Tuesday, 10 June 2008

We're Driving Toward Disaster

A Washington Post piece by James Howard Kunstler, though primarily about America, is of wider interest.

It's not that we are running out of oil, he notes, but that we are running out of cheap fuel of any sort, and this has much wider implications than people have so far realised. It will require some major changes in behaviour, quite irrespective of the arguments about climate change:

No combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system — or even a fraction of these things — in the future. We have to make other arrangements.

It is, Kunstler suggests, going to be much more than just a question of trying to make slightly fewer car journeys, or producing cars that use a bit less fuel. The "everyday activities of American life" will have to be dramatically reorganised, he says, involving major changes in the structure of agriculture and retailing, the restoration of local economic networks, and big changes in attitudes to land-use planning and urban design.

He has some interesting comments about rail transport:

Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country's oil consumption. The fact that we’re not talking about it — especially in the presidential campaign — shows how confused we are. The airline industry is disintegrating under the enormous pressure of fuel costs. (.....) At least five small airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past two months. If we don't get the passenger trains running again, Americans will be going nowhere five years from now.

Here in Europe we are lucky that our far higher population density prevented us from being able to adopt quite the same lunatic dependency on the motorcar in the past 40 years as the USA.

Nevertheless, the lessons apply here too: apart from anything else, an "Is your journey really necessary?" frame of mind seems more and more indicated, something which as a "light green" I had always hoped we could avoid.

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