Thursday, February 7, 2008

The End of Suburbia

The last 50 years has been one of massive growth fueled by cheap oil. This age is coming to an end. We're at or near Peak Oil. The concept of Peak Oil is that we don't have to run out of oil for there to be a crisis. Once demand is higher than supply, there will be shortages. Many say we are at the peak already and we're riding a plateau. The longer we wait to change, the bigger and more catastrophic the crisis will be. In order for us to survive we need to become sustainable. Sustainable in all aspects of life.

Our society is built upon endless consumerism and growth in a global market. Corporations are motivated by pleasing the stockholders and will do anything possible to reach this goal. However, we cannot have endless growth without a replacement for oil. So far nothing has come close to the amount of energy that oil can provide for us. Fossil fuels are a very concentrated form of energy. Alternative energies are available and will become more available, but we will need to reduce our consumption and energy usage. Currently, the United States has about 5% of the population, yet we use about 25% of the energy and create about 30% of the waste.

Many of us in the USA live in Suburbia. Suburbia became a new way of life after WW2 as a mix between country & city living. Suburbia originally required developers to build light rail to the developments, but that was scrapped and ripped out to make more roads and highways. Suburbia has not lived up to its promises and depends on centralization of control, resources and cheap oil. James Howard Kunstler called Suburbia "The greatest mis-allocation of resources in the history of the world".

"The End of Suburbia", shows the history and possible future of Suburbia along with information about Peak Oil and the current and future resource conflicts over oil and natural gas.

End of Suburbia Trailer:

The follow up film "Escape from Suburbia" gives ideas and shows how other cities are working towards sustainability and transitioning out of the suburban lifestyle.

Escape from Suburbia Trailer:

Unfortunately there is no free online link to watch the full films. I bought the dvd's through their websites. Both movies are worth seeing, but if you had to choose one, get "The End of Suburbia".

James Howard Kunstler has a 20 minute presentation online called "The Tragedy of Suburbia". It's a passionate, profane and funny look at our communities. This is less about Peak Oil and more about urban design.

Jim says the future will need to be localized. We need to start designing places that are inviting to be in and places that are sustainable. Places that we want to care about and are wiling to defend. (Check out

Not only does he realize that we must change to survive economically and physically, but he knows that we need to change our lifestyles to survive spiritually. This means we will need to have walkable communities, smaller, localized and organic farming and widespread use of alternative energies.

Here's a quote from Jim's blog:

"Voters and candidates in the primary season have been hollering about "change" but I'm afraid the dirty secret of this campaign is that the American public doesn't want to change its behavior at all. What it really wants is someone to promise them they can keep on doing what they're used to doing: buying more stuff they can't afford, eating more shitty food that will kill them, and driving more miles than circumstances will allow.

Here's what we better start doing.

Stop all highway-building altogether. Instead, direct public money into repairing railroad rights-of-way. Put together public-private partnerships for running passenger rail between American cities and towns in between. If Amtrak is unacceptable, get rid of it and set up a new management system. At the same time, begin planning comprehensive regional light-rail and streetcar operations.

End subsidies to agribusiness and instead direct dollar support to small-scale farmers, using the existing regional networks of organic farming associations to target the aid. (This includes ending subsidies for the ethanol program.)

Begin planning and construction of waterfront and harbor facilities for commerce: piers, warehouses, ship-and-boatyards, and accommodations for sailors. This is especially important along the Ohio-Mississippi system and the Great Lakes.

In cities and towns, change regulations that mandate the accommodation of cars. Direct all new development to the finest grain, scaled to walkability. This essentially means making the individual building lot the basic increment of redevelopment, not multi-acre "projects." Get rid of any parking requirements for property development. Institute "locational taxation" based on proximity to the center of town and not on the size, character, or putative value of the building itself. Put in effect a ban on buildings in excess of seven stories. Begin planning for district or neighborhood heating installations and solar, wind, and hydro-electric generation wherever possible on a small-scale network basis.

We'd better begin a public debate about whether it is feasible or desirable to construct any new nuclear power plants. If there are good reasons to go forward with nuclear, and a consensus about the risks and benefits, we need to establish it quickly. There may be no other way to keep the lights on in America after 2020.

We need to prepare for the end of the global economic relations that have characterized the final blow-off of the cheap energy era. The world is about to become wider again as nations get desperate over energy resources. This desperation is certain to generate conflict. We'll have to make things in this country again, or we won't have the most rudimentary household products.

We'd better prepare psychologically to downscale all institutions, including government, schools and colleges, corporations, and hospitals. All the centralizing tendencies and gigantification of the past half-century will have to be reversed. Government will be starved for revenue and impotent at the higher scale. The centralized high schools all over the nation will prove to be our most frustrating mis-investment. We will probably have to replace them with some form of home-schooling that is allowed to aggregate into neighborhood units. A lot of colleges, public and private, will fail as higher ed ceases to be a "consumer" activity. Corporations scaled to operate globally are not going to make it. This includes probably all national chain "big box" operations. It will have to be replaced by small local and regional business. We'll have to reopen many of the small town hospitals that were shuttered in recent years, and open many new local clinic-style health-care operations as part of the greater reform of American medicine.

Take a time-out from legal immigration and get serious about enforcing the laws about illegal immigration. Stop lying to ourselves and stop using semantic ruses like calling illegal immigrants "undocumented."

Prepare psychologically for the destruction of a lot of fictitious "wealth" -- and allow instruments and institutions based on fictitious wealth to fail, instead of attempting to keep them propped up on credit life-support. Like any other thing in our national life, finance has to return to a scale that is consistent with our circumstances -- i.e., what reality will allow. That process is underway, anyway, whether the public is prepared for it or not. We will soon hear the sound of banks crashing all over the place. Get out of their way, if you can.

Prepare psychologically for a sociopolitical climate of anger, grievance, and resentment. A lot of individual citizens will find themselves short of resources in the years ahead. They will be very ticked off and seek to scapegoat and punish others. The United States is one of the few nations on earth that did not undergo a sociopolitical convulsion in the past hundred years. But despite what we tell ourselves about our specialness, we're not immune to the forces that have driven other societies to extremes. The rise of the Nazis, the Soviet terror, the "cultural revolution," the holocausts and genocides -- these are all things that can happen to any people driven to desperation."

How bad will it get? Some people are preparing for TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It), as mentioned over at the Survival Blog. These guys are planning for chaos and violence, pushing plans for self-sustainability and individual/small community solutions off the beaten path.

While I agree its important to have an emergency supply of food and water, I'd rather focus on building a community plan for sustainability rather than stockpiling guns and having an every-man-for-himself mindset. I'm going to focus on unity, co-operation and peace rather than selfishness, hoarding and violence.

However, I know that being in or around a big city would be a dangerous place to be in a time of crisis. I advise everyone to find a small town and work together with your neighbors, rather than building a hidden fort in the boonies and hoarding a few years supply of food, guns, ammo, tools and equipment.

If we do not plan ahead to move away from oil and utilize alternatives, we will have a crisis which could lead to a Malthusian Catastrophe. Food does not come from the grocery store, it comes from large scale farms that rely on oil to harvest and process and oil to ship this food to the market. We also are nearing peak of Natural Gas, which is used to make the fertilizer that allowed us to have such a boom in food production during the Green Revolution. If we don't take this issue seriously and plan ahead, we could have a situation where there are too many people and not enough food to feed them (or access to it).

These are scary times indeed. We don't have to let it happen.

Is it possible for the human race to be proactive and change before it's too late?

Some people hope for the "Hydrogen Economy" to fix it all, but it is full of problems and will take a lot of energy to rebuild our infrastructure. Many Peak Oil theorists doubt that we will be able to transition in time.

There is no one, quick and easy solution to all of this. We must do anything and everything to reduce our consumption and relocalize our communities.

We've had cases of societal collapse in our history, will it happen again? If so, will we rise up out of the ashes, like in a forest fire, wise and strong? Or will we delve into chaos and enter a new Dark Age?

Civilizations in history have collapsed due to the increasing complexity and lack of resources. We must learn to live within our means, husband our resources, and build a sustainable community worth living in. I hope we grow through this and shed our skin of consumerism and greed and become a real utopia of liberty, ethics, unity, sustainability and peace.

1 comment:

Zachary Stowasser said...

Greg responded via email:
"Playing devil's advocate here....

suppose we replace our vehicles with an avg mpg of 20 with vehicles
that get 200 mpg and our
use of fossil fuels for transpo goes way down, leaving more for
fertilizer and such. That
extends our fossil fuel supply for many more years.

The big risk for suburbia is transportation costs.
The big risk for developed nations is food (fertilizer).

So maybe the peak is much longer and softer. Yes, we must transition
to new energy
sources but we have time to do it."

My response:

":) Yeah green technologies are in the works.. but its a slow process. We need to make a huge push and take this seriously, maybe 2008 is the year we do it? Here in Nevada and through my trip this summer around the USA, I can see the impossibly huge mountain we must go across. There is tons of waste and no one recycles. Everything is shipped everywhere full of wasteful packaging. Plus, everyone is blissfully ignorant, yet struggling to get by, broke and visiting one of the 4 cash loan centers on the 4-way corner. People are not going to change their ways until they are aware of the crisis or are living through one, more likely the latter.

It takes energy to make the new cars, so the longer we wait, the less of a chance we have to retrofit suburbia. The big question is have we passed the point of no return or do we still have time left and how much? Maybe the government will realize the only way to save and stimulate the economy is to have a movement towards energy independence and sustainability. However, the people in power are controlled by the globalists. The last thing they want is their centralized control to vaporize. Putting the power back in the hands of the people is dangerous and they'll wait until they have squeezed the very last bit of profit out of their system before they change and give up control. They very well may never give it up until its too late.

I'm not going to bet on hope for change, I'll bet on localization, sustainability and taking control and responsibility of my own life and community. If I were to rely solely on hope for change, I'd be an Obama supporter (hehe). I put my time and energy into Ron Paul because he is actually telling us the truth about our money and the war - however I wish he was more knowledgeable and vocal about our energy crisis. We're going to need leaders who step up and tell us the truth, even if it doesn't "feel good", We need facts and answers to give us hope."