CHANGE—THE LONG EMERGENCY
November 10, 2008
A book review
In Part 2 of James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency”, we examine America’s prospects for survival in the 21st century. He addresses nature’s ability to “bite back” while humans overrun their carrying capacity and disrupt the planet’s ability to maintain stable environs for all living creatures.
Because President-elect Obama cried change, will he address real transformation toward a sustainable society or continue ‘fatuous change’ as he continues ‘consensus trance’? If he maintains his support of unlimited population growth within the United States, Obama cannot help but accelerate and magnify our growing environmental and societal dilemmas.
Again, most Americans as well as most humans on the planet continue their daily activities without a clue concerning global forces in play. If you read Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Forbes and Atlantic Monthly—they ignore anything and everything about population overload. It might be interesting for historians in 2050 to investigate why major media across America in 2008 avoided and in fact, crushed any discussion of the population issue. The media suppressed the population immigration issue in the 2008 presidential debates. Like sheep, the American people sat in their living rooms ‘grazing’ on the indolent rhetoric that failed to expose current realities facing the nation.
Both presidential candidates referred to ‘growth, expansion and increased GNP’ as their solution to America’s current problems. That means driving population which equals greater oil consumption. While the U.S. burns 20 million barrels of oil daily in 2008, another 100 million people added in 30 years will jump consumption commensurately. But, as mentioned, China expects to burn 98 million barrels a day by 2030. Those insanely skyrocketing figurers fail to address the consumption of the rest of the world. Hey folks, something’s got to give or give out!
Cause and effect! What don’t we understand about burgeoning human population as it impacts the rest of the planet? Short answer: religion and culture!
As you can see from this response, it mirrors millions of Americans drowning in their religious logic: “I am a Roman Catholic and am much offended by your denigration of my church. My faith in God, my church, my Bible means that I trust that there are NEVER too many people born.”
With that kind of logic, she approves of Bangladesh housing 144 million people in a landmass the size of Iowa. With that ‘logic’ she won’t mind seeing Bangladesh add its projected second 144 million to reach 290 million by 2050. That means, by simple extrapolation, she thinks the USA should keep populating toward 1, 2, 3 billion and beyond.
Kunstler adds, “The damage to global ecologies by human activity accelerated rapidly with the onset of industrialism. The twentieth century with its oil-nurtured bloom of human population, was especially harsh. Everywhere, biological complexity was compromised or reduced to monoculture. Habitats were wrecked. Species exterminated! Terrain and water were poisoned. The amount of asphalt paving alone in the United States represents an ecological insult beyond comprehension.”
While America remains in her ‘consensus trance’ brought on by decades of unlimited growth and resources, her citizens cannot imagine water shortages. Kunstler said, “The vast majority of the earth’s surface consists of water, yet only three percent of that is fresh water. The World Bank famously declared, “The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water.” The United Nations identified three hundred zones around the world that will be the sites of conflicts over water in the years ahead. The great aquifers of North America, China and India are all depleting rapidly due to aggressive irrigation…the rapidly diminishing supplies of fresh water, especially in the heavily populated third world, also exacerbate sanitation catastrophes, and prepare the stage for epidemic disease. More than two million people worldwide die every year from contaminated water. In the maquiladora zones of Mexico today, water is so scarce that babes and children drink Coca-Cola instead.”
Kunstler again raises the specter of disease: “In the Long Emergency, mortality via disease will return with a vengeance.” How do you spell it? HIV that leads to AIDS! The one recreation people enjoy even in the worst of times involves procreation! However, they become the ‘hotbed’ of an expected 80 million cases worldwide by 2010.
How about land? Few understand that 2.19 million of acres of land suffer pavement and housing development every year in the USA. Kunstler talked about ‘suburbia’ raping the land through the 80s and 90s via population growth that added 100 million people in 40 years. Today, we face an added 100 million in 30 years! In a state like Colorado, it lost 1.65 million acres of farm land in 15 years. The Denver Post stated Colorado expects to lose 3.1 million more acres to development by 2022.
As we run up against the “Long Emergency” Kunstler said, “The dollar will be in for a rough ride. The demoralization could easily be worse than that of the Great Depression because we will not be living in “Want amidst plenty”, as FDR put it, but in hardship amidst scarcity. Our desperate problems with oil and gas will effectively shut down the growth of our industrial economies, and with that our expectations for economic progress as we have known it.”
On a note of certitude, Kunstler states, “Climate change, environmental degradation, falling living standards, and social disorder will be the oil age’s gift for entropy to future generations. The transient and ephemeral condition of industrial hypergrowth that the world as known for just over two hundred years will be over. Energy will be at an extreme premium, and human survival skills will be the new capital.”
In the end, what can we do and what can we expect?
“America is not special,” Kunstler said, “nor immune to either the hazards of circumstance or the tendencies of human nature. Revolution might occur…the future is now here for a living arrangement that had no future. Suburbia has a tragic destiny. Suburbia is going to lose its value catastrophically as it loses its utility. American life in the twenty-first century has the best chance of adjusting to the Long Emergency in a physical pattern of small towns surrounded by productive farmland.”
Kunstler points out the most denied reality addressed by another author Jared Diamond in “Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed.” Kunstler said, “American exceptionalism offers no protection from these potential disorders. Any place can become a Beirut under certain unfavorable circumstances.”
After reading Kunstler’s book and watching his Washington DC slide presentation, I concur that American civilization stands in the cross hairs of history similar to Rome. Will we gather ourselves toward rational action that begets a sustainable future or will we commit national suicide by adding millions upon millions of people? Will we discover a magic bullet? Will we become victims of our own hubris?
Subscribe to the NewsWithViews Daily News Alerts!
In all great social change, it takes a “consciousness shift” of the people and leaders. That shift translates into “Critical Mass” of activated citizens to engage change within their society. That leads to “tipping point” toward a plausible future. Kunstler offers readers a peek into what’s coming and what’s possible.
However, we face a bumpy, dangerous and uncertain future. I highly recommend Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency” as a first salvo toward a sustainable future for all humanity.
By James Howard Kunstler