“Driving Toward Disaster”

Peak Oil

Thanks to Martin for pointing me toward this article in the Washington Post this morning.

James Howard Kunstler points out that much of what people are thinking about the changes and pressure on society due to rising energy prices are too simplistic by half:

“The public, and especially the mainstream media, misunderstands the ‘peak oil’ story. It’s not about running out of oil. It’s about the instabilities that will shake the complex systems of daily life as soon as the global demand for oil exceeds the global supply. These systems can be listed concisely:

  • The way we produce food
  • The way we conduct commerce and trade
  • The way we travel
  • The way we occupy the land
  • The way we acquire and spend capital

And there are others: governance, health care, education and more.

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.”

Read the full article here.

And I’d add to this article, the simplistic thinking about energy costs that’s happening in church circles these days as well…

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Thanks for continuing to post about this, Fr. Nick. It will take everybody facing reality to make all of this less painful (less painful, that is) – and to start making needed changes.
    On a somewhat related note, have you read Bishop Alan’s posts on the topic of “the local church as the hope of the world“? Well, now’s the time to prove it.

  2. Paul Martin says

    You keep alluding to the challenges this poses to the church. Would you care to expand on those comments? Are you saying there are challenges or responsibilities which are unique to the church, or that the church is behind other institutions in responding to this situation?

  3. Sorry Paul – you’re right I should list them. I have in other places (my first essay for Episcopal Café about a year ago for instance) but it’s not fair for me to just wag my metaphorical finger every so often.
    In short, we’re not only slow to respond, but I think the congregations of the Episcopal Church are going to be more effected by the changes that are coming than other institutions will be. The effect is going to be a mixed bag – good news to urban congregations and probably to rural ones, but pretty much total bad news for the suburban ones. Much of the issues are going to revolve around population migration due to the rising energy costs.
    I’ve got a couple of essays to write, but once I get them out of the way, let me see if I can sit down and lay out my thinking on the Church’s challenges more explicitly.

  4. Paul Martin says

    I’ll give you one anectdotal example from my own life. We live in a conservative diocese. The closest episcopal church we are happy with is 20-30 minutes away. It’s not the greatest parish I’ve ever been to, but it’s one I’m willing to live with. But we can do one trip a week. Forget about joining the choir or getting the teenager to a Sunday afternoon event.
    I suppose if I were a bigger person, I’d go to the local church and grit my teeth. It’s a bit evangelical for my taste, and the sermons sound like children’s sermons to me. I’m just not ready for that yet. I wonder what the price of gas has to be to make me change my mind.
    We tend to segregate ourselves by high church / low church or conservative / liberal. When I lived in a small college town in Mississippi, we didn’t have that luxury. There was one church in town, and we either sank or swam together. In the larger cities, will we stop driving cross town and attend the local church? Or will we throw up our hands and curl up with the New York Times on Sunday morning? We live in interesting times.
    By the way, check out Fiedman’s latest column: here.

  5. Steve Woolley says

    Kunstler’s article has two fatal flaws. It hearkens back to the romance of a past that never really was, and it has more than a hint of isolationism to it. We do need to change in dramatic ways, but I’m not sure we can predict what those ways are gong to be or should be. I personally favor a change toward a national ethic of conservation, not out of fear of shortages but out of an inspired sense of stewardship. And I’m not too happy about the faddishness of the eat local campaign inasmuch as my part of the country produces fruits, vegetables and grains that have no market if not a world market. Trends I see at the local level that give me hope include: the rapid growth of organic farming and ranching; the plummeting sales of big trucks and SUVs except for those who actually need them; the increased use of wind power to supplement base production; the use of satellite imagery, computer models and GPS to guide soil and crop management; the revival of small town downtowns; the increasing numbers of adults on bikes and (shudder) motor scooters; and dozens of other small, innovative movements like them.

Comments are closed.