The other day we talked about living in the past, so now I thought we’d talk a bit about living in the future. Do you spend much time thinking about how our lifestyles will change in the future? I’m not talking about 100 years from now — I mean within our own lifetimes?
Back in the 1950s and 1960s we couldn’t get enough of thinking and talking about the future. The movies, the TV programmes all predicted an exciting world of hover cars, jet-packs, shiny silver jumpsuits and automated everything.
Now we rarely talk about the future or think about the future except in apocalyptic terms.
Like a whole bunch of other people, XUP Jr. is convinced the world is going to end in 2012, especially since she saw the movie. It gives her a good excuse not to worry about her school marks, I think.
The Canadian documentary, The End of Suburbia, aired the other night on TVO. It features my eco-crush, James Howard Kunstler, so I’ve seen it a few times. Though his vision of the future, and the message of the documentary overall, is bleak, I think it’s also accurate.
“Suburbia is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world” – James Howard Kunstler
If we accept that the world oil peak has happened or is about to happen within the next 10 years, then it’s also high time we did some serious planning for a world with less available fossil fuels.
So, what Kunstler, et al are telling us is that we are running out of not only oil, but natural gas and the resources to produce electricity. And, that there are no reasonable alternatives. This means that the energy resources we now depend on will become increasingly expensive as they become increasingly scarce.
And yes, we’ve been hearing about the “energy crisis” since the 1970s when the price of fuel got jacked up for a while and we all bought small cars. Then they told us everything was okay again and prices went down and we all bought SUVs. And there are still people – scientists even – who say Kunstler and his cronies are all nuts and that the earth has unlimited resources. They say technology will save us and that someone will invent something, some time and everything will be okay.
But ifn case they’re not nuts, here is some of the stuff we can expect in the future:
- Price of gasoline will become prohibitively expensive
- People will not be able to afford to buy, maintain or run a car
- Suburbanites will have difficulty commuting to work, shopping, schools
- Suburbanites and others living in McMansions will not be able to afford to heat their homes
- Like the Victorian mansions of days gone by, McMansions will be chopped up into several apartments housing more than one family
- Kunstler believes the suburbs will become slums; others think with a little vision and foresight we can convert them into self-sufficient villages
- Since North America does almost no manufacturing of its own anymore, we will have difficulty getting goods from China:
- First, because of the high cost of shipping
- Second, because we will be competing with China for energy resources and they will cease to be a friendly trading partner
- We will not longer be able to afford to import or transport food thousands of miles
- Agriculture in North America is heavily dependant on petroleum products since our soil is pretty much completely depleted and crops can be raised only because of extensive use of petroleum-based chemicals, (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.)
- Growing food therefore will become more labour intensive necessitating more human labour and less machinery
- Anyone who has land will have to start growing crops to help feed their families and/or sell in their communities.
- Centralized energy plants will cease to exist and we may have to go to energy co-operatives using windmills to provide energy locally. (Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative is an example of this)
- A whole host of businesses, industries and professions will no longer be sustainable
- The trucking industry, for instance, will need to be replaced with an efficient rail system. (Third World countries apparently have a much better people -and-goods rail systems than we do in North America)
So, I guess the question is — do you choose to believe the visions and warnings of all of the experts predicting a future without unlimited energy resources? Or do you choose to believe that science and technology will find a way to sustain us? What’s your vision of the future?
“There are a huge range of solutions out there, but a lack of leadership. There is nothing wrong with apocalyptic insinuations, as long as it gets people thinking. It’s okay to be scared and depressed because that’s how change happens.” – Evan Solomon
 Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. The concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, and the combined production rate of a field of related oil wells. The aggregate production rate from an oil field over time usually grows exponentially until the rate peaks and then declines—sometimes rapidly—until the field is depleted.
 Et al includes a range of experts who contributed to this documentary, (Including Matthew Simmons – CEO of the world’s largest energy investment bank, Peter Calthorpe – urban designer, Julian Darley – environmental philosopher, Kenneth Deffeyes – petroleum geologist) , a group of world experts who form the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas