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I'm less than one fourth of the way
into a book,
The Long Emergency,
James Howard Kunstler.

I've been reading these warnings for at least forty years,
warnings about the dangers of overpopulation
of humans
on planet Earth.

I've always struggled with specifics:
what exactly will happen,
who exactly will suffer,
and when will all this happen?

This book,
published in 2005,
has some predictions in Chapter seven,
and I skimmed over those,
but I'd rather focus on more basic points,
made in the earlier chapters of the book,
and concoct my own predictions,
based on those more basic points.

Daydream with me,
below the squiggly.

One interesting thing about this book,
is that the author,
while giving me plenty of information
about many nations
in many regions of the world,
this author primarily gives predictions about future life in the USA.

I like that,
because I've never been outside the USA myself,
so I feel a frustrated fog of mind
when I try to think about the future of other parts of the world,
when I feel I only know bits and pieces I've read
about those other places.

I feel more comfortable,
reflecting on my firsthand experiences,
more than fifty five years of living,
living in places such as
small town Kansas,
Houston area,
and now in Wichita, Kansas,
home to half a million mostly working class Americans,
reflecting on all that,
and thinking about specific looming disasters,
and asking myself what might happen,
here in the middle of the USA.

The biggest point Kunstler makes early in the book
is that we have now,
yes, now,
passed the peak of worldwide oil production,
and within 30 more years,
the supply of oil
will be clearly well below,
very far below,

Kunstler hints at what, exactly will happen then;
but I put my thinking cap on,
and here is my daydream:

First of all,
let's get a clear picture of life with very little oil:

We go to the gas station,
and there is no gasoline for sale,
most of the time.

When there is,
the price is $25 per gallon.

Stop and think about that.

Here in Wichita,
we do have a city bus system,
and I've used it to get to work;
I liked it,
it served me well.

The big drawback for me
is that I work second shift,
nights and weekends,
and the buses don't run at nights or on Sundays or holidays,
I could get to work on the bus,
but a family member had to come bring me home,
and both ways on Sundays and holidays.

My daydream is that the city bus system
will run twenty four hours,
on all days of the week, all days of the year.

The city of Wichita
will get a large enough supply of fuel
to get everyone to work and to the grocery store.

One diesel bus is way more efficient
than twenty or thirty cars.

But that system will be only temporary,
since we will eventually have no oil at all.

to build a system for transporting everyone
with no oil based fuel,
we could build electric trolley cars,
and electric trains.

we could use electric trains
to transport our food to our grocery stores.

For that, we need more electricity.

In order to build any new power plants,
and to install wind turbines and solar panels,
it takes workers using heavy earth moving equipment and trucks,
which burn diesel fuel.

before we run out of oil,
we need to build those power plants,
so we can get around town
totally on electricity.

If coal fired power plants are a lot faster to build than nuclear,
we should set aside global climate change concerns,
and build the coal fired power plants.

Then we should build nuclear plants,
and we should build twin plants,
not too far from each other,
so that if one plant needs to shut down,
the emergency power for that plant
would not be provided by diesel generators,
but by the other nuclear plant.

If we build enough nuclear power plants,
we can lay down lots of railroad tracks,
all over areas that need plowing and planting,
to grow the grains,
to feed the livestock,
for us to eat.

And we can use electric trains
to plow and plant and harvest
what we need.

That may sound a little goofy,
but this is my daydream!

my guess would be
that because of numerous factors,
we will not directly substitute
electric trains in place of tractors,
and everything else remain the same.

For one thing,
our fertilizers and pesticides
are made from fossil fuels,
so that would have to change.

We could make similar chemicals from coal,
but another approach,
that sounds wonderful,
but may not produce enough sheer volume of food,
is some version of organic agriculture.


Fertilize with manure,
do little tricks to help the soil hold the water,
like a sponge.

I've read about such methods,
outside of this particular book.

Now comes the idea
that I already understood from other sources,
and my own daydreams,
the idea that Kunstler really promotes,
but I'm truly worried that it simply won't work
on a large enough scale
to feed three hundred million Americans.

The idea is that folks will,
nearly all of us,
move to farms or small towns surrounded by farm land,
that nearly all of us will simply work,
and work hard,
to produce enough food for everyone.

This would eliminate the need for fossil fuels
to plow and plant,
if we use horses and mules,
which use pasture and hay
as their fuel.

It would certainly eliminate the need for fossil fuels
to get to work,
and to get to the grocery store;
and it would certainly eliminate the need for fossil fuels
to deliver the food to the grocery store.

We would simply feed ourselves,

I want to believe this;
in fact I'm reasonably certain that's what will happen,

But my guess is,
we simply don't have enough good land,
with enough rainfall,
and irrigation ruins soil,
by depositing mineral salts,
which reduce crop yields.

I'm truly concerned
that if we can't build efficient means of producing food
for three hundred million Americans,
with zero fossil fuels,
we could have massive famines,
right here in the USA.

I want the nuclear power plants
to power the electric trains,
to bring the food to my home town,
and the electric trolley cars
to get me to the store and back.

I'm willing to do what I can to feed my family,
from the land I'm living on,
but I live in the middle of Wichita;
I would need forty acres and a mule,
and no drought,
to do it.

Feeding ourselves will be practical
when we have only three million Americans,
not thirty million,
and certainly not three hundred million.

Which brings me back
to my old mantra,
that my sig line points to,
the only long term way
to make our human civilization sustainable:


At the same time we build those coal fired,
then nuclear,
power plants,
we need to persuade 99% of the people of the world,
and especially here in the USA,
to have one child per five couples,
for two generations,
until we have one percent of what we have now;
70 million humans on Earth.

Not 7 billion,
not 700 million,
but 70 million.

Then we can fertilize with manure,
and compost everything,
and when our favorite farm has a drought,
we will simply move to another backup farm,
one that has enough rain,
and no one else living there.

And then we won't need as much electricity, either.

We could use wood as fuel,
since the trees will grow faster than we would cut them down,
with only three million Americans.

Thanks for reading.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I spent my first four years in a place that had (8+ / 0-)

    no electricity, no running water, no road and no wheeled transport other than a horse-drawn wagon. I will grant that the winter temperatures there never fall as low as in northern North America, but it is quite possible for humans to thrive without the "modern" amenities, albeit at uban densities centralized waste treatment and disposal is a necessity. Otherwise, the population will be decimated by disease. Of course, then it's no longer necessary to worry about urban densities.

    The number of humans is less relevant as what they do with their waste.
    Besides that, I'd like to suggest that increasing populations are a response to stress, not affluence. Italy's indolent male population is not reproducing to excess. Of course, males don't reproduce themselves, so females have to be coerced -- a stressful situation.
    Take my word for it, for most females, pregnancy is not a pleasant experience. It either has to be rewarded or coerced. Which is why stingy Republicans are into coercion and Congress has been stalling the Violence Against Women prevention act.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 04:29:12 AM PST

  •  Wow! A Kansan who believes in contraception (6+ / 0-)

    as one of the cures for the world's ills.  Your politicians will be circling your home any time now.  But I agree that the ever-expanding population making demands on a steadily depleting resource supply will be our end on this planet.  The Richard Bransons of the world know this and are already planning to go elsewhere in the universe.  Unfortunately, this type of relocation is an option for only the very wealthy and their crews of the very highly skilled.
    Thanks for going back to basics, man's harnessing of the power of plant and animal life to sustain his own.  This part is quite biblical, which you can point out to Brownback when he comes after you.

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 04:36:37 AM PST

  •  There will be a slight delay (5+ / 0-)

    in the march to the end of the world.

    Since the book was written, fracking has happened and is just now shifting into high gear.

    And after that, ever more desperate measures will come. We will go out in the midst of a crescendo of epic but inadequate proportions.

    Or else we will build enough wind turbines and stuff, people having become contented enough to moderate and eventually reverse their own population growth.

    Nukes? Well, we did build one of this kind in the end, but it was not wanted.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:37:20 AM PST

    •  No alternative to the Rube Goldburg... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...conventional fission reactor will be embraced anytime soon by the Commercial Nuclear Sector. Why? Because it reduces (or in the case of thorium virtually eliminates) the single most asset they have: the veil of National Security to shield their operations from proper and common sense oversight and public review. As long as they are dealing with a potentially easily weaponized fuel source, they hold us hostage to what ever price and effort they assert is needed, including no limit government underwriting of construction and liability for waste. Any process that is "less deadly" destroys what approaches "blank check" territory. It's the reason they jumped on Rickover's solution for the Nuclear Navy, even as it was clear that other processes were at worst equally promising with additional R&D.

      When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Egalitare on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 06:08:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The link goes into that also. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Egalitare, bigjacbigjacbigjac

        The industry embraced the pwr because it was already developed, they thought it wouldn't cost them much to scale it up. And of course, the AEC gave them a mighty push in that direction as well.

        Your take on this topic is certainly unique, I'll give you that.

        It's rumored that the Chinese have some IFR type machines in their long range planning, out around 2030 or so.

        Although I used to work at the facility that was home to the IFR prototypes, I am only interested in the technology as a matter of nostalgia. If the Chinese or somebody else decides to pick it up later, it will be beyond my lifetime. I don't expect nuclear to play a part in any energy future I will see.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 07:52:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I used to build nuclear subs and carriers (3+ / 0-)

          As did my father and uncle. My father had more than one encounter with Rickover himself even though he was a tool inventory clerk. As part of quality control, Rickover insisted on tracking everything down to the tools used in the Reactor compartment. Two wrenches could be identical in every respect, but if one was in a designated Nuclear Tool Depot, it couldn't be used outside of Containment Assemby. EVER.

          Anyone who ever worked under Rickover knew his opinion of "Atoms for Peace." I admit without reservation that Rickover's perspective heavily influences my current biases. His last month overseeing the Navy's Nuclear program was my first on the job. My interpretation of his opinions are admitted second hand because I gathered them from the veterans who actually interacted with him, but the vast majority of them relayed the same general themes. As I have posted many times, Rickover probably felt we could have safe or "cheap" Commercial Nuclear power, never both. He was less concerned with the physics than he was with his experiences with Private Contractors who tended to valued profit over quality and safety in any project.

          When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

          by Egalitare on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 08:26:11 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You're right about Rickover. An anecdote... (3+ / 0-)

            He wasn't that much of an advocate of civilian nuclear power, knowing as well as he did the rigor it took to make the fairly small naval ones perform efficiently and safely.

            A lot of the hp techs at Argonne-West, where I worked, had come up in the nuclear navy and most of them had their "I was on a midnight watch and Rickover snuck up behind me" stories, which I found delightful.

            The anecdote I loved most, however, was told by a woman who had spent many years doing administrative work out at the "site". When she was new on the job, at the naval reactor facility, she was directed to take a message into a meeting attended by Rickover. She was told to not gawk around, just go directly to the congressman to whom the message had been sent, hand it to him, and get out of the room expeditiously. She got the job almost done right, but forgot which door she had come in. As luck would have it, the door she chose led into a broom closet. She nonchalantly continued on in and closed the door behind her. Then it occurred to her that others in the room might know she was in the closet and perhaps think she was trying to eavesdrop on secrets. So as gracefully as she could, she opened the door and exited. Unfortunately her heel hooked a mop on the way out, sending it toppling over onto the shoulder of Rickover himself. The rest is a blur to her, except for the fact that she somehow kept her job and eventually had this great story to tell. Sometime in the early 90s she told it to me. She was considerably more seasoned by then, and still a complete knockout in her late 50s. At that time she was also running a bar in her spare time, a bar that had been owned by her late father and had been passed down to her. A biker bar. Maxine was her name. A sweetheart, and formidable at the same time.

            Moderation in most things.

            by billmosby on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 08:58:46 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

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