The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Cent

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Cent

by James Howard Kunstler


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802142498
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/02/2006
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,311,583
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

James Howard Kunstler is the author of eight novels. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and an editor for Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Sunday Magazine. He lives in upstate New York.

Table of Contents

1Sleepwalking into the Future1
2Modernity and the Fossil Fuels Dilemma22
3Geopolitics and the Global Oil Peak61
4Beyond Oil: Why Alternative Fuels Won't Rescue Us100
5Nature Bites Back: Climate Change, Epidemic Disease, Water Scarcity, Habitat Destruction, and the Dark Side of the Industrial Age147
6Running on Fumes: The Hallucinated Economy185
7Living in the Long Emergency235

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The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Cent 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
tahoevalleylines More than 1 year ago
THE LONG EMERGENCY is more than a compendium of Kunstler's earlier writings and commentary on suburbia and America's loss of Main Streets. Consolidation of storefronts into big box malls was a local tragedy, to be sure. But Kunstler discerns another, less Chamber-Of-Commerce element lurking in the wings: the certitude of a reckoning with assumptions of cheap energy, always provided by drilling, digging, or technofix.

Master economists, more by luck than IQ, now it seems, rode the wave of cheap energy along with the rest of us, and now are eating humble pie. It is poetic justice that we shall all eat the pie together, and that is at the heart of our long emergency, nobody shall escape this. When a world economy built on cheap energy sees limits, we all become limited in our prospects, and must work together to pull through the trials ahead.

It is so much like todays financial headlines to read Kunstler's "Long Emergency", one can concentrate on Kunstler's closings wherein he deals with remedies, and imperatives for maintaining a semblance of American solidarity; what must in fact be done to hand on to our young the Union of States intact. JHK has a work list of ways and means of carrying on American Civilization that look very 19th century, and it is here that one must be most critical.

We shall gradually lose the oil and natural gas, and even the coal and shale resources have finite limits. Kunstler admits to electricity and nuclear and the common renewables like solar and wind generation. His fears center more on the political and social ramifications of the Oil Interregnum than ability of mankind to transition our affairs to oil depletion. There is a thread now running, the localization, or "Village" approach as a be-all & end-all. JHK is astute enough to include these shifts of living patterns, without using localization as a refuge, or final destination.

The clue in many of Kunstler's writings is his knack for including amenities, social as well as technical, that predate oil as a fuel, and must be carried by the family of man thru the Oil Interregnum, the period we are now entering, "The Long Emergency". Not a secret, just visualize America of the railroad century, roughly 1850-1950. Midpoint, people like Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, Sprague, and their enterprises gave us light and mobility, aside from the oil/auto economy. Kunstler gives few words to railways and electric streetcars, and the Societal & Commercial Cohesion afforded by the railway network we enjoyed even as the automobile engulfed us. This reference to railways is more than a passing thought; witness massive railway rehab and extension now underway in every single US economic competitor around the world, including new High Speed Rail in Mexico!

Paradixically, we enetered the automobile age with electric cars, and we shall leave the oil age likewise. Moreover, we know more than we did in the 1890's, and Kunstler tries to encourage us even as he sounds the alarm. His mention of railways is inclusive in localization, notwithstanding the current mega-rail mergers now extant. Branchlines and local rail lines are also budding under the radar. Companion read for Kunstler are books like "ELECTRIC WATER" by Christopher Swan, and titles by Richard Heinberg. Websites like "" and "" (see articles 374 & 1037) help us see JHK's viewpoin
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book lays out scenarios of the future that I wish everyone considered. I think it is a widely accepted fact that there is a finite amount of oil on the Earth, and we should anticipate and prepare for a point where this supply fails to meet the demand. This book explores this issue of oil depletion, and tries to paint what a future without abundant oil might look like. Along the way you might pick up a few ideas about what you can do to prepare for such a future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Others have characterized this book as an overwrought jeremiad. Sad, but true. The text is almost guaranteed to impose a 'Chicken Little' patina on concerns about peak oil and/or global warning. It could not be more strident or self-righteous if it were coauthored Limbaugh and O'Reilly. It is surprisingly hard to give a faithful characterization of a rant - rants tend to be uneven. For example, there are pages of useful text describing methods used to study climate history (ice cores from Greenland). Then comes a statement that the last 100,000 years has been a climatic rollercoaster. You might think that this would provoke a statement of how difficult it is to forecast weather reliably, and the further difficulty of getting a robust read humanity's contribution to that variation. But no, we are simply treated to a statement that greenhouse gases will make everything 'worse'. The author repeatedly embarrasses himself with technical discussions that wind up unconnected to the conclusion he wants to draw. It is 'lawyerly', in the sense that 'winning the argument' is all-important while 'mechanisms' are mere trivialities. There are lots of problems with this book and other reviews do a good job of identifying them. If you think (as I do) that geological constraints on oil production might have serious repercussions for our economy then there are much better sources for information (see 'titles enjoyed', below). I don't think that people need to waste energy on this, an SUV of a jeremiad.
emjayecks on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Somewhat disconcerted by his antagonism towards "Islam" without any nuance whatsoever. This does not improve by the end of the book. Too little evidence/justification for his assumptions as was required.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a terrible book, and I write that as one who takes peak oil and climate change seriously. The book is written in a style that can be described as 'Late Boomer Curmudgeon', which is to say, most of it consists of Kunstler expounding his alternative history of industrial civilization, laced with expressions of his contempt for consumer culture. The book reads as though Kunstler is so used to deference from his audience - or is so taken with his own worldview - that he doesn't need to base his hunches about the future on actual analysis or data. Kunstler attributes the future collapse of our civilization to two main factors (climate change and disease prompt extended, gloomy digressions, but he doesn't seem to expect them to land the death-blows): peak oil and (not to put too fine a point on it) Islam. His dismissal of alternatives to our reliance on petroleum is mostly conclusory (he appears to ignore gains in efficiency entirely), which is a shame, since this is a vital part of his argument. Kunstler's hostility to the Islamic world is one of the least appealing and most parochial aspects of the book, and shows his tendency (which appears again in the book's final chapter) to analyze geopolitics in simplistic 'clash of civilization' terms.Another frustrating aspect of Kunstler's book is his invocation of 'entropy', which he describes correctly as a scientific concept, but then employs as a moral metaphor to censure anything he finds disorderly or unpleasant - above all, the extraction, combustion, and use of petroleum. For example, here's his account of why the First World War broke out: "I think only an ecological explanation will suffice. World War I happened just as the industrial nations had entered a crucial transition from the coal phase into the industrial phase of the industrial narrative. The human race was in the process of ratcheting up from one level of high-entropy activity to a yet higher one, meaning that there would be many more by-products of increased entropy as oil came into greater use...The sudden increase in these and other energy discharges by the great nations led quite naturally to an increase in entropic by-products, namely disorder, environmental destruction, and death." This isn't science, or even thoughtful history; it's the old argument that a human catastrophe was a divine punishment for man's Godless ways, dressed up for a secular age. In a nutshell, that's Kunstler: he's a morally conservative prophet, looking backwards (to when is never exactly clear; perhaps the early 1800s). His final 'it's not all bad' chapter elevates rural New England and the Great Lakes states as civilization's best hope for the future, while condemning the rest of the U.S. to race wars (between whites and Hispanics in the Southwest, against Asian pirates in the Pacific Northwest, and between blacks and whites in the southeast). Climate change and resource depletion -- fresh water as much as fossil fuels -- threaten to make millions of people's lives shorter and miserable unless nations and communities evolve rapidly towards sustainability. But Kunstler's jeremiad is sloppy and self-indulgent, and that's no help at all.
chilee on LibraryThing 5 months ago
If you want to feel uncomfortable, this is a book for you. Kunstler doesn't greenwash the future, and cuts to the chase. It's interesting to read articles in the newspaper about peak oil, and then realize Kunstler has already clearly explained the ramifications of it.
flourishing on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Good book, still somewhat unconvincing, but certainly enough to creep me out about the possibilities of the near future.
rakerman on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Preliminary review:Although a genius at hilariously critiquing American suburbia, Kunstler seems to me a bit out of his depth in geopolitics.The book starts off strong discussing peak oil but then gets off track on a long discussion of Middle East politics with, well, a vastly oversimplified, naive, American-innocent and Islamic-fundamentalism-paranoid, Iraq-war-apologist view. I was actually quite disheartened that a man as obviously intelligent as Kunstler could have such an "Innocents Abroad" view of the situation. It's one of those cases that arises sometimes in books where the author would have been better off doing a couple paragraphs on the really important elements that are key to his book, and then pointing at other, better books for detailed explanations.I had critiqued The Geography of Nowhere for being too American-centric but in retrospect perhaps it was for the best, given the shallowness of Kunstler's worldview outside of the United States. It's not that he doesn't get chunks of it right, and he does include disclaimers about some of the complexities, but there are layers and layers of events and history that he glosses over, while other parts are either exaggerated or ignored. If you think I'm overstating the case, here's an example of his analysis: "The avatars of inflamed Islam want to utterly destroy the infidel West, and its Great Satan seducer, the United States, and they mean down to the last beating heart."With the above in mind, I advise skipping Chapter 3 "Geopolitics and the Global Oil Peak" altogether.There is another system flaw in the book, which is that it is very weakly referenced, the chapter on Beyond Oil is good in that it discusses the lifecycle production issues for "alternative" energy systems, reminding the reader that a wind turbine doesn't just pop out of the ground one night, it requires a huge end-to-end system of mining, transporting, manufacturing, delivering and maintenance, all of which are currently oil-powered. However this chapter, like the others, has only a handful of footnoted references. It also has no mention of geothermal power.He follows the chapter about alternative energy with one on basically everything that could possibly go wrong with Nature. While this catalogue is certainly depressing, again I'm not sure how useful it is. Something like "there is universal consensus that disruptive climate change is coming, along with other challenges from our natural environment such as disease" would have done just as well, rather than listing doomsday scenarios with little or no references and no indications of relative probability.Towards the end he drifts into his own utopian fantasy, which is that life in the north-eastern American small town is the sustainable ideal.The book also has no endnotes, bibliography, or index.
BPLRA on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A bleak take on the future after the oil runs dry. Thoughtful and well researched although at times depressing. One does need hope.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Great book an what could be the coming near-future life without oil. Covers various regions of the US and the prospects for the continuing of civilization as we knkow it.
mikeyarmo on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Too much fear, not enough possible action. Also totally United States specific. At one point says many people will leave the country... but where will they go? Also the book deals solely with the oil shortage/peak oil surpassed scenario, and while it does mildly touch some other areas it is too narrowly focused.
kitamurdock on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I gave this book 3 stars because I had a feeling while reading it that the author was pulling facts out of thin air. There's basically no appendix (if there is one, I can't remember) and yet the book is full of facts to support his thesis, which is basically that we are going to run out of oil and be forced into a lifestyle that resembles that of the Middle Ages. That said, I am really glad I read this book. It really made me consider that oil is NOT renewable energy, that we will run out of it someday (whether it's as soon as he predicts or not), and that we need to do something to prevent this and give our children hope for a better future. Even though there are flaws, I would still recommend this book. It definitely forces you to stop and think about what you're personally doing to the environmental destruction of our planet.
desmodia More than 1 year ago
I don't understand why people still cling to Julian Simon as a refutation of limits. We live in a real and finite world. I was deeply affected by Kunstler's analysis of what will NOT be able to replace oil. I hear people talking blithely about hydrogen fuel cells. Used to feel like it might be a solution but no more. Several people have objected to this book  because it's pessimistic and dark. I would use the words "realistic" and "plausible." Just because we can't imagine the consequences of less to no oil doesn't mean that it can't happen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A bleak outlook indeed. At 65 I may be blessed and miss the worst, but wonder about my children and grandchildren. Hope they hang on to our acreage when we are gone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this for a class. Kunstler has very bleak predictions about our future, but he provided a lot of ideas that makes you think.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago