Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Let's Try This Again: Spiked On Kunstler

Okay, so maybe what I should have said is that my posting's going to get ever more infrequent, but I did want to share Joe Kaplinsky's Spiked review of Kunstler's The Long Emergency:
The deeper theme of The Long Emergency is not oil so much as human powerlessness. The projection of all the products of human resourcefulness on to fossil fuels is only one example of this. Another example is disease. Kunstler relates the now standard warning about a flu pandemic, whose impact he says will be magnified by its coincidence with peak oil. But in telling the story of the 1918 outbreak it becomes clear that for Kunstler influenza becomes not just a threat but a moving force in human history. Apparently it was not people who were responsible for the outcome of the struggles for new societies in Russia and Germany - it was a virus.


His underlying argument about human powerlessness [...] cannot stand. In abolishing old problems, progress brings new problems. How could it not? The new problems can sometimes appear larger than the old, existing on a global scale. But this just arises from human society operating on a global scale, which carries with it the benefits of global cooperation, trade and travel. History shows that exchanging older problems for newer, sometimes greater, ones has been a good bargain.


This question assumes overwhelming significance for Kunstler because he seems to believe we must fail. A more reasoned approach balances it against two other questions. What if we succeed? Everything worthwhile in human culture and civilisation has come from such successes. What if we do not try?

Kaplinsky falls down in his analysis by relying on IEA estimates of oil consumption and demand, which we now know are hopelessly wrong. But his broader points are mostly on the mark. When Shell announces a cellulosic ethanol study for Germany, we have to take seriously the idea that new ideas are taking root, and people are very aware of the potential hazards ahead.