Technology and the Fate of the Nation

Monday, August 27, 2012

James Howard Kunstler argues that the visions of future technologies that can solve all our problems have misled us. He presents a much more sober image of the future in Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation and argues that we need pragmatic preparation for the future—and the many environmental problems we’ll likely face.


James Howard Kunstler

Comments [27]

David S from Bronx NY

Bought Kunstler's Too Much Magic and am now going through it a second time. He really gets it right, I think, although it sometimes feels like it is science fiction. Alas, it is not. Confirmation bias is pervasive and needs to be confronted the bucket of ice cold water K provides. The book is sprinkled with many nice lines. And he should be credited for seeing the light on dead end nuclear power.

Oct. 01 2012 11:07 AM
Jared NYC from New York, NY

@Evan from New Jersey: Kunstler has openly discussed living in walkable towns with easy walking access to a downtown area. Read his "Geography of Nowhere." Kunstler lives/lived near Saratoga Springs, NY, which is a vibrant, walkable Downtown that was built mostly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Your best bet is to ditch your car and move to a walkable, vibrant downtown that has relatively good access to agriculture - an ideal place is Saratoga Springs, NY or the City of Hudson, NY, etc. There are many places like this. You just have to make the change.

Aug. 28 2012 09:11 AM
Sheree from Manhattan

Thanks very much for this thought provoking segment. Seems to me that he speaks the hard truth.

Aug. 28 2012 12:16 AM

Kunstler is right on and very wise. If we are smart we should learn how to live with less. I am an avid listener but don't come to this site. This segment got me on the web page to get the titles of his books. I found this segment to be very informative.

Aug. 27 2012 08:19 PM
Haden from NYC

Don't shoot the messenger! If his message seems negative, it's partly because you (and unfortunately most of the population) are unaware of the state of things regarding energy.

Very briefly, the message is that our civilization exists due to abundant cheap energy but this era is coming to a close. There is no fix that will allow us to live as we have and no effort to reconfigure our society to this reality. There are steps we can take to help us make the transition. You can find out the particulars by reading his book 'The Long Emergency'.

Aug. 27 2012 02:30 PM

Oh Jonah: There is no conspiracy to suppress miracle patents. All the technologies you mention fell out of favor because something half the price came along, or something way better. Like electric cars with lead/acid batteries were around early on, but they could go ten or fifteen miles max and were carrying around a ton of batteries. Gas was cheaper, and you could drive forever with fillups taking five minutes every couple of hundred miles. No conpiracies, just market forces.

Kunstler is probably right about a lot of things. He didn't talk much (maybe it's in the book) about the "how" of these changes. Like electric cars or early biodiesel etc, it's market forces. Supply and demand.

We don't do much planning here. We wait for the market to dictate, which does no future planning, or wait for the obvious disaster (like the enormous mobilisation for WWII). So when fossil fuels cost ten times more, or we freak out because yes, global warming is real and at this rate NYC will either be underwater or we'll spend 100 billion dollars to surround it with a dam, or maybe dam the East River/Long Island Sound and the Narrows at a similar cost and direct the Hudson into a culvert or something. And it will be 135 degrees in Las Vegas. And farms will be over with in the Midwest. When enormous disaster happens, or market forces dictate, (or both)then we will do something instead of figuring out what's happening and do some big things now.

Actually, we have figured it out, but as Kunstler pointed out, either we think, I'll buy a Prius and change to CFL light bulbs (good, but hardly enough), or the really stupid segment grasps at some denial reason (it's a conspiracy by two professors at East Anglia U, that's it!). We don't want to face the facts and do what's logical now.

In Europe, not having so much of the willfully ignorant class as we do, they are tending to do more, and are structually more ready like he said, but also not enough.

Aug. 27 2012 02:28 PM
corinne from nyc

This man confirmed all my dark thoughts about this country. I just bought his book on Kindle. Somebody is telling the truth. Our systems are unsustainable. Globalization is not working. The passenger trains need to be upgraded. Obama could have cut a deal with the auto industry to use trains in the auto industry. The war in Afganistan continues on. The banking system is still unregulated. The agricultural system is unsustainable..

I just came back from British Columbia. Guns and wars have not wrecked the country. Teenagers know they can afford to get educated. People in Canada talk openly about the unsustainability of natural resources.

Aug. 27 2012 02:24 PM
Evan from New Jersey

I always wonder how thinkers like this make choices about how to do daily life? How does Kunstler's worldview affect his choices about where to live, or send his kids to school, or what he eats or the kind of internet service he has? Essentially, I wonder if he has thoughts about realistic ways to make sustainable changes on the micro level? If there's no immediate hope of top down change, I could use some instruction on how to do my part.

Aug. 27 2012 02:02 PM
Marc from NY Metro Area

Pessimism is not an answer merely an observation. There is a lack of political will at the moment, but to say that nothing can be done using technology sounds more like defeatism. We cannot return to an earlier age, and it is wishful thinking on his part to suggest it. The solutions to the energy problems are on the table but rather than putting them into motion they are shunted to back of the queue. That is the only part he is right about, we will wait to the last minute to fix the problem. A perfect example is Germany, rather than improve their nuclear power, they are shutting it down, taking a step backwards is not the answer.

Aug. 27 2012 02:00 PM
Robert from NYC

LOL the boutique word for it, locavore. I love it.

Aug. 27 2012 01:57 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

This guy is saying absolutely nothing. Just nay-saying everything, without providing any solutions.

Aug. 27 2012 01:55 PM
CK from Yorktown

Jessie: you're giving this guy too much credit. I'm waiting for this to be over so we can hear something that makes sense.

Aug. 27 2012 01:52 PM
Robert from NYC

This guy is right!

Aug. 27 2012 01:51 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The "solution" is natural gas plus electric cars. Eventually solar, and end of story.

Aug. 27 2012 01:50 PM
CK from Yorktown

jgarbuz: I think he's here to tell us there's nothing we can do. We must all just stop using energy. And somehow "the rule of law in money matters" is related to energy sources, the planet being killed and though technology was supposed to be part of this, nothing about tech at all. Weird segment.

Aug. 27 2012 01:46 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

There are a variety of remarkably simple observations, supporting the view of your guest, James Kunstler.

Every growth system in nature (that survives its own growth)changes its strategy for investing in itself in midstream, to use its profits to stabilize its environment. otherwise it keeps changing its own environment till it can't work, like staying "prosperous" by depleting our resources ever faster.

The core problem is that people see the world as being their own image, not realizing that "reality" is what we don't define, and not realizing if you think you can just make it all up you get in trouble.

Aug. 27 2012 01:46 PM
Mike CC from Manhattan

Professional cynic that makes his niche by being totally negative (does not mean that he is not telling the truth) BUt on the other hand, fossil fuels ARE the byproduct of the massive amount of life on earth over the past billion years ... un imaginable amounts of decaying plant and animal matter are continuing the process in the past , at the moment and in the future.. To wrongly mischaracterize the material facts on fossil fuel creation is disingenuous if he does so to create and perpetuate urgency alone....

Aug. 27 2012 01:43 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Who is this guy, and what is he babbling about?

Aug. 27 2012 01:42 PM

Re: Google, I too loathe effected technologists (you can't even beat them up anymore without their robots flying after you!).

But on a recent trip through the Pacific NW, I observed that locals were very excited since Google was reported to be setting up data centers along their rivers.

Google is increasingly relying on hydropower to fire up.

Aug. 27 2012 01:39 PM
John A.

Does the author describe how pumping CO2 back into the earth could take all the energy that Oil extraction gave us in the first place?
- - -
That the US may be underwater with magical messaging - call it 'The Emperors New Clothes' - where in a democracy you and I are the emperor and the truth must not reach us.

Aug. 27 2012 01:38 PM
Henry from Manhattan

John A said:
“See the Marilynne Robinson segment. Humility through religion is a great cure to materialism, often referred to as addictive.”

Yeah, like the Amish.

That’s quaint and all, but no, thank you.

I realize I’m picking on an extreme example, but I reject the notion that (supernatural-based) religion is the “only” way to counter materialism.

Aug. 27 2012 01:37 PM
CK from Yorktown

I'm confused; It his segment about technology (which would seem to be something to help us in many areas including healthcare) or is this about energy? Hard to follow this guest.

Aug. 27 2012 01:36 PM

Third and fourth generation nuclear power is safe and can run for hundreds of years on all the "spent fuel" that is only 1% depleted. So get rid of the waste and enjoy the clean safe power.

Aug. 27 2012 01:35 PM
John A

See the Marilynne Robinson segment. Humility through religion is a great cure to materialism, often referred to as addictive.

Aug. 27 2012 01:05 PM
Jeff Pappas from Dumbo

A half Lie is worst than a Lie, like half a brick can be thrown father than a whole one: Relating to the false hope that Tech can enlighten our world, yet only if Tech is used responsibly. It seems now a new Dark Age is arising with Lies and half truths circling the globe at near the speed of light, often creating damage that can never be repaired.
Guttenbergs invention of the printing press made the Bible and other books more available, but also made it easy to cheat and fool people.

Aug. 27 2012 12:40 PM
Jonah from Ny

Many technologies are bought an sat on at the patent office by competition like oil and energy comanies. Bdiesel was made for peanut oil before cancerous diesel was invented. Electric cars came before gas cars. Airships are lighter than air tech from over two centuries ago. Teslas wardenclyffe tower was abandoned bnot because it didnt work but because it would provide free electricty and internet in the1930,

Aug. 27 2012 12:21 PM
Peg from Willseyville NY

David Suzuki makes the most concise argument for rational treatment of our current and dire environmental challenges. Check out this link to a recent interview he gave to this week's "Living on Earth" program.

Aug. 27 2012 09:32 AM

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