James Howard Kunstler writes about the problems he sees us heading towards when it comes to our energy needs:
As the world passes the all-time oil production high and watches as the price of a barrel of oil busts another record, as it did last week, these systems will run into trouble. Instability in one sector will bleed into another. Shocks to the oil markets will hurt trucking, which will slow commerce and food distribution, manufacturing and the tourist industry in a chain of cascading effects. Problems in finance will squeeze any enterprise that requires capital, including oil exploration and production, as well as government spending. These systems are all interrelated. They all face a crisis. What’s more, the stress induced by the failure of these systems will only increase the wishful thinking across our nation.
And that’s the worst part of our quandary: the American public’s narrow focus on keeping all our cars running at any cost. Even the environmental community is hung up on this. The Rocky Mountain Institute has been pushing for the development of a “Hypercar” for years — inadvertently promoting the idea that we really don’t need to change.
I wanted to post about this because it’s now the top story at reddit. The idea that people need to change their lifestyle in the face of a crisis is a difficult message for any politician or pundit to put out there. If the predictions turn out to be overly alarmist, all it does is make people complacent towards the real dangers that exist. This is a common problem with the environmental issues we face, and why I often compare them to the foreign policy issues we face. When either side of the ideological spectrum exaggerates the dangers (whether it’s Kunstler on the environment, or Joe Lieberman on Iran), it only works against those who are intent on fixing the problems.
I tend to believe that Kunstler is underestimating what the demand for technical innovation will produce. When people are faced with the prospect of giving up their lifestyle, their financial calculus changes. When this happens across the globe, I believe we’ll see some radical changes, but we’re not returning to a time where everyone is cut off from the rest of the world again. The innovations of the 20th century (commercial air travel, computers, the internet, space travel, and television) were largely inconceivable to someone in 1900, and the major advancements of the 21st century are largely inconceivable to us now. It’s not a bad idea for people to change their lifestyles, and with the price of oil what it is, many people are going to anyway. But what we need to do most of all is place more emphasis on science in our educational systems. And we need to return to a time when our government valued and respected science so that the innovations that build the 21st century come from America, just as they did in the 20th.