Sunday, January 23, 2005

James Howard Kunstler's America of the Future

James Howard Kunstler is probably America's foremost critic of the suburb. The author of "The Geography of Nowhere" has always contended that the suburb is a civic and architectural disaster, corrosive of American democracy and antithetical to the good life. In recent years he has married that critique with a pessimistic view of the world's energy future. Suburbs aren't just bad; they're unsustainable.

He predicts that 2005 will be the year of world peak oil production (though he says he is sticking his neck out by doing so). Whether the peak comes this year or next or five years from now, he clearly thinks it's coming soon.

What will it mean for America's beloved suburbs? Kunstler provides a vivid and chilling picture in this interview given in 2003. He is so eloquent and clever, it's worth listening to the audio rather than reading the transcript. He has some hopeful ideas about how the American economy will adjust in this essay on his website. The upside: No more Wal-Mart! Transportation will become too expensive to maintain such far-flung operations. Everything will have to be "downscaled" to match the new localized markets that will emerge in the wake of expensive energy. That will mean, for example, a return to local agriculture and a dismantling of megacampuses for high schools and colleges. The downside comes out in the interview mentioned above and in this essay in which he comments on a number of ecological, financial and geopolitical trends. (Don't let Kunstler's use of the "F-word" in his titles distract you from his excellent analysis.)

I expect Kunstler to address these issues in more detail in his upcoming book, "The Long Emergency," to be released in this spring.

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