Letter Re: James Kunstler at Midwest Renewable Energy Fair

As a regular reader of Survival Blog, I thought others might like a “field trip” report from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s (MREA) Energy Fair held this past weekend. This is an annual event hosted in central Wisconsin and it has had a growing number of attendees; last year’s fair drew over 10,000 and this year it was expected to draw ~17,000 people over its three days. In my mingling, I encountered people who had traveled from as far as New mexico, southern Oklahoma, Kansas, and many from Wisconsin and bordering states.
The fair is a collection of vendors, presentations, and daily featured speakers. Suppliers of everything from solar ovens, solar panels, wind turbines, and passive solar hot water heaters have their products on display and there are usually at least six seminars going on at any one time on topics as diverse as grey water management, saving seeds, and straw bale construction. This year’s speaker on Saturday was James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency. If anyone is thinking of buying into alternative energy, this fair is a great place to talk with a variety of suppliers as well as people who have real-world experience using the products.
I attended a number of special seminars and found most all to be very informative and well done. The people presenting were truly focused on educating and sharing information rather than on selling. Some had web sites and a few had written small do-it-yourself manuals which could be purchased if desired. There was also a lot of time given for questions from the audience.
Of particular interest on Saturday was James Kunstler’s keynote speech. For those not familiar with his book, it is a brief synopsis of our (U.S.) society’s creation of an “easy motoring utopia” supported by cheap and abundant petroleum products. If you have not read it, I would recommend it as a number of people to whom I have lent my copy have described it as life-changing. If nothing else, it is a very well written “eye opener” for those who have yet to come to appreciate our relationship (addiction) with oil.
Mr. Kunstler’s speech was untitled, but I believe a fair topic statement would have been “We need to make other arrangements.” He commented on what he termed the current state of delusional thinking and noted that the only thing we’re debating is how we’re going to keep the cars running without oil. His point was that no combination of alternative fuels will allow us to continue operating the interstate highway system, the big box retail stores, and the 12,000 mile supply chain. There were several times when he repeated that “life is tragic and Americans have made some tragic choices.” This was followed by the admonition that “we need to make other plans.”
He also spent some time discussing what he termed the new religion in America: the worship of unearned riches. The thoughts here could be summed up by the idea that bad behavior is driving bad choices and vice versa. Although he did not mention it, I could not help but think about people who have escalating credit card debt and are living in housing funded by ARMs [adjustable rate mortgages] that will index upward as interest rates rise.
Much of the talk was very similar to what is described in his book, so I will not reiterate or spoil the read for those who have not yet read it. However, he did mention some points which I do not recall from his published work. Mr. Kunstler was very clear in his opinion that people are expecting a smooth transition through this energy crisis. His personal feeling was that “we should expect a fair amount of disruption.” Also, he commented on the risk of “political mischief” as the hardship becomes more dire. His point was that people have been living in a utopia where, in general, if you wait a little while, prices will stabilize, stocks will trend upward, and life will be basically what we have come to understand as “normal.” In the long emergency, that will all change and his opinion is that the American public is going to be begging to be told what to do. This opens the door for politicians to implement policies for the common good but of perhaps dubious real benefit.
In closing, I would like to share a very salient point Mr. Kunstler made about a question he said that he often receives when lecturing at colleges and universities. Following his gloomy review of peak oil and the state of society, someone usually asks “can’t you give us any hope?” To this he had a two-part commentary: First, it is interesting (tragic?) to note the word choice and that there is an expectation that hope can simply be “given.” This, he mentioned, was a common thought pattern in both young and older adults. The second part of his analysis was that each person is going to need to figure out how to do this for themselves. His model for how this happens is that you need to demonstrate that you’re a capable person who can get things done. This gives you the ability to dwell in a hopeful mindset. As readers of Survival Blog, I would think that most of us are maintaining a fairly high level of awareness of the complex world in which we live. While this may not always be the most reassuring outlook, having this awareness and doing some planning will put us all in a much better mental place if or when something “bad” happens. Regards, – Max