Not quite nine years ago, on November 21, 2006, I had the genuine pleasure of spending almost two hours in the company of James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. I was driving him from his presentation in Mankato to the Minneapolis St. Paul airport. We discovered a shared interest in fly-fishing among other things. Much of his book is based on the premise of what happens after "peak oil" and the era of cheap fossil fuels. Not quite a decade later, we're looking at an upcoming international conference intended to help the world keep from exceeding a catastrophic rise in temperature. Meanwhile, global commodities like copper and steel are in "excessive" supply, California continues to suffer from unprecedented(?) drought, and increasing volatility and intensity in weather events are making global warming more real by the day.
volatile weather storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington
If nothing else, Kunstler is thought-provoking and entertaining. I respectfully disagree with some of his underlying concepts and his tendency to describe an array of problems without suggesting solutions. When I asked him about that, he informed me that he thought that solutions should come from those who bring us New Urbanism. While I agree that NU has many positive attributes, it seems to miss some key points. Points that are also absent from Kunstler's "Long Emergency" and at least the first volume of his continuing novel series of a World Made by Hand. Neither of those works gives much play to renewable wind, solar and/or distributed generation of electricity.
We live in a pretty rural location. Our most obvious vulnerability is loss of electricity. Without it we have no furnace, refrigeration, or water supply. At the time Kunstler was writing 'Long Emergency," I know I didn't foresee how quickly solar photovoltaics would precipitously drop in cost. We don't yet have a grid that is managed for distributed generation, but, despite what I consider short-sighted utility opposition, are at least making minor progress in a positive direction. EVs can provide at least some onsite storage for electricity but we need to continue to develop better battery technology. My point is that much of what we rely on today needs to be transformed from models based on central generation with distribution to much more node and networked systems, like the Internet, sort of. We're making inroads on that with localized food systems but still have a ways to go. We also need to transform our production system. As my Better Half noted recently, part of the answer to that may be 3D printing.
storms come in many sizes and shapes
Photo by J. Harrington
I have major doubts and strong reservations that we can get where we need to be with continuing emphasis on globalization and trade agreements such as NAFTA and TPP. Global commodities continue to be too vulnerable to boom and bust business cycles. Only the top 1% or less benefit from a race to the bottom. As an alternative (or a complement) to Kunstler's entertaining gloom and doom (and most day's headlines these days), try Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark, Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything and Fritjof Capra's The Web of Life. This approach would probably be a tough sell on the Iron Range, but we're no longer a frontier state. Haven't been for quite some time. We are living in a world in which limits are becoming increasingly obvious. We rely on each other more and more. Our interdependence is precisely why taconite plants and paper mills are shutting down. Others can produce basic commodities less expensively. Instead of reducing our environmental protections for greater trade, we should be insisting on higher standards elsewhere to create a level playing field that doesn't sicken the customers.
A yarn ball and a hillmaintain an equipoise untiltheir neatness starts to bore the godsof potential and energywho hedge bets, reckoning the oddsof when the rest will be
set in motion, and who,first stumbling upon this clew,constructed both the incline andthe inclination to unwind.Like most gods, though, they haven’t plannedto stay; they mastermind
the scheme, ex nihilio,then slip behind the shadow showand designate an agent, chiefremaker of their mischief made.Each time, disguised, this leitmotifgets salvaged and replayed,
a universe begins,for orogens and originssuppose a Way Things Were beforesome volatile, untimely That—sweetness perverted by the coreor belfry by the bat,
or here, a hilly green,whose still life, eerily serene,completes their best contrivance yet:from high above, a williwaw,a hiss, and then the silhouetteof one terrific paw.
Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.