Kunstler – a stopped clock?
For some reason, maybe because his recent writings have penetrated the deepest into popular culture (Rolling Stone), James Howard Kunstler has lately taken on the aspect of peak oil raconteur, drawing criticism like a lightening rod because of the supposedly gloomy story he weaves.
Whether or not his biases are right or wrong is irrelevant. Here I am talking specifically of Kunstler's disdain for suburban and exurban America, and his voiced contempt for trying to prop up this wasteful and energy inefficient lifestyle in the face of cheap energy depletion.
Ah, peak petroleum.
See, the fact that we are on the cusp of hitting the production peak often gets obscured when critics can comfortably attack this Kunstler chap on a widely selected range of writings over a ten year period. (He believed in Y2K! For shame!) To these critics I would say, the egg on your face is already flying through the air.
With that as backround, it was with some amusement that I read the mini-debate between Kunstler and Amory Lovins at Salon. Former rock and roll writer and novelist takes on Lovins plus his gaggle of industry engineers, and the result, I submit, is a draw.
A draw? The Hypercar doesn’t yet exist as an option for commuters, though it was conceived in 1993. Suburbia does, and I believe Kunstler is right – suburbs are a waste of energy and unsustainable given the cars on the road today. I’m sure it will be a photo finish race from here until 2030 – and I’m guessing both gentlemen will be proven right to their own satisfaction in the end.
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James Howard Kunstler criticizes me for supposedly suggesting superefficient cars at the expense of walkable neighborhoods. If he'll kindly look at my 1999 book "Natural Capitalism," he'll find that Chapter 2, "Hypercars and Neighborhoods," emphasizes the importance of both, and strongly supports New Urbanism
Here I suspect Kunstler criticized Lovins without having sufficient background on the man or his ideas, focusing instead on technology of the Hypercar, as a cipher for the hallucinated hydrogen economy. In fact, Amory Lovins desire to reduce the weight of vehicles is positive for conservation, irrespective of how vehicles are powered.
I also stand by my assertion that we will not be able to run the Interstate Highway System, Disney World, the New Jersey suburbs, or any of the other furnishings and accessories of the American dream on any known alternatives to petroleum and its byproducts.
I’d wager with Kunstler on this one. But I would also bet that Hypercars in some form will start to appear on our highways at some point in the next ten years.
RMI's main building is among the world's most energy-efficient, saving 99 percent of space- and water-heating energy, 90 percent of household electricity (the rest is solar-generated), and 50 percent of water, all with a 10-month payback in 1984. It has received more than 70,000 visitors and produced 28 indoor banana crops with no conventional heating system, down to -47 outdoors. Other RMI buildings also use solar micropower, exceptionally energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures, daylighting, superwindows and other sustainability-enhancing features.
Point Lovins, except, RMI is ONE building complex out of the millions in America that suck energy like it were free.
Kunstler will be proven correct. We are facing a long, (inter)national emergency. And I for one am glad people like Amory Lovins are around to help us through it, even though I think the proposal in Winning the Oil Endgame suggesting we burn trees to power our cars is a clownish idea. Never give a chimp reason burn something; they will; right up until they physically can't.
Meanwhile, Kunstler is right more than twice a day.
Engineer Poet at the Ergosphere has an alternative take on Kunstler.