difficult but perhaps one way to ask the question is to ask what is the smallest increase that would have an effect.

  4. I see some discussions on The Oil Drum that perhaps the energy markets will be turbulent at times. The turbulence has already begun whether we peak this year or twenty years from now. Any thoughts on smoothing out the turbulence? Do we need a large strategic reserve? Do we need to encourage other countries to do the same? Are there projects that can give us greater reserve power when it's needed for the power grid?

  5. The public, and politicians, have been burned several times by claims of oil's imminent demise. Given the uncertainies of Peak Oil, what rational arguments can effectively make the case for taking action now?

  6. Here's a tough long-range, hundred year question I hate to ask partly because it brings out the pessimists in droves (which is really not what I'm looking for) and partly because to a small extent (and for a variety of reasons, not just oil) we may be already seeing a little of the answer in Africa and the lack of response we have given to Africa is not a good sign of things to come (though that may change as Americans begin to believe in a crisis). What are some of the 'realistic' scenarios or modeling for the impact of Peak Oil on the earth's population?  
This a reply only to your question number 1.

I guess this makes me an "old dude", but I was in college when the 1970's oil shock hit. Go to this web site to get a "picture" of what it was like:

Demand did not "drop".
Huge piles of cars lined up at every station that had gas.
People KILLED each other in arguments about cutting into line.
It was ugly.

Thank goodness it was short lived.

More info:

Step back, thanks for the article from Answers. Here's the relevant quote:

ith the onset of the embargo, U.S. imports of oil from the Arab countries dropped from 1.2 million barrels (190,000 m³) a day to a mere 19,000 barrels (3,000 m³). Daily consumption dropped by 6.1 percent from September to February, and by the summer of 1974, by 7 percent as the United States suffered its first fuel shortage since the Second World War.

Underscoring the interdependence of the world societies and economies, oil-importing nations in the noncommunist industrial world saw sudden inflation and economic recession. In the industrialized countries, especially the United States, the crisis was for the most part borne by the unemployed, the marginalized social groups, certain categories of aging workers, and increasingly, by younger workers. Schools and offices in the U.S. often closed down to save on heating oil; and factories cut production and laid off workers.

Well I suppose it depends on how we phrase it: demand dropped by 6% or supplies dropped by 6%. Note thegroups that were affected the most by the shortage.

Peak oil is good. Pray for it. Global warming, now being driven with various feed back loops is what will really get us. Peak oil is the means to destroy the economy that will keep the engine of our self destruction going. The excerpt below is from a legit world disaster site covering the spectrum of volcanic, earthquake, and weather, occurring world wide daily. The evidence also grows daily, it seems, on the contraction of time left for us to try to prevent environmental collapse. We better pray that it isn't too late already. Lots of prayer, I know -- any alternatives? Of course, global warming could be "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind" (or words to that effect) as revealed recently to us by some congressperson whose name escapes me. Hope he's right. Reed
The genesis of two catagory five hurricanes in a row over the Gulf of Mexico is an unprecedented and troubling occurrence. But for most tropical meteorologists the truly astonishing storm of
the decade' took place in March 2004. Hurricane Catarina - so named because it made landfall in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina - was the first recorded south Atlantic hurricane in history. Was Catarina a 'threshold' event, signaling some fundamental and abrupt change of state in the climate system? All the major components of global climate - air, water, ice and vegetation - are nonlinear: at certain thresholds they switch from one state of organization to another, with catastrophic consequences for species too finely-tuned to the old norms. Until the early 1990s, however, it was generally believed that these major climate transitions took centuries if not millennia to accomplish. Now, thanks to the decoding of subtle signatures in ice cores and sea-bottom sediments, we know that global temperature and ocean circulation can change abruptly - in a decade or even less. Dramatic new evidence has emerged recently that we may be headed, if not back to the dread and almost inconceivable PETM (runaway warming of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 55 million years ago, when extreme and rapid heating of the oceans led to massive extinctions) then at least toward a much harder landing than envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "The demon in me wants to say: party and make merry. No need now to worry about Kyoto, recycling your aluminum cans or using too much toilet paper, when we'll soon be debating how many hunter-gathers can survive in the scorching deserts of New England or the tropical forests of the Yukon. The good parent in me, however, screams: how is it possible that we can now contemplate with scientific seriousness whether our childrens' children will themselves have children?"
The PETM arrived without any help from humans. I Think that this was also the period that produced most of the oil we have. So it is just fine that we have consumed all that oil before we get new. Oil is really a renewable resource. Good news...
Thanks for the silver lining! Laying down all our asphalt paving and plastic will no doubt vastly more than compensate for the loss of biomass we are now experiencing. Your optimism is infectious. I am feeling good. Bring it on.
conspiracy: the act of conspiring together
conspire: to join in a secret agreement

hard to maintain a conspiracy when your plain site actions bely the truth.  ask yourself a simple question about how the secret service responded to 9/11:

as an organization charged with protecting the president, why would you allow him to remain seated in a previously publicly disclosed location after you have been notified that two commercial aircraft have hit two separate structures in manhattan, and that more planes are suspected of being hijacked as they are no longer responding to ground requests for communication and/or deviated from filed flight plans?

now let some time pass, from 9/11 we get the invasion and ostensibly permanent occupation of the second, or third depending upon list, most oil endowed nation on the planet.  still think 9/11 and PO have nothing to do with each other?  still think that the only thing to discuss is URR, drilling technologies, and the inevitable technofix the market will provide?  sleep well.  i don't.

.....we now return you to your moot discussion of just how many oil rigs it takes to drink to the center of a tootsie roll oil pop.....

-tin foil hat

Something to be a ware of: Jim Kunstler makes a good living travelling around the country giving talks about Peak Oil.  Prior to 2000 he also made a good living giving frightening talks about Y2K, and he was DEAD WRONG.  

Another item you might consider factoring into your view of Kunstler is that he was a big supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  To his credit, he has since changed his stance.  Serious doubts about the man's motives and judgement linger in my mind.

I cannot refute what Kuntsler was saying before Y2K,and he may have been over-selling it,  but I also think that the reason he was "DEAD WRONG" about Y2K was because the problem was identified and the solutions were put in place, so that it did not end up being the apocalypse that many were forecasting.

I hope he ends up being just as wrong about Peak Oil.

I was doing Y2K mitigation work at the time, and I was not terribly worried, but that was only because I knew that we were putting the necessary fixes in place.  I am sure that many businesses and governments over-spent in addressing the issue, but I suppose that is better than what could have been the alternative...

For an interesting take from a while back discussing Peak Oil and Y2K see this article at Energy Bulletin here.

As a newcomer to Peak Oil and the implications, I enjoyed attending the morning segment of the conference.  Regarding all the posts on consumerism, I found the most personal solace in being able to consciously reject that lifestyle for myself.  It does bother me to be tailgated by a HUGE SUV with a "support the troops" ribbon on it.  This war is about OIL, but we'll never get out unless we do confront our status as hogs of the world's energy.  I am embarking on simplifying my choices in my fifth decade of life.
I am interested in hearing and reading more about the suggestions offered in the afternoon.  Were eco-villages a real alternative?  What communities are offering sustainable models now?
I remember a Bill Maher stand up show where he had a WWII style poster with a picture of an enormous SUV with a yellow ribbon: "Put a Yellow Ribbon on your SUV, it's literally the least you can do".
I hate to inform you that most people are corrubted by the consumer reality.  Those, that you would not think that of in a million years, have fallen pray to it.  

I have parents that grew up in the Depression. Were the can do, will do folks, that recently I have come to realize have fallen pray to the ideas that "years ago I did not have But today I can have" and they have.  They have Gadgets and they have tools, and they have things stacked in 4 (four) SHEDS in their back yard.  My old garden pressed under the weight of junk in 3 sheds.  The biggest was there in my gardening days, and housed my tools and stuff as well as stuff.  It has been turned to good use, Its my Dad's work shed.  But the other 3 are eye sores on a nice yard. And the Car Port a big pile of other things.

I see it in my own family, consume, buy things on credit card debt that you can't afford to pay off let alone buy more things on.  mortgage your home till the price is out of this world, only because someone down the street got 25k more than you did on their recent re-fi.

We had a President that not to many years ago asked us to CONSUME our way out of our fears from another attack. And we did ( I did not, I saved as much as I could ) It came in handy when my company was caught with its hand in the cookie jar and they laid off workers for the first time in their 10 year history.  

I have read the blog "clusterfuck nation" for many moons, and have Mr. Kunstler's "The Long Emergancy".  I do not agree with everything he says, but I have started to notice a lot more as I Drive places, those places I can not walk to, because stores have moved, or closed.  I could not in most cases walk to most of the places I do business with.
All because we have moved out, bulit up, and spread out in such a fashion that only some towns are nice and close in.

They even have new "TOWNS" Inside the old ones, where they advertise the idea of walk to shopping, schools, and everything that the small town was like long ago.  Only for a price, $150k building lots, and homes that have to be big and to our building standards, nothing shabby or less than our price range please.

We are not going to change till we can't walk to work, or the store to buy things, because we can't afford both fuel and food on the same 10 bucks.

             For those that like coffee,  
            Chicory, the blue flowers and tall thin plants on the road side, dig those roots and clean and roast, makes a nice coffee additive or subsitute, used a lot during the civil war.