We know that oil is in high demand and short supply these days, especially since Hurricane Katrina wiped out refineries along the Gulf Coast. Even President Bush, long the oil industry’s biggest champion, called, twice now, for Americans to drive less and conserve fuel.
But if you take a step back, and look beyond the weekly, monthly, or even yearly fluctuations of oil price and availability, a bigger picture starts to emerge. At its most extreme, it’s a picture of ever dwindling supply, of a countdown to what some are calling the end of oil. The time when we’ve gotten as much oil out of the earth as we’re ever going to get.
If these doom-sayers are right, it’s a truly terrifying prospect. Everything in modern life is made from, by or with oil. The clothes we wear: manufactured in oil-powered factories, shipped from Mexico or South Asia by oil-powered freight. The food we eat: grown with oil-based fertilizers, pesticides and other petrochemicals, sowed by oil-powered tractors and machinery. Even our cities, which form the basis of where and how we live, are laid out according to the logic of cars, on the presumption that you can drive from place to place to place.
Tonight’s audio comes from the 1956 American Petroleum Institute-sponsored Destination Earth, in which a Martian explorer returns to tell of the wonders of oil and capitalism on Earth [Prelinger Archives on the Internet Archive]
If oil goes (they say), so goes with it a special, hundred-year period in human history: the age of oil. The age of cars and of highways, of electric lights and manufactured goods and consumer society. Of agribusiness. Of recorded music. In short, everything we identify as modern life. And it could well be accompanied by massive social, political, and economic upheaval, as the world scrambles for the last of the oil, struggles to figure out alternatives, and undergoes massive reorganization.
Are you scared yet? Or do you think these folks are crying wolf? Are we really at the end of the oil age? What would that even look like? And can anything (more drilling, alternative energy sources, something, anything) possibly save us?
James Howard Kunstler
Author, The Long Emergency
Blogger, Clusterf*ck Nation
A condensed version of Kunstler’s book was published in Rolling Stone Magazine.
[In studio in Albany, NY]
President, Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc.
[On the phone in Amherst, MA]