Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Joyce Marcel: Our "Cheap Oil Fiesta" s Over

Click here for full article.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and for a little while, at least, it sounds lovely.

Imagine a world where the air is cleaner because fewer people are driving cars. Where you can hop on a train to visit your friends in the West River Valley or spend a day in Boston, arriving refreshed instead of wiped out from highway driving. Where chemical-drenched agribusiness is dead, and food is grown locally. Where big box stores are gone, and the shops on Main Street sell the things you need. Where small schoolhouses again dot the hills of tight little communities.

This vision harks back to a simpler time, perhaps one directed by Robert Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart. But it may not turn out to have a happy ending.

James Kunstler came through our town over the weekend, giving a talk at Marlboro College on Saturday and sharing his semi-apocalyptic view of a post-cheap oil future. He’s talking about the time when “our cheap energy fiesta” is over, and his vision has a certain relevant ring in a week when gas prices creep up over the $4 a gallon mark and truckers in Spain tie up all the roads to protest paying over $10 a gallon for diesel.

Already, many of us are driving more fuel efficient cars, converting to fry oil, trying to piggyback errands in town and, in general, driving less to save gas. And many more of us are worrying how we’re going to heat our homes next winter.

Kunstler, an enemy of sprawl, has been writing about energy issues for the past five years. He’s not coming at this topic from a right, left, conservative, liberal, progressive, Democrat or Republican perspective. In his opinion, we’ve all screwed up.

For the last 200 years, as Americans have enjoyed an upward path of progress on every level, we have taken “bigger, faster, more” as not only our motto but our birthright.

In the past, a better technology always came along to save our butts. Kerosene replaced whale oil. Electric lamps replaced kerosene. People complained about manure-clogged streets at the turn of the last century, and then along came Henry Ford and his automobile.

Kunstler’s warning is that this upward swing will not continue indefinitely. He quotes Dick Cheney’s famous line, “The American way of life is nonnegotiable.”

“Then reality will negotiate for you,” Kunstler said. “You don’t even have to be in the room.”

The reality is a world of depleted oil reserves and intense global competition for what remains. The current manipulation of the commodity markets and the devaluation of the dollar isn’t helping, either.

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