The “Long Emergency” Has Been Rescheduled for Obama’s Second Term

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56 Responses

  1. Tim Kowal says:

    The Geography of Nowhere is a wonderful book, but subconsciously, it’s been filed in my mental library in the fiction category. But I suppose that’s roughly the same for most writers of the dismal sciences, especially those who are so dismal about it.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:


    Where’s the inevitable military dictatorship, installed to the cheers of starving throngs of people who once called themselves “Americans”?

    Where are the triumphal mosques, heralding our final submission to the oil-rich Islamists and their secret plans to impose shaira on us?

    Where are the book-burnings and persecutions of the members of our educated classes, perpetrated at the urgings of crazed Christian theocrats?

    All Kunstler is predicting is I, Claudius part II, with Hillary Clinton the hero-savior elected President in 2016, and palace intrigues with Bill playing the role of Livia, and Barack as Antony.Report

  3. NewDealer says:

    Again, this is a bit of a false equivalence.

    There are a lot of people who sincerely believe in all that stuff put out by Focus on the Family and do think that constantly voting Republican is the only way to stop America from becoming Sodom and Gammorah. The number of people who believed in Knustler’s predictions and vote Democratic because of them are much fewer in number.

    Knustler’s predictions are absolutely nuts especially the post-consumerists economy but he reaches a much smaller audience than James Dobson.

    I am not even sure what a post-consumerist economy would look like except as one big commune and that is a mortifying thought.Report

    • James K in reply to NewDealer says:

      Don’t worry about it, if that nightmare scenario comes to pass most of the world will die of starvation so there’s a better than even chance you won’t live to see it.Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      An actual post-consumerist economy features people working less and buying less with the money they’ve got.
      Less disposable “investments” and less “loss-guaranteed” purchases.Report

    • Neil Hébert in reply to NewDealer says:

      Thanks for reading and chiming in, NewDealer.

      I didn’t mean to actually draw an equivalence between the possible impact of Focus on the Family on elections vs. Kunstler, though I see how one might read it that way. I was merely inspired by the other’s bloggers post to go back and read some of his old “Clusterfuck Nation” columns, and point out some of his predictions for fun. In a podcast early this year he made an offhand remark to the effect that he wasn’t even sure there would be a 2012 presidential election, and that comment turned on a light bulb in my head, even though I was aware that he’s been making bad calls on near-term history since the Y2K scare, if not before.

      Also, he isn’t voting Democratic, at least at the presidential level, though I think you could argue that nobody would be swayed to vote Republican after listening to him. One interesting quirk that has been showing up in his writing this year (and perhaps before, I’m not sure) is a hostility towards gay rights and gay people in general, and he seems to be a believer in the “natural order” theory of gender roles to some extent as well.Report

  4. Will Truman says:

    What ND says about false equivalence is true, but as someone that has long been a skeptic of the post-automobile, Peak Oil, urbanist future (and someone experiencing apocalypse fatigue more generally), I still enjoyed the heck out of this post.

    Great work, Neil! I hope you contribute again.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

      Some thoughts:


      Probably not because of how America is structured but I do see a lot more people using services like zip car instead of buying their own. Derek Thompson at the Atlantic had a good piece a few weeks ago about how car ownership is down among 20 and early 30-somethings and it is no longer considered a necessary first purchase.

      A more urban future:

      I think this is wait and see issue. Lots of 20 and 30 somethings like to live in large cities especially when they are child free. Here are some questions that will help determine the issue:

      1. Are 20 and 30 somethings of today more urbanly inclined than 20 and 30 somethings of past generations? For the sake of convenience, we can start with the Boomers who were the first mass-educated class.

      2. As people in their 20s and 30s starting having kids, we will need to see if these people start moving to the suburbs in droves once their kids hit school age.

      Basically I think we are either seeing a trend towards more urbanization or American culture holds that cities are places for the super-rich, bohemians, the childless, minorities, the poor, and educated 20 or 30 somethings who will make up the middle and upper-middle classes. If the last group decides to stay in cities once their children reach school age we will see a more urban United States. Only time will tell.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to NewDealer says:

        It’s also the case that fewer people may have kids, and more fall into the superrich/boho/childless/minority/poor/educated buckets.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised either way if there is an overall increase in density and what we might call urban living. I would be kind of surprised if it happened more than at the margins. I am primarily skeptical of a great reordering.

        I think Zipcar, and especially self-driving autotaxis as something that very well may reorder society. A real gamechanger, if the former takes off or the latter becomes safe, legal, and efficient.

        (I’d love to write more, but we’re prepping for a 4 hour drive to the MFM obstetrician.)Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Floor on gas prices is now $3.00 a gallon. That’s TRIPLE the price in the late 1990’s. And it’s headed up.
        Gonna see some adjustments. Got to.
        People in their 20’s and 30’s aren’t gonna be able to afford the suburbs (and especially the exurbs).Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    P90x got nothing on Conquest and War, I’ll tell you that.

    All predictions for the sudden catastrophic decline of the United States (and/or the Western World Order) are hogwash.

    Every great power that has suffered a precipitous and calamitous decline has done so due to either a) a succession crisis or b) conquest by another even greater power. Neither of which is on the horizon for the United States (or the Western World). We will decline like the Romans, like the Ottomans, like a couple iterations of the Chinese – slowly and boringly over a few generations, until *then* a conquest or a succession crisis finishes things off for good.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kolohe says:

      But the signs of decline are all around you, if only you open eyes to see them! We have… devalued our currency! Questions about the legitimacy of our rulers! And non-citizens serving in our military! Unpoliced borders! Look upon our works, ye mighty, and despair.

      …You’re not despairing yet. DESPAIR, I said!Report

  6. Michelle says:

    I confess, I am a regular reader of Kunstler’s blog and I’ve read both of his fictional works about life in the post-industrial world. While I take his predictions about the future with a big-ass grain of salt, I do think there’s something to his critique of consumerism, suburbia, and our car-based society. Sooner or later, I think we’re going to need to find a way to a sustainable economy as opposed to one based on the notion of perpetual growth and progress, and a national motto that amounts to “bigger, better, faster, more.”

    That said, I’m glad none of his gloomier predictions have yet come to pass.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Michelle says:

      What is an economy that is not built on consumerism? What is the alternative?

      This is a serious question. I am not saying that being a consumer all the time is good but critics of consumerism have yet to come up with an alternative model that I consider to be sustainable and/or pleasant.

      Most critics of consumerism seem to be filled with Freshman 101 sort of rebellion. As I once joked about on facebook but got a lot of likes, one day these people “will want nice things to”. In other words, most of them will end up just as middle class as the backgrounds they came from and are currently rebelling against.

      The modern notion of a vast middle class is more or less based on consumerism and is a continuation of the Victorian Industrial Revolution’s ability to take former luxury items and make them affordable for the masses. Now we do it with clothing, electronics and vacations and restaurants instead of chocolate, candles, and soap though.

      I was listening to NPR’s Planet Money once and they were interviewing a very thrifty woman who basically urged everyone to stop buying anything new (furniture, books, clothing, electronics, etc) and also to stop going to restaurants. If everyone took her advice, the economy would collapse and we would all be more miserable. Plus life would be really boring without restaurants.

      That being said, I agree we should think more in terms of sustainability over growth, growth, growth that creates boom and bust cycles. But I will still take post-consumerist talk more seriously when I hear a serious proposal about how to do so in a nation of 300 plus million people. It is not sustainable to imagine every American becoming a hippie on a commune and that is what many anti-Consumerists want.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        Seem to want ratherReport

      • Liberty60 in reply to NewDealer says:

        I would prefer to rant against Overconsumption rather than Consumerism.
        Defined as consuming more than we can afford, defined as the belief that maximum consumption is maximum fulfillment.

        Specifically, what is the appropriate amount of consumption that is healthy, above which we become dangerously overleveraged? There are all sorts of metrics that banks use, but I think they are being too liberal.

        Suppose we proposed that a well ordered financial life was one where we saved 10%, gave another 10% to charity and lived on 80% of our incomes?

        Would our economy collapse? I don’t think so. Saving that much would allow people to ride out the inevitable swings and layoffs of the business cycle; donating that much would make the conservative dream of a private social safety net come true.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Liberty60 says:

          I’m with you on a philosophical level, but am quite unsure how we get from here to there.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Liberty60 says:

          I agree that overconsumption is bad.

          10-15 percent is probably a good amount for people to save. I started working in March and have managed to save a few grand this year (about a thousand is 401(k) though). Not ten percent but not bad either.

          I would probably be able to save more if I did not pay for my own health insurance every month.Report

          • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

            Goodness my gracious! 10%???
            This is why I forsee a grave future for America…
            25% minimum to save, to get enough of a safety buffer to get you through a few years unemployed. Then start actually investing…
            50% is a good amount to be saving, if you’re looking to buy a house or do anything else big. 50% is a good amount in general.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Liberty60 says:

          I am going to go a bit further.

          Do you think your 10 percent, 10 percent, 80 percent rule is a moral imperative? Is this something that people should feel bad about for not meeting?

          There seem to be too many factors involved including the random chaos of everyday life. A single person making 80K a year is going to have a much easier time saving than someone raising a family on 80k. What if someone enjoys living alone but this means that they only give 5 percent of their income to charity? Is someone morally required to put up with roommates if it means reaching that 10 percent number? What if someone volunteers a lot does this free them of an obligation towards giving 10 percent of their income to charity?Report

          • Liberty60 in reply to NewDealer says:

            I think there is a moral imperative in being sober and cautious, in leading a well-ordered life.

            Its part and parcel of my belief that we have obligations to society, simply by vitrue of belonging to it. There is a pre-existing lien on our freedom.

            Obviously there are plenty of reasons why the rate of saving/donating/spending can and should vary.

            As for how we get there, I can only think of culture; First, we acknowledge that we swim in a culture that promotes and exhorts us to consume and indulge with abandon. Then we begin a steady drumbeat of voices urging sobriety, caution, restraint and simplicity.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        This is a great comment, ND. With any luck, you’ve inspired a post.Report

      • Michelle in reply to NewDealer says:

        I should define my terms more clearly. Liberty’s description of over-consumption is more what I had in mind. Obviously most of us aren’t going to go back to growing our own food and making our own stuff, but I do think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for most of us to look at our patterns of consumption. I think we’d realize we have all kinds of stuff that we don’t need and don’t use–stuff that weighs us down rather than making us happy. Lots of waste in this society.Report

  7. James K says:

    I’m not surprised Kunstler mis-predicted so thoroughly, he clearly has no idea what he’s talking about.

    First off, you don’t get inflation from recessions. A recession is pretty much the opposite of inflation, that’s like predicting a plague will cause overpopulation.

    Secondly, it is exceedingly unlikely that oil prices will behave in the manner Kunstler describes. Naturally the amount of oil on earth is finite, and we can’t use it forever, but we’re not going to wake up one morning and discover we’ve run out. Technically we’ll probably never “run out” per se, instead as supply diminishes prices will slowly rise until alternatives for petroleum’s various uses become more economical. This may not be pleasant, depending on how cheap the alternatives are, but it will be a gradual process whereby fuel consumption is slowly pushed down by rising prices, it will not be a catastrophic shift.

    As for China, if they were to dump their dollar-denominated assets their currency would rapidly appreciate (that’s the reason why they’re buying so much American debt). While the benefits of having a cheap currency are vastly overrated, there’s no question that a rapid revaluation of their currency would cause some pretty severe economic disruption in the short term, and therefore I don’t see the Chinese government doing it.Report

    • Kim in reply to James K says:

      Inflation, historically, is the only thing that’s worked to get us out of large recession/depression events.
      300% gasoline price rise (in inflation adjusted numbers) in 20 years isn’t what I call “slowly”.Report

  8. Shazbot3 says:

    The post-consumerism thing will happen pretty soon, but then we get the zombies, and people will need to buy a whole host of anti-zombie devices, (and a tax credit for buying them!) which will kick the free market back into action.

    But then we get the Rapture, which creates a metaphysically induced financial crisis. Who will pay the debts of the ascended? Who indeed.

    After that, the zombies will start to purchase items with a currency pegged to the price of brains, which will open up whole new markets again, selling tattered clothes, oozing sores, and decayed flesh.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      The below was meant to be a reply to you.Report

    • Chris in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      People with debt aren’t saved. Duh!

      If people with debt were, by some miracle, to disappear at the Rapture, we could always start a service like this, but for debts. For a small fee (say, 5-10% of the total debt amount), we will promise to pay all debts after the rapture, to maintain your post-salvation credit score.Report

  9. NewDealer says:

    In America, first you get the post-consumerism, then you get the Zombies, then you get the power, then the women….Report

  10. Michael Cain says:

    I agree with Kuntsler in the sense that 25 years from now, it will be clear that energy will be recognized as the issue for the century. I disagree about which form of energy; oil issues will get resolved, but electricity is a different matter. You don’t develop, or maintain, a high-tech society without robust supplies of electricity. I think there are good reasons to believe that global and regional electrical supplies are already being strained, and that in 25 years, there will be unexpected areas that will be having trouble “keeping the lights on”. It’s also going to be a slow-motion disaster — no single-year catastrophic collapses, just an unending series of problems grinding away at us.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Rolling brown-outs as the new normal?Report

    • James K in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I guess that depend son what we do about it. There are already half-decent alternatives available (it is utterly insane that nuclear power is as unpopular as it is), and the alternative space is only going to look better over time (maybe we’ll even get to a point where solar power is a legitimate contender).

      I think we’ll be OK in that space.Report

    • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Electricity crisis? Nah, I don’t see it. The populace would jettison their tacked on fear of nuclear power plants long before they accepted rolling brownouts or sky high electrical prices.Report

      • Fnord in reply to North says:

        Well, a nuclear power plant isn’t exactly something you can whip up at the last minute. Even if you’re right, there could well be a few years painful enough to justify the name crisis. No collapse of civilization, though.Report

    • In the US, there are three largely independent electricity supply problems: the Eastern, Western, and Texas Interconnects. The Eastern’s current fuel mix (for 2010 — 2011 full-year figures won’t be available until next month) is 50% coal, 23% nuclear, 19% natural gas, 8% other. The Western and Texas Interconnects have fuel profiles that are quite a bit different (eg, the Western got 30% of its power from renewable resources in 2010). The Western and Texas have good-to-excellent renewable resources relatively close to their population centers. The problems in the Western and Texas Interconnects appear to be manageable. The Eastern, not so much, at least IMO. Sanity check: there are a number of detailed systems analyses that have been done for moving the Western to a low-carbon profile; so far, I have been unable to find similar analyses for the Eastern.

      In 25 years, the existing nuclear reactors in the Eastern Interconnect will have reached, or nearly reached, the end of their 20-year license extensions. No one in their right mind is going to renew most of them again. In round numbers, the Eastern needs to bring three new reactors online every year from now until then just to end up even in terms of the nuclear contribution. If they’re going to make a dent in their coal use, there’s another big chunk of rebuilding. They may not choose to get rid of or clean up their coal plants — many of the states in the Eastern are complaining bitterly over the cost of implementing the recent rule changes about particulates, mercury, and sulfur/nitrous oxides. If push comes to shove, the states of the Eastern Interconnect control enough electoral votes to elect a President (and dominate Congress) and exempt coal from the Clean Air Act.

      Mostly I think the Eastern problem comes down to a matter of timing. They have a huge problem, they’re not acting on it, and there are limits to how fast they can act later. Yes, the problem is emerging in slow motion — but most of the steps that can be taken also move very slowly. Just a personal opinion, but my reading of the situation is that they’re not going to move quickly enough and will pay for it down the road.Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

        sounds solid. Now why couldn’t we have rebuilt with all that stimulus money??
        Half of our fuel usage is on heat/cooling isn’t it(just wildass guessing, your input needed!)? Geothermal is mostly cost-competitive there, and that won’t take nuclear nor coal.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kim says:

          Unless you live in one of a very few areas in the US, “geothermal” means ground-water-sourced heat pump, which needs electricity. Depending on where you live, that means some mix of coal/nuclear/natural gas/other. Such heat pumps are more efficient than burning the fuel yourself, but what with on-site drilling and such, the installation is much more expensive. And there are problems in areas with high-density housing. My suburban backyard is big enough to drill wells that will meet my household’s heating, cooling, and domestic hot water needs. A ten- or twenty-story apartment complex in an urban core, while needing less heating/cooling per household, has trouble accessing enough ground water to meet the aggregate demand.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Though what the East has is more and better high voltage transmission lines (particularly the 765 kV ones) which gives them a lot more flexibility both the fix the problem long term and ameriolate short terms problems while everyone is dithering. (and the East does seem to be shedding old low-capacity coal plants – the closest one to me just shut down at the begining of the month)Report

        • Kim in reply to Kolohe says:

          ours are going down soon (PA here, also nearby ohio).
          I can’t wait!
          (of course nwo taht they know they’re shutting down, they’re breaking ALL the laws…)Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

          Credit two factors for shutting down the little coal burners: the new air quality standards and (temporarily) cheap natural gas. The old small coal plants are simply not worth the cost of the bag house and scrubbers necessary to meet the new standards. Lots of those plants have been relegated to seasonal peaking production for years, and it’s cheaper to put in gas-fired turbines for that purpose than to update the little dirty coal burners. Or to increase the output at bigger newer coal plants where the cleaning technology is more cost effective.

          You’ll have to point me at sources to convince me that Texas and the West, both fast-growing regions, have fallen behind on transmission facilities. Certainly both have been adding generating capacity to meet the needs of the new population at a rapid pace.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

            Just this thing that AEP floated around a few years ago when T Boone Pickens was making his play for wind (and then got creamed by that same Nat Gas bust).

            I could very well be way off, this was a study area of mine in college, but that’s been a while. (a while) And I think we’ve had a similar discussion here before; I still think y’alls big problem in the West is going to be water (same as it ever was), and that will cut into some of your non-fossil fuel generating capacity.Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

              Get rid of the big DC interties between West and East in that map — which, in a renewable scenario, serve to move large amounts of power from West to East — and the need for many of those 765 kV AC lines in the West disappears. Various studies for transmission of renewable power from multiple Western sources to multiple Western markets don’t see the need for more capacity than 500 kV AC provides; where the purpose of the transmission link is simply to pump power to California, HVDC is usually proposed.

              Water will, as always be an issue. Lower Colorado Basin is going to be particularly “interesting”. If one were designing an independent Western States of America, it’s not clear that such an entity would want to take Phoenix and Las Vegas.Report