Shuck and Jive

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Does History Require of You?

I liked the speech from President Obama last night. But I still don't think he knows what really needs to be done or if he does how to communicate what needs to be done.

What needs to be done is to get serious about downscaling a suburban lifestyle that doesn't produce anything. Energy realities will demand it. Here is a good post Monday from
Howard Kunstler.

The larger underlying reality is that the United States as an entire, integral organism, has got to contract, downscale, and reorganize. The mandates of energy resource reality demand it. We can't maintain our way of life at its current scale and we have to severely rearrange and rebuild the infrastructure of it if we expect to continue being civilized. We have to get the hell out of suburbia, shrink our hypertrophic metroplexes, re-activate our small towns and small cities, reorganize the way we grow our food, phase out the big box retail (and phase in the rehabilitated Main Streets), start making some of our own household goods, and hook up the far-flung reaches of this continental nation with a public transit system probably in the form of railroads. By the way, there are plenty of "jobs" in this process, only not the kind of work we've been used to... sitting in cubicles or assigning tanning booths.

No amount of wishing for techno rescue remedies, or techno-triumphal fantasies, will overcome this basic reality. This is change you have to believe in whether you like it or not. Most of America doesn't like it and doesn't want to think about it and is doing everything possible to prop up the old arrangements. Bailing out the banks is just a lame attempt to keep banking oversized. Bailing out the automobile companies was just a way to avoid the recognition that Happy Motoring will soon be over. Bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was just a way to avoid understanding that suburbia is finished. The "green economy" that so many people idly blather about -- imagining that it will just mean running WalMart by other means than oil -- is actually an economy of awesome stringency. It's nothing like they imagine. It's a world made by hand.

We should be turning our efforts and our remaining resources toward the task of becoming that differently-organized, finer-scaled society.The money that went into propping up the automobile companies could have been used to rebuild the entire railroad system between Boston and the Great Lakes, and the capital squandered on AIG and its offshoot claimants could have rebuilt everything else the rest of the way to Seattle. Is it really so hard to imagine what history requires of you?
Our Thursday study group just finished watching an incredible film: Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People. I highly recommend it. It is about Appalachia for sure, but also about America and the world and the choices we are making or are refusing to make.

Next week we begin Dianne Dumanoski's The End of the Long Summer.

If you are near our Appalachian mountain, you are welcome to join us Thursdays at 10:30.


  1. Thanks for your thoughtful post. I agree that we must reduce and contract our consumption as well as reach a stasis where consumption is concerned. My vision doesn't seem so clear about what this lifestyle would look like: did you imagine this on your own or have you been doing some reading about sustainability theory somewhere?

  2. @Xan,

    If you check Richard Heinberg's website and read Howard Kunstler's novel, A World Made By Hand, you will get their vision.

    It is a stark, stringent vision compared to reality as we have it today.

    It is based on the reality that oil production has peaked globally. We have nothing close to replace it.

    You might also check Chris Martenson's website and take his crash course.

  3. I wonder if our democracy (what's left of it!) can face up to the possibility (probability?) of expensive oil in the near future and get serious about the radical changes needed. I thought Obama might be an effective change-agent but now I see him operating out of the same kind of basic denial that most Americans exhibit. Just like it was a Nixon who opened the door to China, it may take a conservative Republican to be the truth-teller and effective change- agent. God works in strange and mysterious ways. Just thinking out loud. I don't know what to do about our dangerous denial of reality.

    My disappointment with the Democrats runs very deep. I'm thinking of voting for the Republicans in November because the Democrats have completely failed to produce "change we can believe in."

    Maybe that's why the voters of Massachusetts sent a Republican Senator to Washington.

    I don't know. I like to think our democracy sooner or later gets it right but we are getting close to beyond later.

    love, john a wilde + whitesboro ny

  4. The thing is I believe in people. I think we can handle it when given the chance. But we need our leaders to be honest and to set a direction. I am holding hope that Obama will do that at some point.

    Another great website is The Oil Drum

  5. If the change over from oil and coal based societies does not come soon the cost of change will come on the heads of the poor. It's time NOW to subsidize solar, wind and other forms of power so that the price can be competitive with oil and coal.

    We also have to be careful how we find alternative sources of energy. The attempt to move to energy produced from plants put the cost of that change on the poor in Mexico. The price of corn soared and poor Mexicans were unable to buy corn for their staple diets.

    And frankly I don't trust the people with the power. They are wed to the status quo because they get economic profit from the status quo. And they buy Washington.

    My biggest concern is that change will come on the backs of the poor.