Kunstler on making other arrangements

Orion Magazine’s cover James Howard Kunstler has a very readable piece in Orion Magazine that distills his thinking on the expensive-energy future.

[T]he outsourcing of manufacturing to other nations has spurred the development of a “global economy,” which media opinion-leaders such as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (author of The World Is Flat) say is a permanent state of affairs that we had better get used to. It is probably more accurate to say that the global economy is a set of transient economic relations that have come about because of two fundamental (and transient) conditions: a half century of relative peace between great powers and a half century of cheap and abundant fossil-fuel energy. These two mutually dependent conditions are now liable to come to an end as the great powers enter a bitter contest over the world’s remaining energy resources, and the world is actually apt to become a lot larger and less flat as these economic relations unravel.

I have tremendous respect for Kunstler’s thinking about cities, but I think he’s an alarmist about oil, not allowing enough for our capacity to come up with new technologies (or improve existing ones) to get by without the gigantic energy subsidy the dinosaur corpses in the ground have been supplying us with for the last hundred or so years.

That said, I think he does have a point that many breathless prophets of globalization haven’t fully taken into account how fragile our international trade system is. Any sensible long-term plan for a post-fossil-fuel economy needs seriously to consider whether our half-planet-long supply chains will be able to withstand significant increases in the cost of moving goods, and what it’ll mean if they can’t. The whole question of travel and long-distance shipping is handwaved away in emissions treaties, which might have been politically necessary but isn’t wise.

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