Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Long Emergency

Book Review: The Long Emergency - Surviving the converging catastrophes of the twenty-first century.  By James Howard Kunstler.

This book took me a long time to read.  Not because it was boring, far from it (and anyway, if a book doesn't get me interested after a couple of chapters, I no longer waste my time trying to read it), but because the content was so thought provoking that I often found myself stopping and staring off into space for 10 minutes at a time while I digested a passage.  I would daydream & contemplate 'what if' scenarios stimulated by the things I was reading, or think about the particular interpretation of history that was being presented.

The other reason was that it is pretty heavy subject matter, and sometimes I needed a break from it, or conditions (internal or external) weren't quite right to give it the attention it deserved.

This book is definitely worth a read if you have any interest in how we got to here, and where we might be going as our fossil fuels, primarily oil, get harder and harder to obtain.

Although USA centric, the analysis of world political, social, technological and even climatical history and their interactions, bringing us to the society we know now (and Australian is similar enough to the US to draw many parallels) is incisive and comprehensive.

The book was published in 2005, prior to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), but it has the best explanation of the causes of that, and a prediction of the tipping point even, that I have come across.  It now makes sense!  And I finally found out what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac actually are; "...giant 'government sponsored entities' (GSEs), Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association) and Freddie Mac (FederalHome Mortgage Corporation). Fannie Mae was started as part of  New Deal policy to stimulate the housing industry.  In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson privatised Fannie Mae to get it off the federal budget......Its sibling, Freddie Mac, was created in 1970 to prevent Fannie Mae from monopolising the entire secondary mortgage market."

Another quote that struck me & made me smile & nod concerns large corporations.
"By 'corporation,' I mean a group enterprise given the legal status of a 'person,' with 'rights,' but in fact devoid of any human qualities of ethics, humility, mercy, duty, or loyalty that would constrain those rights. As Wendell Berry put it, "a corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.....It can experience no personal hope or remorse. No change of heart. It cannot humble itself. It goes about its business as if it were immortal, with the single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money." "

The final chapter, predicting what society might look like in various regions of the US, is really interesting.  The arguments are based on the underlying attitudes that exist in those regions (and you will recognise many of the stereotypes here), the climate, topography, the style of society that is there now, and resources, especially water.  It images are even quite funny in parts.

One term used in the book that might be useful to remember is 'Solar Carrying Capacity' - it refers to the number of people that can survive in an area (up to and including the surface of the earth) based only on the natural solar energy available.  This includes the ability of the land to grow crops.  Due to the extra (stored) energy available from fossil fuels, we have been able to increase the carrying capacity of many areas, and hence the whole world.  As fossil fuels decrease in availability, this carrying capacity will inevitably reduce - or so goes the argument of this book, and it is a convincing one.  We would do well to be prepared.


PS While looking for a picture for this post (was having trouble uploading from my computer) I found this site post-carbon-living - I was going to do a follow up piece on ideas for getting prepared, looks like I may not have to now (but I still might anyway).

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