Jim Kunstler’s Agenda (and Mine)


World Pop
Red line: Sustainable population/sustainable total footprint at prevailing levels of consumption, with no provision for any non-human species. Green line: Sustainable population/sustainable total footprint at prevailing levels of consumption, with provision for a healthy level of biodiversity. In 1980 we started living on borrowed time. We’re now living 1/3 above our planet’s sustainable capacity, and per capita resource consumption is accelerating, headed for twice absolute sustainable capacity by 2040.
Regular readers know that I believe we are in our civilization’s final century. My reasons for believing that are complex, though many of them can be gleaned from my Save the World Reading List.

I also believe that, like in past civilizations, the collapse of ours will not be due to one single cause but rather to a cascading series of crises. These could include:

  • A ghastly and global economic depression
  • The complex effects of global warming
  • Use of increasingly available, devastating biological, genetic, chemical and nuclear weaponry by extremist groups and individuals
  • Traditional nuclear war between (already) horrifically overpopulated and ecologically devastated states
  • The End of Oil
  • The End of Water
  • New pandemic diseases
  • A host of other threats

The occurrence of any of these, in our overextended and fragile economy and political society, increases the probability of triggering the others.

My brain, my heart, my senses and my instincts all tell me we are near the end, and that by the latter part of this century this will start to become very apparent. But I cannot convince you if you are not ready to be convinced.

Those who are convinced are asking what to do. They tend to fall into two camps: Those who believe that concerted human action might avert the collapse of civilization, and those who don’t. The latter group is looking for means to a softer landing, and a head start for a possible next civilization. There is a third group, who I have dubbed neo-survivalists, who are actually welcoming and looking to accelerate our civilization’s collapse. I have no time for this third group: If they could conceive of the horror that will accompany collapse, they would change their tune.

I understand the first group, as I used to be part of it. It is, after all, human nature to be hopeful, to believe we live in good times and that good times can last forever, to expect and depend on the promise of new technologies without recognizing that every new technology has created as many problems as it has solved. It took a lot to educate me that we are far past the point of no return, and that the second, softer-landing group is most likely correct. For the last couple of years, this blog has reflected that belief.

James Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency is one of a growing list of books that also reflect this belief. He recently reiterated the steps he prescribes for a softer landing, in a synopsis he calls his Agenda. “We will have to make other arrangements for virtually all the common activities of daily life”, he says. Specifically:

  • Producing and consuming food differently: 
    • coping with sterile soil exhausted by overuse of chemicals no longer available
    • producing and distributing foods locally
    • recovering all the lost knowledge of natural, diverse, organic ways of farming
    • shifting to a vegetarian/vegan agriculture
    • eating healthier
  • Inhabiting the land differently: 
    • moving people out of big cities and suburbs no longer sustainable to small towns and self-sufficient cities with healthy rural hinterlands
    • relearning to use natural construction and repair materials
    • replacing land use and zoning codes with ‘vernacular wisdom’
  • Moving things and people differently: 
    • living without private automobiles
    • using more rail, water and public transport that does not depend on fossil fuels
    • finding ways to scrub CO2 out of the transportation system
    • giving up on fruitless grandiose ‘alternative fuels’ for automobiles that merely create scarcity elsewhere and more pollution
  • Keeping warm and cool differently: 
    • using clothes to do so rather than space heaters and air conditioners
    • insulating our homes and offices better
    • using renewable energy delivered through personal and neighbourhood mechanisms instead of massive grids
  • Making things locally again and transforming retail trade: 
    • returning to local markets to make, move and sell stuff within the community
    • living with fewer choices of things to buy
    • relearning to make products domestically
    • relearning to make our own unique personal stuff
  • Entertaining ourselves again: 
    • when the Internet and the electrical grid fail, we’ll need to relearn to make our own music and theatre and to play sports instead of watching them on a screen
  • Reorganizing our education system: 
    • community and home-schooling
    • internship
    • self-learning: less rote and more practice
  • Reorganizing our health system: 
    • more local and community-based
    • much more emphasis on prevention, self-diagnosis, self-treatment
    • taking responsibility for your own health

In short, relearning to make everything more local and smaller-scale. And not relying on government or big institutions for services, financial support, or bail-outs of last resort, since the government will have no money. And becoming resilient ñ so if our income stream suddenly disappears, or all our stuff breaks down, or the people who do things for us (from teaching our kids to cutting our hair to supplying us with bottled water) all go out of business, we will know what to do, and how to look after ourselves and each other. A shocking majority of us are spending so much, borrowing so much, saving so little, and so narrow in our self-reliance skills, that any sudden economic shock would be ruinous.

A lot of people ask Kunstler (and me) for timelines ñ when will we have to start working on this? The answer is: no one knows, and now. We cannot wait for systems to collapse to start learning the skills we will need when they do, and to start creating local networks for the production and distribution of what we need to live, and to start planning for precisely what we will do, assuming we can depend on no one else. Katrina taught us that, if we didn’t already know.

Kunstler concludes: “If you’re depressed, change your focus. Stop wishing and start doing. The best way to feel hopeful about the future is to get off your ass and demonstrate to yourself that you are a capable, competent individual resolutely able to face new circumstances”.

So, time to get learning new capacities: how to grow your own food, make your own clothes, make your own furniture, and repair everything you own. How to set up a business you can run from home that serves local needs. How to manage your own health, and that of those in your community who cannot care for themselves.

And time to create new local networks: community renewable energy co-ops, local farm markets and delivery services, neighbourhood craft and skill networks that make and fix beautiful, durable, essential things from local materials.

Will we relearn these essential capacities, establish these critical local networks, and recreate communities that work, before cascading crises are upon us and it’s too late to do so? It will probably depend on how soon they occur, how many hit us at once, and how severe they are. Most of all, it will depend on how many of us see the value in acquiring these capacities and creating these networks and rebuilding self-sufficient communities that work, for their own sake, now. And doing so together, not just as neo-survivalists trying foolishly and selfishly to create resiliency just for themselves and their family.

We’ll do what we must, when we must. Maybe in time for a softer landing, and in so doing perhaps create a model for the next, gentler, lower-footprint society.

And maybe not.

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11 Responses to Jim Kunstler’s Agenda (and Mine)

  1. Dave – of all the posts that I’ve read on How To Save The World, this is the most articulate and most prescient. This is a post that you were compelled to write because the events happening right now are rapidly approaching a singularity. Something is bound to explode in 2007. What is it? A thermonuclear confrontation between Iran (proxy for Russia and China) and the US/UK/Israel. A total meltdown in the financial markets, a stock market derivatives crash wiping out all equity, all savings, all wealth, and rendering all economic activity into a state of terminal paralysis. A stark realization on the part of the majority of the populace that our energy resources are quickly coming to an end state. Multiple climate disasters striking the world in a rapid succession of hits and kills. A Mad Max scenario in spades. And then the final existential realization that Oh Shit, We really have F*cked up this time – No second chance – No reprieve – No salvation. Just the relentless process of die-off. This will not be a century long slow crash or long emergency. You and Kunstler are raving optimists, pollyanna doomsters. Something ominous is happening at this very moment on the blogosphere. Bloggers such as Survival Acres and Deconsumption are disappearing from the scene. They were preceded by Earth Crash/Earth Spirit (aka as Another Way of Knowing – AWOK). Read Terrence McKenna and realize that the timewave is compressing a century into a year. 2007 marks the countdown toward the end game. Fasten your seatbelts and keep your eye on the bouncing ball. When gold hits 1,000 and oil nears 100 you will know that the learn bells are tolling for all of life on this precious earth.

  2. Bharat says:

    Hi George, what is the basis for your statement that 2007 is the “countdown towards the end” ? Could it be that 1) You are reading too much of this doomsday stuff ? Iam not saying there is no problem with civilization. There are enormous problems. But simply repeating your doomsday readings is not going to help. 2) Is it possible that humanity is finally starting to “get it” and so we see these things in media more often. In which case, it’s a good thing and need not mean again that doomsday is near. cultural revolutions may happen rapidly as we saw in fall of communism. But there will be a slow process of groundwork before it can happen. Can we see the increased media attention as the process of preparation of that groundwork ?I see the current century as the final stage of intellectual evolution. We are starting the see the limitations of intellect. After physical, mental evolution, could the next stage be the uncovering of spiritual aspect of human beings ? And, the current situation is the predicament that is going to challenge us to alter our world-view radically into a spiritual,holistic world-view ? And, fossil-energy that we are fortunate to use over the last 200 years is a one time allowance to improve our intellect radically and breakout into next level of evolution ? There are certainly major problems with current civilization, but let us not overlook great progress that has been achieved in our political field and knowing our world much better scientifically. And let us not romantasize some forgone past, as it sure had it’s problems, with severely limited world-view scientifically. The challenge is to enter the next level of being, preserving our ecosystems integrity.Dave, iam curious to know your thoughts on how the current situation fits into evolutionary aspect ? and if spirituality (not “God is out there somewhere in heavens”, but much more holistic spirituality) is at all in your scheme of things.

  3. Jon Husband says:

    Very good. Who ever said that blogging like a mad fool wouldn’t ever get you somewhere ? Well, it did, to this magnificent synthesis, stemming from a deeper and more holistic understanding.

  4. lugon says:

    I feel we’re very much in a hurry. Maybe because I feel any change we attempt will take ages to get done (or maybe not), maybe because my guts tell me it’s really here, maybe because groups need individuals who are more tuned to danger than others (and those individuals feel the stress much more, to compensate for zillions of others who don’t). OTOH, we need to focus: focus on our own lives to make the changes we foresee (GTD with a poignant twist: just what’s important), and focus on how to amplify that (making it easy both for ourselves and for others). Easier said than done, so it needs further out-of-all-boxes thinking. Thanks, Dave!

  5. patrick says:

    two things: about the so called ‘neo-survivalists’. my understanding is that they are in the camp of softening the landing by trying to speed up collapse. the longer this thing called civilization goes on, the more damage it will do. this is not to say it will not be horrible if it is brought down, but a recognition that it will be horrible anyway and that the longer we wait, the more total the destruction will be. secondly the statement – ‘It is, after all, human nature to be hopeful, to believe we live in good times and that good times can last forever’ – i’m always careful with statements about human nature, especially drawing on the civilized who are a poor representation of it. i would posit that hope is a neurotic condition of the civilized and that wanting to believe thigns are going to be okay grows from our deep rooted insecurities and fears. addiction to civilization runs very deep because the civilized are so fragile that the thought of losing it is untenable.

  6. Mariella says:

    Fine Dave….! Now, I have some questions for each area of change….To point out each area is a very good start, but how to achieve the desired results…..? for instance “Producing and consuming food differently: ” ¿How much food does a tribe of 300 people needs : proteins, carbs, vitamins…. ? When I think about my communal development school project, I ask myself that kind of questions…: what does this article means in real terms :”Inhabiting the land differently:” talking about construction materials : will we grow trees? bamboo? what are the requirementes for a home for 6 people…and the water…? how much water do I need to grow these plants.. I guess that in the same way this article “The Oil We Eat” pointed out this hidden consumption of energy per calorie of food, this change of way of living has also this hidden energy needs that are perceived but not evidenced generating confusion and thus stopping action. (I tried to be as clear as possible.. Dave)

  7. lugon says:

    Community currencies, Mariella. THAT is posibly the single most powerful proposition IMHO. There’s a guideline by Bernard Lietaer.

  8. Zane says:

    Hi Dave–I fall into the same quadrant with you and Kunstler on the state of the world and what action is immediately needed. My family and I are trying, in our own clumsy way, to build a sustainable way of living in place and in community. As I now see it, the biggest thing needed is for those that believe, as we do, that urgent changes are needed to soften our way forward, that we rediscover our sense of agency in the world, and get off our collective tush, as Jim has so eloquently suggested.For me, the recent trigger to try even harder is the birth of a first child. It is a wake up.

  9. Matt says:

    To Mariella, I think that there is reason that there are no specific details on Dave’s post. The whole idea of the new future is that things must go local, there can be no snap to fit, mass-produced solutions, each has to be built to fit the specific circumstances. I have been looking for the same mass-produced solutions for so long, until recently I realized that I have to think myself and coble together specific information and ideas for my situation. Just something to think about.

  10. Mariella says:

    Thanks Lugon and Matt, local currencies are a part of my project, it is when I try to figure out this money flowing in the comunity that I wonder what elements are needed for an active commertial daily routine to develope…. The community I´m working in has 3,000 people. It is not an intentional community, is an already formed community in which I think, intention can be built… identifying individual goals that must carry a mayor community goal in itself… which could be the local commerce with local currencies…. how to achieve a healthy flow for this local money…

  11. lugon says:

    Mariella and all, please see http://newfluwiki2.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=588 and follow the link to a manual by Bernard Lietaer I hope this helps.

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