Posted by: Michael George Daniel | March 11, 2010

James Howard Kunstler

Saturday, March 6 brought to closure the long planned and slowly assembled speaking event in East Haddam, Connecticut featuring noted author James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler’s blog this week builds on the experience of his visit. Hosted by the local Earth Charter group, the Earth Charter Community of the Lower Valley (ECCoLoV), the event featured commentary on the converging trends of the day – and none to soon.

Speaking to a packed house of 180 people, Kunstler explained the loss of capital from our economic system, and the reality of peak oil’s fragile balance between strained world supply and vacillating demand that shifts with the vagaries of current global economic activity. Many had come because they know and respect Kunstler’s analysis and clear opinions about the interminable trends of resource depletion, our ‘suburban predicament’, and economic collapse. Some, such as public servants and politicians came as a result of being prodded by local citizens. Many of these folks left dazed. Feeling a deep disagreement with the message of the event, but being unable to dismiss it given the energy in the crowded room, they seemed confused and unable to unravel the phalanx of emotions, or to even articulate how they felt. Some ran from the room as soon as the talk was completed.

For the most part, the room was held in rapt attention. The facts presented resonated with truth and are, indeed, hard to deny.  Kunstler more than once derided those that would call him a gloom and doomer to point out his viewpoint as that of an ‘actualist’ – someone interested in what is actually happening. What is actually happening, he described, is that the world is broke. Our current economic system is based on growth – needed to service interest on debt. Our growth depends on ever more consumption of resources and we have come to the end of the line for virtually all of the resources that for so long have been treated as inexhaustible.  He went into some detail with regard to the character of peak oil – that it has never been about ‘running out of oil’, but rather about the fragility of the ever-more complex systems upon which our consumer economy depends. Now, at the peak of global oil availability, there is still about half of the Earth’s oil still in the ground. But it is this half that becomes increasingly difficult to access. This difficulty will serve to increase the volatility of our social systems.

While world oil demand will continue to climb as the rest of the world pursues the Western version of progress, the availability is about to decline. The cost of oil will escalate as it becomes harder to obtain. Access to less expensive oil will lead to competition, and to the extent the oil is deemed ‘in the national interest’, powerful forces will be deployed to ‘secure’ the resource.

Besides the simple economic strain, basic physics make it clear that when it takes as much energy to obtain oil as is delivered, the oil will no longer be viable. At one time, 1 barrel of oil equivalent in energy invested yielded 100 barrels of oil. That number is now below 10, and dropping. The writing is on the wall.

Kunstler emphasizes the need to talk about what is 'actually' happening.

Speaking as President of the non-profit organization that sponsored the event, I offered commentary based on my own views including ideas expressed elsewhere in this blog: that our challenges are not the result of a shortage of money, but rather a disconnection from that-which-really-matters, including compassion and respect for all of life, and a deep reorganization of our understanding of the place of humans in the ecological order of the Earth.

ECCoLoV President

ECCoLoV President, Michael Harris - introductory remarks.

The late afternoon sun filled the room with light reflected off of the Connecticut River, streaming through the partially shaded west-facing windows of East Haddam’s famous Gelston House restaurant. Although the audience found themselves elbow to elbow waiting for the program to begin, while the audio-visual crew fretted about the room’s brightness, a curious air of expectation pervaded the place. While a lot was asked of the crowd as they waited for the main attraction, a lot was given in return, in terms of insight, information, thought-provoking commentary. No one complained about the transaction.

F

Bright sun slowed things down briefly.

The talk was followed by a panel discussion that featured local architects Hans Lohse and Patrick Pinnell, sustainability consultant Maureen Hart, former Wesleyan professor Don Meyer, transition town activist Bernard Brennan and spiritual director, Laura George.

Kunstler talks with panelist Laura George.

Comments by the panelists and questions from the audience drew out aspects of a collective vision for a more Utopian future; one in which our sense of oneness, cooperation and not competition, and unconditional love play a much more vital role in behavior and policy making. Competing points of view, though, expressed deep concerns about being out-competed by China, the need for national security, and continuing struggles with questions of property tax and land use policy. Kunstler pointed out that many questions seemed steeped in the idea that things were going to simply continue as they have been, a perspective with which he disagrees.

For more information, visit ECCoLoV’s website, earthcharterct.org.

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Responses

  1. The words of Mister Kunstler are still ringing in my ears and I will take a moment to respond. I do not share his vision of a future society so gloomy and destructive. It is not wishful thinking (unrealistic believes), it is the power of affirmation (assertion of truth) that directs our destiny and has been since Adam and Eve.
    I felt personally attacked when he used Clowns as a metaphor for stupidity. Clowns have the unique ability to let us feel our emotions of joy and sadness and lift our harmful protective emotional devises.
    Thanks for a very informative time.
    Hans Lohse
    Architect
    and part time clown

  2. It is great to get such a thoughtful comment. I agree about Kunstler’s lack of appreciation for clowns and what they can do to help us access the emotions that we have so well otherwise locked away. I think the thing that he does not articulate well, yet which is at the heart of his criticism, is the use of the clown in service of pointless consumerism. Recall that his image depicted Ronald McDonald in it – something that represents, to me, a perversion of the idea of a clown in service of a violent, profit-driven corporation. We need clowns to do more than sell burgers and addict kids to fast food.

    From another part time clown – often one of those ‘sad’ clowns these days.


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