Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Seeing the stuff I've been awaiting finally happening and making headlines prompted me to start blogging again. Peakniks come off as Malthusian Cassandras and Apocalypse-craving nuts to most people who lack the ability to think things through logically (and that means most people). So that I don't seem to be spinning this stuff out of my rear or trying to compose an addendum to the Revelation of St. John, I will share a few headlines that I expect to come in the near future and which really aren't so far-fetched. First let's recap the big ones that Peakniks have been predicting for years.

"Food Riots in the World's Poorest Countries as Food Prices Soar"

"Gas Prices Continue to Climb Toward $4 per Gallon; Oil Setting New Highs Regularly"

"Higher Fuel and Food Prices Curb Spending; Businesses Closing; Recession Fears Grow"

"Airlines Shutting Down"

Check, check, check and check. These are all related, of course. The world's poorest feel the dwindling of oil supplies in their bellies while the more coddled countries feel it in their ability to drive and purchase luxuries like electronics and furniture (which happen to be two of the great comforts in my life). We here in the U.S. are going to see both a lot of job loss and lower wages for those of us who remain employed; those lower wages will be buying less food and gas, but you will probably be able to get luxuries like SUV's and high-end electronics for fire sale prices. There will be much work in the new fields of urban retrofitting and agriculture, however. In any case, here are the headlines we'll be seeing next.

"Outer Suburbs Depopulate; Core Cities and Towns Overcrowded"

"Only 1 in 10 Americans Can Afford To Drive"

"Last Commercial Airline Stops Operation"

Again, related headlines. The automobile suburbs will be depopulating because they will be unusable. These places were built to be driven in and if you can't drive, they are unlivable. If you have to drive at all to get from your house to the grocery store or to work, that is to say if it's just too far too walk to either and mass transit isn't an option, expect to have to move within the next few years. Of course traditional 20th Century jobs will be disappearing anyway. This may seem far-fetched for the 90% of Americans outside of Boston or NYC for whom there is no other way of life than auto-suburbia, but that's part of the fun of me typing this stuff here in mid-2008; I want the people who read this to remember it when they abandon their homes in 2018.

The mass use of both cars and planes will be decisively over. There will still be cars and airplanes, but most of us will not be able to afford to use either of them. Cars require a massive investment in an infrastructure (maintained roads and highways) that will become impossibly expensive to maintain when carbon fuels are even more scarce (read: expensive). I would love to see a headline about the restoration of rail as a product of market forces; rail is much more energy-efficient for moving many people than either the airplane or an armada of personal automobiles. There is no guarantee that a bunch of rail companies are going to spring up to take the place of the airlines and the highway-and-car combo, however. Long-distance overland travel may simply stop being an option for a lot of us. Places that aren't dense enough for walking and mass transit (everything built after WWII which is most of the stuff built in this country) will not be habitable unless the inhabitants grow their own food (note: we used to call such places "farms" before paving them over with cul-de-sacs).

A little further out in the future I expect to see this:

"Starvation Kills Hundreds of Thousands Each Year in Africa and Asia"

"Food Shortages in Major U.S. Cities; Rationing Imposed"

"Electricity Increasingly Unreliable in Large Cities"

The big cities will have their share of trouble, too, but come 2018 I'd still rather be in NYC than Luanda or Port-au-Prince. I can stand to lose the auto-suburbs, but I hate to think that I'd be bereft of heat, hot water, lights, subways, the internet and takeout here in my urban womb. The terror of losing these things prompted me to start this blog in the first place. In order to keep tens of millions of people living comfortably on top of each other will require an immense energy source, even if those people no longer each travel a hundred miles each day. With fossil fuels increasingly unavailable and prohibitively expensive, nuclear power will have to step in to keep us comfortable in the reduced physical radius of our lives. If you think that "green" sources like solar, wind and water can do it, then you really need to do more reading. Nuclear, solar, wind and water are all only really good for generating electricity anyway while the fabrication and maintenance of industrial infrastructure (including power generating devices of any sort) is only really possible long-term by the burning of fossil fuels. Try generating enough energy to build a solar panel from scratch with an existing solar panel and you'll see what I mean. If you plan to use some of the energy from that panel to do other things like heat your water and light your home, then you are in for a nasty surprise. (Solar Power Satellites may be feasible; do the research and decide for yourself.)

There are some other headlines that I wouldn't be surprised to see, but which I don't like to think about...

"Russia/China/U.S. Attacks Russia/China/U.S."

"Pandemic Reduces Populations in Three Largest U.S. Cities by a Total 40% in 3 Years"

The nations which can will probably attack each other in a scramble to secure the remaining supply of fossil fuels. I have no idea how bad this is going to get and I don't want to hazard a guess. I already visited the potential for pandemic in a previous entry. I've had to discuss famine because that particular wolf is at the doorstep right now, but I loathe thinking about pestilence and war. The thrust of this blog is the megalopolis in energy supply freefall. It's disturbing enough to think of the exurbs crumbling till just the overburdened city cores are left. Who wants to think about every third person dropping dead from disease or one of our major urban centers getting vaporized by a megaton present made in China?