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Peak Suburbia
June 26, 2007 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Peak Suburbia.
posted by chunking express (82 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jim Kunstler is blogging now.
posted by chunking express at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2007


*crosses fingers*
posted by waxboy at 1:17 PM on June 26, 2007


I generally agree with Kunstler, just not to the same magnitude. The next 5 to 20 years will be interesting and the American Lifestyle™ will change, but probably not to the degree he predicts. People love their f'n cheez doodles.
posted by johnjreiser at 1:19 PM on June 26, 2007


JHK @ TED
posted by acro at 1:25 PM on June 26, 2007


So, who's tired of "clusterfuck" yet?
posted by ageispolis at 1:34 PM on June 26, 2007


After college Kunstler worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone.

Granted, he's a great writer and opines with the best of them, but what makes JHK more than an armchair observer?

It's logical that the end of oil will mean a radical change in the way we live, but the five-year time frame he talking about will be realized in 2012 or so, which is consistent with the widely held tenet that at the beginning of a decade (2000/2001) correction, slower growth is the rule, while the second half of a decade economic growth is faster.

With 300 million people and counting in the US, how can it be the end of suburbia?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:38 PM on June 26, 2007


great article, thanks for pointing it out.
posted by Substrata at 1:39 PM on June 26, 2007


JHK and Joe Bageant need to have their own TV channel, titled something like "The Coming American Apocalypse Channel" - and then, together, they can have their own Crossfire-like show. I would watch that shit.
posted by billysumday at 1:41 PM on June 26, 2007


Granted, he's a great writer and opines with the best of them, but what makes JHK more than an armchair observer?

I see him as being more of an advocate for a certain kind of lifestyle, which ties in his ideas of proper urban planning/architecture/public spaces. The way he advocates that is by telling us we're all going to be living in a disgusting American hell in two years. Certainly a bit hyperbolic, but I think it's because he's so passionate about it.
posted by billysumday at 1:44 PM on June 26, 2007


"Clusterfuck Nation"

Do I love that title? Fuck yes I love that title. GO JIM!

Please do read "The Geography of Nowhere". While I don't necessarily agree with all or any of the solutions nor the conclusion of the book, it is a very apt and observant commentary on "The American Dream", suburbia, city planning and the ongoing futility of the current state of the art therein.


And if I may, a message for everyone else? Be prepared. Invest in survival.

Do not count on the current energy, production and distribution infrastructure. Learn how to make food and water. Store food. Store water, water filters and treatment. Stockpile medicine and first aid supplies. Store tools. Learn first aid and medicine. Learn how to garden in different climates. Learn how to make tools. Store knowledge. Use the internet while you still can. Learn now.

Be independent.

To be a good citizen, you should be doing this anyway. No government in the world is a match for what nature can dish out.

And the skills one uses to survive a natural disaster are exactly the same skills one uses to survive anywhere, at any time while using as little as possible.

And when the excrement hits the air conditioning - or maybe, just maybe if - but when it does: Remember to remain human, and humane.
posted by loquacious at 1:46 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


The problem I have with this article is that the author has started with a false premise: that only oil is capable of sustaining suburbia.

What is required to sustain the suburban lifestyle is not oil; what is required to sustain the suburban lifestyle is energy. Oil may be where we get that energy today, but it is not necessarily where we will get it in the future.

Every day, new advances are being made in alternative energy sources. All that is really needed to keep the kind of urban planning that he decries going is for any of the numerous up-and-coming alternative energy sources to pan out and become a viable replacement for oil, at which point we're back to expanding that which he hates.
posted by tocts at 1:51 PM on June 26, 2007


Another false premise:

If we don't maintain a military presence in Iraq, it is perfectly plain what will happen: Iran will instantly gain control of the southern Iraq oil fields.

Could someone explain what "control" in this context means?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:55 PM on June 26, 2007


Kunstler has the same problem that a lot of the peak oilers do: they really haven't been good at predicting much at all. I follow one of the sites he recommends, The Oil Drum, but I do so mainly to target my financial investments. Kunstler is often linked and oft quoted, but he's another alarmist who tries to tie in lots of disparate (though often related) items to predict the end of suburbia and the collapse of modern society. He's often tried tying together the real estate crash with the oil spikes of recent years and he's claimed forever that suburbia's destruction is "just around the corner".

Having gotten that out of the way, I will not disagree with him that suburban life is wasteful, that Americans are setting themselves up for lots of problems should our energy supply dry up overnight, etc. I would also argue that the problems with petroleum that we are encountering today are good signals that are doing their job of pushing people toward greater energy independence, greater conservation, more intelligent uses of energy. We're seeing small steps at the moment, but they are improvements, nonetheless.

The sharp increase in oil prices the last two years has done more to stem American's appetite for mamoth SUVs than any amount of screaming from environmentalists and concerned citizens could ever have accomplished. The same will happen with suburbia: as the cost of living the suburban life gets out of control, peoples' habits and choices will change. Unlike Kunstler, I don't think this is going to happen overnight, or even in a relatively short span of time. I don't see an immediate collapse because while I fear we are not intelligent enough to plan ahead as a country and a species, we're also not doomed by stupidity. Just as the increase in gasoline prices has nudged people into smaller vehicles, as the cost of suburban living increases (transport, housing costs, feeding costs, etc.), peoples' choices will change as well.
posted by tgrundke at 1:56 PM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


Invest in survival.

It's like Y2K all over again! And the Cold War! Boy, you survivalism guys are pretty awesome at constantly re-marketing this trend to new generations of frightened fatalists.
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on June 26, 2007


Jim Kunstler is blogging now.

Kunstler has been blogging since November 2001 (yes, I know the link says December, but follow it...) The only recent change is that he now has a (very slightly) better web design.
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on June 26, 2007


Obviously oil production is going to decline, but most of these predictions are really not very well supported. I mean you see this sort of thinking all the time where people take broad trends and draw conclusions without ever bothering to do any math to see if their predictions are even realistic.

I do think suburbanism is pretty obnoxious though.
posted by delmoi at 1:59 PM on June 26, 2007


Die suburbs, die.
Suburbs/Cities = MacDonald's/Food
posted by signal at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2007


Amusingly, if the Next Big Thing turns out to be cheap photovoltaics, it will be the suburbanites who have large roofs they can cover with them who will prosper and the urbanites will have to buy their power from the countryside.
posted by localroger at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2007


Loquacious, missing from your list: Buy guns and ammunition.

What happens if, after the Apocalypse, you've got all that food/water/tools/filters/medicine, and some guys with guns come and take it all from you? Maybe you will remain "human and humane" but a lot of other people aren't going to.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:05 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, we've got a good few years left in us yet. And these things tend not to simply vanish, but decline. Either way, it will happen. The way I see it: oil is finite, oil is critical to our current system (not only as fuel, but for plastics, medicines and fertilisers) and when it starts getting scarce, it'll start getting mighty expensive. If you think this is crap, so be it, but you are only kidding yourself. And if you think the governments will react in time to find suitable alternatives, think again. We live in a 30 second world now, people. There is no long term.
posted by Acey at 2:11 PM on June 26, 2007


What happens if, after the Apocalypse, you've got all that food/water/tools/filters/medicine, and some guys with guns come and take it all from you?

Simple old bean, I just invite them into my bunker to pillage at will and then zap them in the eyes with my million candlepower flashlight (peace dividend, don't you know!) and then beat them to death at my leisure with a selection from my library of large print library bound editions of the work of the great Tom Clancy. Then it's zip, zip, zip into the solar cooker and all the long pig and cracked red wheat berries we could possibly hold.
posted by Divine_Wino at 2:17 PM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


Loquacious, missing from your list: Buy guns and ammunition.

That was intentional. My list may or may not include guns and ammunition. I certainly don't want your list to have it.
posted by loquacious at 2:20 PM on June 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


> Suburbs/Cities = MacDonald's/Food

One notes that folks in suburbia can grow beans in their back yards if they have to. Urban folks who live on the second through the one hundred fiftieth floors won't have the option. Windowboxes?
posted by jfuller at 2:21 PM on June 26, 2007


"Alternative energy does not create a replacement for oil..."
He said---you might be able to convert trains to be mostly run on electricity, but less so to re-fit 257.8 million cars in North America to battery/electric?
Kunstler was big on re-investing in trains---in Canada train tracks and rights of way are sold off and used for bike paths.
posted by acro at 2:22 PM on June 26, 2007


I live in Levittown, on Long Island. It's what I've always thought of as the archetypical suburb. I grew up near here, lived in and around Cambridge, MA for a 8 years, and just moved back a couple years ago. My idea of suburbia has been shaped by what I see here: densely-packed neighborhoods with everything you could need within a couple of miles, 10 at the absolute most. Plenty of neighborhood restaurants, card stores, music shops, and so forth. I'd never understood why people hate suburbs so much. Here, it's like living in a small city, except you can have a grill and a dog (okay, minus the culture and the mass transport).

On a recent trip to Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida, I did a lot of driving, and a lot of navigating what passes for suburbia down there (and, as I understand it, much of the country). It is a vastly different beast, and suddenly I understood why everyone hates suburbs. There is nothing -- nothing -- of any value within walking distance, let alone a reasonable drive, from residential areas. People need to have these giant SUVs to haul groceries back and forth when they only shop every two weeks because it takes half an hour, or more, to get to the grocery store. I saw nothing but chain restaurants anywhere. Fast-food drive-throughs lined up one next to the other for a mile. No neighborhood bars where you can hop down to the corner and have a beer. Houses are just as densely-packed, but services are concentrated in commercial districts miles away.

Even the bits that aren't full of McMansions and Starbucks are sprawling wastelands. I'm loathe to live in the city anymore -- Central Square in Cambridge did that to me -- but I've realized that I could never live in that kind of suburbia. This article sounds like crackpot alarmism to me, but if rising energy costs can get people thinking about how to provide space and privacy to people while keeping them close to the services they need, then bring it on.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:25 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ah, I've been waiting for Installment 2,158 of "My Way of Living is AWESOME: But You, Sir, Both Suck and Blow". Who could ever get tired of the refrain about the sheer matchless magnificence of urban living versus the soul-crushing eco-killing lifestyles of the benighted suburban masses? Those demented fools!
posted by Midnight Creeper at 2:31 PM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


Where's George Carlin when you need him?

* "Things that you want to change in the world have to start inside yourself. You can't just acquiesce. You can't be at the mall, with a fannypack on, scratching your nuts, buying sneakers with lights in them. You have to be thinking. You have to be resisting. You have to be talking."

– George Carlin, interview in Conversations on The Edge of The Apocalypse by David Jay Brown
posted by Viomeda at 2:33 PM on June 26, 2007


I figure that as long as I don't get married or have kids, I'm pretty much in the clear. I mean, America goes down the tubes, big fucking deal. I've got valuable skills and few attachments. I can move somewhere else.

Everyone else is kinda screwed, though.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:47 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Kunstler is prominently featured in the 2004 documentary "The End of Suburbia".
posted by New Frontier at 2:53 PM on June 26, 2007


loquacious
That was intentional. My list may or may not include guns and ammunition. I certainly don't want your list to have it.
The history of political philosophy summed up.

It does seem like the big cities would be the absolutely worst places to be if we are plunged into the post-oil, Hobbesian Mad Max world Kuntsler is talking about. They simply lack the resources to sustain their populations. There would be mass starvation in such a super-concentrated population that relies on imported food. jfuller is right: only the suburbs and rural areas would have enough land to farm for support. Though I am keeping my armored dune buggy, chains, and hockey mask on hand in case joining the packs of marauding road warriors becomes a good option.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:02 PM on June 26, 2007


"My list may or may not include guns and ammunition. I certainly don't want your list to have it."

Brilliant!!
posted by Megafly at 3:02 PM on June 26, 2007


I think this is really quite Malthusian.

Perhaps we're running out of petroleum, but that hardly means we're running out of sources of energy to run vehicles.

Frankly, one of the most interesting new technologies that I see coming down the pipeline in the next few years is the air car. It's a pneumatic vehicle that runs on highly compressed air. For the non-hybrid model, it'll run 100 miles without refilling the air, with no pollution. With a hybrid engine, so that the gasoline heats up the air and compresses more air, it gets around 800 miles, and will cross the country on one tank of gas.

Here's their website. And some more info about it.
posted by MythMaker at 3:27 PM on June 26, 2007


What is required to sustain the suburban lifestyle is not oil; what is required to sustain the suburban lifestyle is energy. Oil may be where we get that energy today, but it is not necessarily where we will get it in the future.

The same will happen with suburbia: as the cost of living the suburban life gets out of control, peoples' habits and choices will change.

The thing is, cars run on gasoline that comes from oil. You can't just switch to something else, on a massive scale, you have no infrastructure for that. The second comment is even more unrealistic. The choices will change? What, you expect everybody just sell their McManison along with the SUV's and move into the city? All of them? At the same time? Who are they going to buy homes from? And who will buy theirs? Half the country, if not more, is maxed out on credit cards, where the hell the money is going to come from? Especially when gas is $10 a gallon?
What people don't understand is that oil is not a regular economic commodity. You can't just switch to something else because there isn't anything else. Not on the scale that we need. And that it's not about how much we got left in the ground, it's about how fast we can get it out in relation to the demand growth, and how much energy gets used up in the process. If it takes 1 barrel of oil or more to pump one barrel out, no one is going to do it, no matter how much money you pay them. And that if Joe Shmoe in the suburbs cannot afford to fill up his SUV to drive to work, he can't just move closer - he does not have the money. Especially if he's competing with everybody else in the subdivision. If he does have the money, he'll just pay more for gas.
posted by c13 at 3:27 PM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm afraid I reached Peak Worry some time ago and my ability to produce more worry is declining over time.
posted by Justinian
posted by sien at 3:31 PM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


The US comprises 1/20 (give or take) of the world's population; why does Kunstler write about it as if it is THE world? We're not experiencing anything remotely like a housing bubble in Canada, especially where I live, in Calgary. I could go on and on- there's a surfeit of retail space in the US- fine; what about the rest of the damn world? Is it the end if suburbia everywhere, or just in upstate New York?

I like a lot of his schtick, but there are a couple thousand posters on skyscraperpage who can cogitate as well as Kunstler, and some actually have experience as planners, too. I loved his stand-up in Radiant City, but he doesn't say anything that's not self-evident. Dammit, I want to be a pundit...
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:32 PM on June 26, 2007


c13, as I pointed out, there's air. The potential energy stored in compressed air.
posted by MythMaker at 3:37 PM on June 26, 2007


paging John Titor
posted by svenvog at 3:40 PM on June 26, 2007


@c13: The thing is, cars run on gasoline that comes from oil. You can't just switch to something else, on a massive scale, you have no infrastructure for that.

We don't have an infrastructure for it yet. There's a lot of research going on into biofuels, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, etc. This is being driven (rightfully so) by the fact that oil is becoming increasingly less viable.

Oil is not the only energy source on the block. It has, until recently, been the cheapest, which is why we (as a world) have not put too much stock in investigating other options. Now that is changing, and the world is adapting. These things take time.

The author of this article seems to think that oil will drop out from underneath us, so to speak, quicker than we can replace it. I disagree. I have a lot more faith in human ingenuity, and, to be blunt, I also have a lot less of a bias than he does in terms of wanting an outcome.

It becomes obvious to me reading his essay/rant that he cares less about peak oil than he does "bad" (by his standards) urban planning. That's nice, and all, but just because he'd like the world to contain only small, artisan-style restaurants with no chains and magical urban environments does not mean his predictions as to how this will come about are right.

Put simply, this article is alarmism at its best. I do not disagree that oil is not a long term viable solution for the world, but we are not at so bleak a point as he would like to believe.
posted by tocts at 3:43 PM on June 26, 2007


The US comprises 1/20 (give or take) of the world's population; why does Kunstler write about it as if it is THE world?

Because of stuff like this. Also, probably because he's American and lives here.

Cars running on air are great. Except for the fact that to move an object of mass x distance y takes a specific amount of energy. It may come in form of oil or compressed air, but the the amount does not change. As far as I know, we do not mine compressed air, so the energy to compress it has to come from somewhere else. Take your pick: coal or natural gas. Or oil. Nuclear, hydro, wind, solar are not big enough.
Of course that still does not address the problem getting rid of 280 million vehicles and getting 280M more. How are you paying for it? Plastic?

I have a lot more faith in human ingenuity,
Well, faith is good. But you can't run a car with it.
Besides, what makes your faith any more valid than his? We've been waiting for fusion for 50 years. Where is it? I have one group of people telling me that everything is fine and dandy, that everything is going to be solved, etc. etc. And then there are people like Kunstler. I don't know whom to believe, but considering that oil prices tripled in the last five years (roughly), and that I paid 69 cents a gallon during junior year in college, and now gas is $3, I tend to listen to Kunstler more.
posted by c13 at 3:56 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


For all those wondering about energy alternatives and such, this US Energy Flow from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is good visualization. Notice how much energy comes from fossil fuels... a little under 90% of it. Scary.

Not included is the feedback loop from "Useful Energy" on the right hand side back to the extraction, refining, transportation, etc. of the fuels on the left. This feedback loop is the key to Peak Oil. Oil hasn't just been the cheapest in dollar terms, it is one of the best EROEI out there.
posted by anthill at 3:59 PM on June 26, 2007


We don't have an infrastructure for it yet. There's a lot of research going on into biofuels, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, etc.

Building a car that runs on hydrogen fuel cell is NOT the same as building the infrastructure. Infrastructure is factories, piplines, mines, powerplants, powerlines. IN ADDITION to building, selling new cars and recycling/getting rid of the old ones.
Just as an example, we've got brownouts almost every summer because the grid is overloaded. How are you going to transmit electricity to charge the cars?
posted by c13 at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2007


Thanks for posting those links, anthill. I think a lot of people don't realize the sheer magnitude of the problem.

YOU can switch to a car that runs on air. I can. But everybody CAN'T.
posted by c13 at 4:05 PM on June 26, 2007


We've been waiting for fusion for 50 years. Where is it? I have one group of people telling me that everything is fine and dandy, that everything is going to be solved, etc. etc. And then there are people like Kunstler.
c13

To be fair, people have been doom-saying about Peak Oil since the 70s. But I think you've identified a basic problem with this debate, that both sides tend towards extremes. One side predicts imminent apocalypse, the other says it's all going to be okay.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:08 PM on June 26, 2007


Except that, like I said, one side just keeps talking about something that isn't there, and you can see what the other one is talking about at your nearest gas pump.
Speaking of the 70's, yes, people have been talking about the Peak Oil since then. Why? Because before 70's US was a net exporter of oil, and in the 70's we became a net importer. Because people looked at what happens to the wells in Texas and extrapolated their finding to the rest of the world. Remember, they did not say Peak Oil was going to happen in the 70's. They just said there is such a thing and we're going to experience it someday. So far I can't see anything that would disprove that. Discoveries are keep falling, most of the producers are past their peak and are on the decline, Saudis have been flat for the last 3-4 years... Like I said, the price has tripled. Why aren't they pumping more? Don't want the extra money? Or just can't?
China, India are growing by leaps and bounds. They all want to drive too. That's a hell of a lot of air to compress.
posted by c13 at 4:21 PM on June 26, 2007


But I think the main problem with the "technology is going to save us" argument is that it assumes that people are rational. That right investments are going to be made into infrastructure, that people will pay enough to switch from Escalades to tiny plastic go-mobiles, etc. But if we really were rational, we wouldn't have ended up in such mess to begin with.
posted by c13 at 4:26 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


You need energy to compress the air. Where does that energy come from?
posted by ninjew at 4:57 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


c13: a few things.

First, note that I am not saying everything will necessarily be fine. Yes, there are problems to be solved. Yes, it may be that the solutions won't come as quickly or as easily as we'd like.

However, despite the fact that people have been doomsaying regarding peak oil and the end of the world because of it for decades, we're still not there. We're still not even close to there.

As for what makes my faith more valid than his, well, for one, there have been noticeable advancements in energy technology for the past few decades, while the apocalypse crowd has continued to be, oh, 100% wrong in that period of time.

The amount of technological advancement I've seen in my lifetime staggers me. Practically every month we're hearing about more fuel efficient cars, hybrids, biofuel, etc, and in a way we've barely begun to scratch the surface. Most automobiles in the U.S. already run on 10% ethanol -- a renewable energy source. What's to say we won't see that increase, or we won't see some other technolgy step up and take oil's place?

Again, I am not saying it will be easy. Yes, there are hundreds of millions of vehicles that are built to burn oil. Yes, it will be painful (more painful for some) to move to the alternatives. But I refuse to believe that, given the option of moving to the alternatives or watch our way of life crumble around us that people are going to choose the latter en masse.

Even if in the short term, people trend away from suburban living due to transportation cost concerns, I streadfastly believe that we will, in our lifetimes, see things come full circle. Things will get worse, it will become less economical to live far from work/stores/etc, people will adapt, but eventually it will become economical again, and people will do what people want. In most cases, seems to tend towards spreading out and having more personal space.
posted by tocts at 5:34 PM on June 26, 2007


Here is the irony:
despite the fact that people have been doomsaying regarding peak oil and the end of the world because of it for decades, we're still not there. We're still not even close to there.

BUT

Practically every month we're hearing about more fuel efficient cars, hybrids, biofuel, etc, and in a way we've barely begun to scratch the surface.

So this allows you to refuse to believe.

Oil closed at $69.02 today, average regular unleaded was $2.98. That stuff you're hearing about (and have been for decades as well) has better be turning into something that can stimulate the other sensory organs as well pretty soon, otherwise we'll be hurting.
Speaking of ethanol, food prices are going up, in some cases they are 300% up, because the corn is being diverted to ethanol production. We've got 53 days worth of stores, lowest it's ever been. Yet we only got 10% replacement. In a few developed countries. In others, billions are starving...


Furthermore, regarding Even if in the short term, people trend away from suburban living due to transportation cost concerns, . WHAT will they trend TO? In places like Atlanta, Phoenix, LA, DC ? Hell, places like Nashville even? Especially in short term?.
posted by c13 at 5:56 PM on June 26, 2007


"I don't know whom to believe, but considering that oil prices tripled in the last five years"

Ahh... no.
posted by Marky at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2007


Marky, firstly, I said "roughly". Secondly, I said oil prices, not gasoline prices. You understand the difference, do you not?
Thirdly, according to your link, in 2002 the price was ~1.50/gal, now it's ~3. It also says that we are very near all time highs in real Dollar terms.
What exactly do you mean by "no"?
posted by c13 at 6:51 PM on June 26, 2007


@tocts: The real problem is that the price of oil has been artificially kept low by the government for so long, there's not enough market incentives to research into alternative fuels. Instead we rely on the government to invest into alternative fuels. The problem is they don't know what to invest in, no one knows. So we have stuff like billions of dollars subsidizing ethanol, yet we know that it is not feasible to use ethanol as an alternative fuel (on a large enough scale to solve anything). So in effect we're screwing ourselves over. Now if gas prices were to be raised by some tax, THEN I wouldn't be worried about our technical ingenuity to create alternative fuel sources. Right now there isn't enough incentives for companies, all we get is a lot of public outcry over pollution, peak oil, gas prices, etc.
posted by vodkadin at 7:08 PM on June 26, 2007


I live in the suburbs, and I like 'em okay. It's true, though, that we don't have the same charming neighborhood bars and ma and pa shops down here in FL.

We have chains, like McDominant and Burger Usurper. I never knew why people thought chains were so bad until I went to places where they had more choices. I still don't think they are that bad, but at least I have a frame of reference now.
posted by misha at 7:29 PM on June 26, 2007


Of course that still does not address the problem getting rid of 280 million vehicles and getting 280M more. How are you paying for it? Plastic?

Most cars can be modded to run on ethanol, if not biodesel with a simple chip swap. And most cars in brazil can run on Ethanol or Gasoline interchangeably. It's not that hard.
posted by delmoi at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2007


In a few developed countries. In others, billions are starving...

Are you saying billions are starving because of ethanol production? Are you daft?

Anyway, your posts are a bit sophistic. Liquids fuels from coal should be compatable with regular cars as well, Bad for global warming, but good for staving off peak oil. Sugar cane ethanol is widely used in Brazil, to the point that they are energy independent. It's not that hard.
posted by delmoi at 7:47 PM on June 26, 2007


Delmoi, read my posts. In response to your first comment, I was talking about air-powered cars. I don't think a chip swap would hack it.
Secondly, I'm not saying that billions are starving because of ethanol. They are starving because there is not enough food. We used to export a lot of food before, which we're doing less now because we can use the corn for ethanol production. Prices of a lot of foods are already rising, because corn goes into a lot of things, like animal feed, for example. Since we export less, there is even less food to go around. Makes sense?
There are a lot of things that we can/should do. Coal liquificaton, gasification, tar sands, fusion, solar, etc, etc. I, and a lot of other people, don't see these things coming in time to help us.
If you think it's not that hard - you're obviously overlooking something.
posted by c13 at 7:58 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Are you saying billions are starving because of ethanol production? Are you daft?

Of course that's not the point. The point is that it takes a damn bit of nerve to suggest that we burn food for fuel when 30,000 people starve to death each day.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:58 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I keep waiting for The End, but I don't "invest in survival" much: I'll be too busy laughing myself to death watching the rest of y'all. I'm sure I'll find even Survivalists as funny as I already do.

As for fuel, we should have been burning biofuel for decades. You know, the shit from our pig and cow factories and the sewage of our cities. Who needs coal and oil? A household can burn "buffalo chips" in iron stoves, a municipality could burn it for electricity either as solids or natural gas, you could even use it fertilizer to grow more fodder for your animals and people. For as long as there's animal life on Earth there will be no shortage of some kind of shit.
posted by davy at 8:46 PM on June 26, 2007


c13: I'm curious where you're getting the figures for "billions starving." I took a cursory look at Wikipedia's entry on Malnutrition, and the stats from UN Food and Agriculture Agency are approximately 660 million starving. That's not "billions." Where are your numbers from? It's bad enough as it is. If there are billions starving, I'd like to know about it. Seriously.
posted by wuwei at 9:41 PM on June 26, 2007



Of course that's not the point. The point is that it takes a damn bit of nerve to suggest that we burn food for fuel when 30,000 people starve to death each day.


Pope, other then HCFS when was the last time you ate something made out of corn? Most of the grain produced goes toward feeding cows, which are then slaughtered and eaten. Are you a vegetarian?

Look, people are not starving to death because of there is a global lack of food. Far from it. People are starving because of poor distribution systems caused by poverty or political strife or whatever.

In fact, one of the problems is that first world countries keep dumping their subsidized, machine harvested crops on 3rd world countries, so that local farmers can never really make a profit.

I wonder if anyone has the stats on corn that goes toward ethanol production vs. corn that goes toward feeding cattle. I bet it's far less at the moment.

And with cellulistic ethanol, the corn parts of corn can be used for food, and the stalks, etc, can be used to create ethanol.
posted by delmoi at 9:53 PM on June 26, 2007


c13: I'm curious where you're getting the figures for "billions starving." I took a cursory look at Wikipedia's entry on Malnutrition, and the stats from UN Food and Agriculture Agency are approximately 660 million starving. That's not "billions." Where are your numbers from? It's bad enough as it is. If there are billions starving, I'd like to know about it. Seriously.

you were trying to be ironic right?

The problem with Ethanol/Biodiesel/Bovine Natural Gas is that they are all ultimately derived from surpluses tied to the "Green Revolution" which was really a revolution in hydrocarbon inputs into agriculture: you are burning oil to save oil.

Brazil does better with ethanol because sugar cane ferments more efficiently than corn and because they consume a whole lot less.

i don't know why people are so willing to believe that miracle technology is going to let them keep on living the way they have... actually I do. But all of these alternative technologies are only feasible with a lot less consumption in the US. One point which Kunstler makes is that the U.S. economy is based not just on consumption, but the growth of consumption. His opinion is that this growth is just not compatible with drastically reducing energy consumption. Our financial economy floats on a sea of mortgages and pension funds. If real development slows then this punctures a lot of balloons...

The easy 'solution' is to make sure everyone elses 'Peak Oil' happens before yours: see Iraq.
posted by geos at 9:58 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


And with cellulistic ethanol, the corn parts of corn can be used for food, and the stalks, etc, can be used to create ethanol.
posted by delmoi at 9:53 PM on June 26 [+] [!]


when was the last time anyone made moonshine out of corn husks?

sure you can get some fermentation but at a severely reduced yield...

Do you really think we can all motor around on ethanol?
posted by geos at 10:03 PM on June 26, 2007


i was hearing something on npr today about iran raising gas prices and starting a rationing program

????

but here are the two things i have learned from mr kunstler, who updates his clusterfuck nation page every monday, where i have been reading it for a couple of years

1 suburbia, southwestern cities, big box retailing and national distribution are not going to work very well if energy becomes too expensive and we'd better realize that

2 architecture does not make a good religion
posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 PM on June 26, 2007


It's not the end. People thought the black plague was pretty damned serious as well.
Could well radically change things though.
But with radical and painful changes in lifestyle the matrix is always simple: the poor and powerless take the hit.
Which explains the tone of the broader rhetoric on this topic from the various perspectives (and, in the extremes, the tinfoil hat/communist assertions versus the pre-emptive derision from class envy)
And the difference of opinion on - and whether there needs to be - a solution.

Me, I like when my kid eats. I have suspicions others feel similarly. Everything else is secondary.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:29 PM on June 26, 2007


1 suburbia, southwestern cities, big box retailing and national distribution are not going to work very well if energy becomes too expensive and we'd better realize that

The most immediately interesting one to me is the problem with southwestern US cities -- those expensive artificial oases. When it costs too much to cool those cities and to ship all the food and water there and to drive in and out of the suburbs around them, people won't be able to sell their houses because no one else will want to live there anymore. No one except people who can't afford the inflated housing prices. So expect southwestern houses to sell, if they sell at all, for a lot less than they were purchased for.

Welcome to downtown Detroit.
posted by pracowity at 1:32 AM on June 27, 2007


The Pope's right. We can't afford to fuel our current lifestyles by corn bioethanol (which has a shit EROEI). Some biofuels are better than others, but none replace oil.

And has everyone else here forgotten the other problem?
posted by imperium at 1:44 AM on June 27, 2007


Afroblanco wrote: I figure that as long as I don't get married or have kids, I'm pretty much in the clear. I mean, America goes down the tubes, big fucking deal. I've got valuable skills and few attachments. I can move somewhere else.

Everyone else is kinda screwed, though.

America has already gone down the tubes, and some of us have already left. I'm not being snarky, or ironic, or sarcastic in any way. The United States is no longer a desirable country to live in (AFAIK), or even close to it. As long as its citizens are so divided, xenophobic, complacent, apathetic, spoiled, and willing to let the worst sort of humans govern it; America is going to continue in its present downward trajectory. When George Bush was properly (more or less, thanks to Ohio) elected for the first time in 2004, I gave up. Any country that could choose such a man on purpose has truly lost its way. I sold my house and left (taking my family with me), because I had an opportunity to do so.

I know that people who read this comment are going to flame me for being honest, but I really don't care. Nothing anyone can so or do will convince me to move back. Patriotism is for suckers. Why should I care about one piece of dirt just because I was born on it?
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:47 AM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


The United States is no longer a desirable country to live in

wha? I'm about as far from the rah-rah go USA patriotic type as you can get, and I still wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.
posted by desjardins at 6:23 AM on June 27, 2007


I still wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.

Then you'll never know.
posted by pracowity at 6:58 AM on June 27, 2007


Welcome to downtown Detroit.

And the coming renaissance of Milwaukee! Within 12 miles of downtown there's farm land, and a giant source of water. As long as I can get tubes for my bike, I'm set!
posted by drezdn at 8:25 AM on June 27, 2007


Geos,

Way to infer what isn't there. I didn't say anything about ethanol, or bio-fuels. Period. I asked about C13's numbers, because the topic of starvation/malnutrition is something that interests me. It interests me because it seems like the resources necessary to eliminate extreme poverty are available. [Defining extreme poverty as living on under 1 dollar a day]. I've actually been peripherally involved in a project designed to address the structural reasons for extreme poverty, and I think it's vitally important.

It was a serious question about a serious problem.
posted by wuwei at 8:56 AM on June 27, 2007


Early on I decided kids were nothing but hostages to fate and never had any. But other people's kids are potential food (and energy) sources.
posted by davy at 10:20 AM on June 27, 2007


I live in Levittown, on Long Island. It's what I've always thought of as the archetypical suburb.
There's more truth in that statement than you might know.
posted by sequential at 10:27 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


In re: the price of gasoline in US. This is an interesting look at the relative cost now versus before.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2007


People thought the black plague was pretty damned serious as well.

The black plague may be a good analogy for the end of plentiful oil.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2007


I'm about as far from the rah-rah go USA patriotic type as you can get, and I still wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.

Datapoint: I lived for 2 years in the US (Bay Area). Something about the culture, the values, etc., just rubbed me the wrong way. Definitely wouldn't want to raise a child there. And this included 1 year in Berkeley, which is supposedly progressive.
posted by signal at 11:00 AM on June 27, 2007


I am a vegetarian, yes, and sustainability's a big part of it. Come to think of it, feeding thousands of pounds of grain to cows to make hundreds of pounds of beef is rather like burning it for fuel- wasteful, unnecessary, and a slap in the face to those who starve.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:22 AM on June 27, 2007


“As long as its citizens are so divided, xenophobic, complacent, apathetic, spoiled, and willing to let the worst sort of humans govern it; America is going to continue in its present downward trajectory”

Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa - who you calling complacent?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:51 PM on June 27, 2007


Wuwei, you probably know the statistics better than I. What is it, about a billion lives on less than $1 a day and about 3 live on less than $2? I didn't mean "starvation" as them lying on the ground with vultures circling. But they are perpetually hungry and malnurished. A lot of them depend on food from other countries to stay even at that level. But now we want to take that food and burn it, because we don't like paying 3 bucks a gallon. All the while the amount of grain land per person is decreasing, even without ethanol production. It was 0.23 hectares in the 50's, in 1996 it was only 0.12. By 2030 it will be only 0.08 simply due to population growth. Exactly where are we going to grow the corn for ethanol?
In 2005, to replace gasoline we would've needed 3700 gallons of ethanol per second, or 320.5 million gallons per day (that's just in volume terms). One acre produces about 7110 pounds of corn, which makes 328 gallons of ethanol. That's roughly 10 acres, or 71100 pounds of corn PER SECOND. But again, that's just in pure volume terms.
One gallon of gas contains 124000 BTUs. One gallon of ethanol contains only 77,000 (by the way, it takes 131,000 BTU's to make that one gallon). So now multiply 71100 pounds by 1.6. That's ~114000 pounds of corn per second, 3.6e12 pounds per year, grown on 506 million acres (total farm land in US was 938 million acres in 2002). 1 bushel of corn is 70 pounds, so it's 5.1e10 bushels per year. For comparison, in 2002, total US harvest of corn was about 10 billion (1e10) -- five times smaller. I just pulled the numbers off Google, so they are not precise. But I hope the math is correct.
Of course we're not going to replace 100% of our gas consumption with ethanol, but these numbers put things in perspective. Another thing is that our economic model is build on constant growth, even standing still is not enough. How are we going to do it with corn is beyond me.

It's not the end. People thought the black plague was pretty damned serious as well.
No, it's not the end. At least not the end for us as species. But I really, really don't want to participate in the festivities.
posted by c13 at 1:01 PM on June 27, 2007


"But I really, really don't want to participate in the festivities."

Yeah, particularly if they're avoidable.


...who you calling a psycho?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:52 PM on June 27, 2007


ethnomethodologist writes "We're not experiencing anything remotely like a housing bubble in Canada, especially where I live, in Calgary. "

Mwhhaaa! My house (before I sold it last fall) "appreciated" 180% in five years. Vancouver is the same. A serious correction is coming, the only question is when. Expect prices to decline at least 30% when that happens. 50% isn't out of the question.
posted by Mitheral at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2007


geos makes the really relevant point, and it's one that a lot of people miss: peak oil is all about production and growth.

everything in the u.s. economy, literally everything, is predicated on the idea of continued growth. particularly mortgages and the financial instruments that are based on them. so what happens when the growth ceases and then contracts? well, we call that recession, and if it's severe enough, depression.

so let's say that we have hit the production peak (somewhere around 90 million barrels a day worldwide) and decline is what we're faced with from here on out. let's say that production on a global basis drops a mere 9 million barrels a day over the next five years (it's almost certain production will drop* but not certain by how much and how fast) -- well, that's essentially a global depression larger than the great depression. and it only gets worse from there.

*if the oil industry thought that it was likely that global production would continue to grow, they'd be building more refinery capacity. as it is, we're nearly maxed out -- somewhere around 96-98% of domestic refinery capacity is being used. the reason more capacity isn't built is because it's a poor bet -- refineries are very expensive, and if we're at peak production now, building additional refinery capacity would be wasted money.
posted by Hat Maui at 12:04 PM on June 28, 2007


If oil was close to running out and we didn't already have new energy technology in place, the suburbs would probably be the least of our worries. The first would the countries that start to rise up against their neighbors in order to get their oil reserves.
posted by drezdn at 1:44 PM on June 28, 2007


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