The internal logic of the argument is persuasive, and one reads all the books with white knuckles. Oil has seeped into every nook of our existence. At the most basic level, we need oil to grow our food, particularly as we have moved to large-scale, fertilizer-dependent agriculture, and we need oil to get that food to our communities.
Things might be simpler if our appetites were limited to food. But the range of our activities has broadened considerably, and oil supports almost all of them. We need oil to make most of the things we use every day – from plastic to the roads we drive on – and, more importantly, to get them from the hands of cheap laborers and into our big box stores, to which we drive in large cars, of course. Oil now satisfies about 40 percent of our energy needs, and about two-thirds of it we burn in motors, going places and moving things or sitting in traffic.
Kunstler does not believe the United States will survive as we know it but will instead break down into autonomous, isolated regions. The fun is certainly over in the desert United States. According to Kunstler, cities like Las Vegas – dependent on cheap air conditioning, air travel, and good highways – will wither into dust. Around the country, a trip to town will become a day’s excursion, a trip to the nearest large city a journey of several days, and a trip across the country nearly unthinkable.
The suburbs – which Kunstler calls “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world,” and for which he seems to reserve a special contempt – will become particularly miserable places, devolving into wastelands of abandoned McMansions, empty Wal-Marts, and disintegrating asphalt. We will not be able to heat our 5,000-square-foot houses, if we can get to them, and we will not be able to fill the box stores with Chinese goods, or to resurface the roads, which we won’t be using much in any case.
As for the rest of the world, Europe may fare slightly better, having to some extent preserved the small, agriculture-friendly, locally focused communities that Kunstler believes will dominate the post-oil world. But overall, the strife will be biblical: “Australia and New Zealand may fall victim to desperate Chinese adventuring….The coastlines of all nations may become prey to a new species of stateless freebooting raiders….The Pacific coast of North America will be especially vulnerable to raids emanating from the disintegrating nations of Asia.” Poor nations will never develop but will seem unexceptional among “the hardship and chaos that will become common elsewhere.”
These predictions of collapse all presuppose that we cannot be saved by alternative energy sources. Kunstler dismisses alternative energy as a “mirage” and belief in it as “a holdover from the techno-miracle cavalcade of the twentieth century.” He does his best to demolish any hope for natural gas, solar and wind power, coal, hydroelectric power, biomass, or nuclear power. Though he succeeds in provoking thought, he does not quite convince the optimist that we are doomed.