In yesterday’s post I made some arguments about the resource arguments for veganism and changing the ways that we produce and use food. In the course of producing yesterday’s post on Dumpster Diving, I had revisited a number of different websites and documentaries to find support for the arguments for the practice of taking people’s wasted food. It’s one of many topics I’ve written about recently. I’ve also written about the Spectra Pipeline protests here in New York, and the blocking of pipeline construction for the transport of products from fracking and oil production from shale.
These issues all impact on food production, of course–but there’s a larger villain in the works. And there’s a documentary about it from 2005 that people should be watching. It’s called THE END OF SUBURBIA, and it concerns the end of cheap energy. The US economy and its built environment (aka Suburbia, where better than 90% of us live and work) are all dependent on cheap oil. Since 1973, nearly every major spike in oil prices has caused or contributed to recession (73, 80, 82, 91-92), and every lowering of oil prices has made for better economic times. The Bush Crash of 2008 was in large part about the brief time when oil went to $147 a barrel (admittedly, the banks unwound at the same point, but the two are related). At that point when oil goes that high in price, a huge number of things become untenable in American society–long commutes, air travel, vacation spending, etc. It’s important to understand that in the Obama ‘recovery’, every piece of good economic news causes an uptick in oil prices. But it should be pointed out that bad things were already happening when oil went past $100– by May of 2008, the US was losing an Airline a week due to fuel prices. The airline business is especially vulnerable to oil costs and may not be a viable business once oil prices go north of $110/barrel. The phenomenon is called Peak Oil, and your tax dollars went to produce the Hirsch Report in 2005-2006, which the Bush administration tried to bury and disavowed. Peak Oil doesn’t mean we’re out of oil–it means we’re out of the oil (and gas, coal, etc.) that is cheapest to get out of the ground. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter how much oil is left if it takes more energy to get at it than the oil produces.
So here are the predictions made in this documentary. Remember, these predictions are being made in 2005, when the economy is bubbling along quite nicely and the price of oil was around $50 a barrel. Also, note that the YouTube version is not the FULL version, and there are some added sections on the DVD.
- permanent decline in housing prices and values, especially in suburban or exurban areas–people unable to afford long car commutes in areas ill-served by mass transit;
- the end of the US middle class, which is predominantly suburban-based;
- a real panic about natural gas, the supply of which had already peaked in North America (fracking was not yet part of the vernacular in 2005);
- economic stagnation: as the Late Matt Simmons points out in the documentary, you cannot grow economies if you cannot grow energy;
- exploding food prices (the Walmart ‘warehouse on wheels’ model is horrible for energy supply, and as James Howard Kunstler puts it, the era of the 3,000 mile Caesar Salad is over). This also has implications worldwide–virtually all industrial agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuel-based fertilizer and insecticides, and exploding food prices were huge factors in the so-called Arab Spring;
- Municipalities unable to maintain the road grid (roads are after all an oil-based product, and taxes can’t go up as fast as expenses).
So what does this mean? If we are in the Peak Oil era, it means that normal economic growth is impossible–we aren’t going back to 2005 levels of employment and prosperity. It means there will be a desperate scramble to replace oil with ANYTHING–witness the mad scramble to exploit shale oil and biomass and especially fracked natural gas. It means we are going to be looking at more and more military adventures as we compete with other industrialized countries for what’s left of oil. And, again (per Jim Kunstler) we are going to be seeing the rise of a group of politicians who (in Kunstler’s words) are ‘corn-pone nazis‘–demagogues who tell us they’re the man on the white horse everyone has been waiting for. Because Peak Oil is a REALLY inconvenient truth.
Watch the documentary. order the full copy from the Canadian film board. Let’s have this conversation.