Best Peak Oil Prose Award

Sharon July 14th, 2008

Ok, you all know that I’ve had my differences, some polite, some not so much with James Kunstler.  But I have to tell you that for sheer ferocious, delicious prose, there is no one like him.  There’s nobody out there in the peak oil movement, and precious few anywhere who can write like this –

“There’s a particular moment known to all Baby Boomers when Wile E. Coyote, in a rapture of over-reaching, has run past the edge of the mesa and, still licking his chops and rubbing his front paws in anticipation of fricasseed roadrunner, discovers that he is suspended in thin air by nothing more than momentum. Grin becomes chagrin. He turns a nauseating shade of green, and drops, whistling, back to earth thousands of feet below, with a distant, dismal, barely audible thud at the end of his journey. We are Wile E. Coyote Nation.
Is there anyone in the known universe who thinks that the US financial system is not fifty feet beyond the edge of the mesa of credibility?

 Nothing will avail now. Not even if Sirhan Sirhan were paroled at noon today and transported directly to the West Wing with a .44 magnum in each hand (and a taxi driven by the Devil waiting outside to take him to the US Treasury and the offices of the Federal Reserve).”

Kunstler is almost certainly right – the markets aren’t buying the bailout – so you get to have your pocket picked, your children impoverished and you get your Depression anyway.  Check the news out at   But more importantly, reading about your doom should always be fun.  As you hear the bad news, it is always good to be thinking “Shit, this guy can write” rather than “Well, I guess Mom will have move in with us and we’ll be giving up luxuries like meat and more than 1 pair of shoes each.”  And hey, we’ve got to take what pleasures are available to us.


34 Responses to “Best Peak Oil Prose Award”

  1. Oh, isn’t it the truth! I read you because you are so kind and earnest and real. I read Jim because he is almost precisely the opposite.

    I think I heard him say once that he sees his role in this life as somewhere between a Cassandra and a comedian. He’s definitely both. I can’t even hear the phrases “salad shooter” and “creamy nougat center” without doubling up in laughter….

  2. Segwyne says:

    I, too, look forward each Monday to reading what Mr. Kunstler has written. I love his metaphors and his blunt use of such colorful descriptors.

  3. Peaksurfer says:

    The cutesy prose is the sweet aroma that draws you in. What I like is when he peels away the dressing and gets to the meat. Today’s post struck me hardest towards the end, with this language, that is both a prescription you could run for office on, and a prediction that you cannot ignore:

    “… [W]e’ve got to get to work re-tooling all the everyday activities of life, including the way we grow our food, the way we raise and deploy capital, the way we do trade and manufacturing, the way we go from point A to point B, the way we educate children, the way we stay healthy, and the way we occupy the landscape. I know, it sounds like a lot, maybe too much. But grok this: we don’t have any choice if we want a plausible future on this portion of the North American continent.
    Of course, none of that is likely to happen. Instead, and under the worst imaginable economic conditions, we’ll probably embark on a campaign to prop up the un-prop-up-able and sustain the unsustainable — that is, defend every status quo habit and behavior that we’re used to, whether it can be salvaged or not. Of course, this would be a fatal squandering of our dwindling resources, but it it tends, historically, to be the last act of the melodrama in any faltering empire.”

  4. Shane says:

    Kunstler, as much as I love his work, often reminds me of one of the themes in Kundera’s “Unbearable Lightness of Being”. It is the people who actively worked against a political or historic force who inadvertently gave justification to that force (ie the people photographing the soldiers and tanks rolling into the city in fact helped reassure the army and the people being invaded that they were doing something important and necessary given there were so many shifty radicals around with cameras).

    What unintended consequences do Kunstler’s (or for that matter Sharon’s) writings have? They arent widely read at the moment but could rapidly be thrust into the mainstream limelight. Even words at the margin can have major effects. Does warning about a corn-pone Hitler too far in advance actually condition people to accept one as inevitable when he appears? Or even would immunising a population against the establishment of an authoritarian government lead to the formation of possibly something far worse, like the complete collapse of civil order?

    A dear peak oil aware friend has been engaging in a long running battle of letters to the editor with a techno-cornocopian. I think the only end result is that the general person reading the paper became at first amused by their fight, then finally bored with the whole topic. Meanwhile my friend’s garden lies neglected for the most part and his family is unprepared to grow more than the occasional salad.

  5. Oh, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Kunstler’s rants do nothing but feed into the endoftheworldasweknowit die-hards. They offer absolutely nothing practical and this particularly flatulent screed is about as useful as some of the things he’s railing against. Really, how can anyone take him seriously?

    His prose is rife with ad hominem attacks that can do nothing but ostracize those he expects to make major lifestyle changes that are necessary for the rest of America to obtain “a plausible future”. Who is going to motivate that group? Certainly not Kunstler. But that just confirms his expectations of social and economic Armageddon. Why do anything about it? We’re all doomed. Aaaah! And on the other side, his false bonhomie with his readers comes across more as detestation than cooperation. It’s every man for himself! [Except the women... that's another story.]

    His idea that the universe actually works by running on earnest effort and truthfulness is laughable at best. The universe doesn’t give a shit about earnest effort or truthfulness. At least I don’t remember any of that from my physics and astronomy studies. And, why are we bombing Vegas? Even if it’s an earnest effort, the symbolic gesture escapes me.

    I was thinking of reading his latest book, but if this is the kind of diarrhetic writing I am to be subjected to, I’m not sure I can stomach it. (Although I do see that his new novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is available at all booksellers. Good thing there hasn’t been an interruption in the publishing industry and distribution. We wouldn’t want to upset the status quo habit and behavior of his book buyers.)

    Wheee! Perhaps I’m guilty of writing a similar harangue, but there you have it!

  6. Hummingbird says:

    Oh, come on Crunchy, I laughed out loud when I read it and then read it aloud to the household. Kuntsler is no saint, but as Sharon says, he sure can write! There hasn’t been a lot of entertainment in Peak Oildom lately, at least not since Daniel Yergin Day, and the current utterly dire situation is perfect for his wildly over-the-top prose style.

    Like many here I read Sharon for the richness of her teaching content and style, but also for the inventive flourishes and entertaining flashes of this same wild talent as when the blog opened with the sheep on her porch or the one that urged us not to despair because her family “had harvested all the good bugs and we were left with ones she didn’t even have a recipe for.” This is great stuff, and so necessary in these sobering times.

  7. Sharon says:

    Crunch, I know what you mean. But I think the man is so damned funny sometimes that it is worth it all. Maybe because I used to teach English literature – almost everyone who can really write was a horrible, awful person (not saying Kunstler is or isn’t – I don’t know enough about his personal life to judge) who you’d hate to have at your dinner table. But the sheer aesthetic pleasure of the writing, well, that’s something.


  8. Sharon says:

    I’m also not sure, btw, that all Kunstler does is feed the end of the worldies – he’s all over the mainstream media in a lot of ways. His stuff about peak oil was making it into Rolling Stone *four years ago* – I have an ambivalent relationship (if you can call one meeting a relationship) with the guy himself and a somewhat hostile one to some of his ideas – but I think he does get his props for alerting far more people than you or me to peak oil and even climate change – I wasn’t writing much about climate change in 2004 – were you? And not everyone who learned something from Kunstler became a Kunstlerite, anymore than reading me makes my relatives buy what I’m saying ;-) .

    Look, I’m horrified to think that this sounds like “I was on a panel with the guy and now we’re all kissy face” (ok, you got me, I slept with him after the panel – and he was great – just as manly as you’d expect…kidding ;-) ) but I really liked the above piece, and I think he deserves credit where it is due for a. kick ass writing and b. reaching people who will then end up on my blog, and yours and at various other green sites thinking – what the hell do I do now??


  9. greentangle says:

    All depends on one’s preferences and values and opinion of human nature. I came of age in what’s known as “the 60s” and have been disgusted by mainstream life ever since.

    Most people like to think they’re in control of their lives; I think that’s a complete illusion and have never had much interest in the so-called practical, pre- or post-apocalypse. I’m more interested in contemplating values and ethics such as taoism, deep ecology, and the best relationship between humans and other species and the natural world.

    I think Kunstler is great fun to read (much like Ed Abbey, an old favorite) and right on target about what the future holds, and I feel more than fine about the end of the world as we know it. Until there’s a huge decline in the number of people, and the survivors are living much more simply, there’s no possibility of the kind of world I’d prefer (not that I expect to be around to enjoy it, but at this point I’m more concerned about other species than I am about me or you). It would be nice if the kind of folks on sites like this made up a significant portion of the survivors, but I have my doubts. Good luck, though.

  10. Hummingbird says:

    Yes, I am one who can credit Kuntsler for alerting me to Peak Oil in 2004 when I heard an interview on Free Speech tV and ordered his book. He has gotten the word to a lot of people, which does not mean I agree with his take on a lot of things.

  11. Sharon – I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Anyway, just because he’s been doing it longer than everyone else doesn’t mean that he’s going about it the right way. Whatever that is. But you forgot the biggest section of the public: c. people who think he’s a total nutjob and will discount everything he says as being crazy.

    I don’t pretend to think that the general public is sophisticated enough to look beyond the hyperbole in his writing and his style. You have a 5 second attention span out there and if their first and only exposure to peak oil and climate change is Kunstler, well, a lot of them are going to be turned off and it’s going to be real hard to turn them on again.

    You, on the other hand, seem to be quite turned on, however. Tee hee!

    But, I will concede, he does have an engaging writing style at times, even if it’s just preaching to the choir. The problem I have is that he does have a wide audience through outlets like Rolling Stone. I think he’s squandering it with his extreme message. People need leaders to guide them through tough times and to help them make decisions. Not someone firing a shotgun over their heads.

  12. Hummingbird says:

    Or maybe he cuts through the apathy BECAUSE he is so over the top. Most will think he’s crazy–but they will hear SOMETHING and maybe remember it next time they fill up thieir tank or spend $200 at the grocery store. Maybe he will find a chnk in the denial for some. Can’t hurt..

  13. Hummingbird, I wish you were right although I get the feeling that the next time most people fill up their tanks they are thinking that off-shore drilling sounds like a good idea, regardless of its benefits. What is needed is a strong, sane message to counter-balance the drivel about our oil future and how we can rescue ourselves by more drilling, or worse, hydrogen.

  14. Rosa says:

    I do credit him for being part of a general movement towards holding on to living in the city to be “cool”. Well, credit might be the wrong word, because I’m absolutely certain he isn’t aiming for a hipster audience.

    I know a *lot* of people who bike everywhere, would rather die than live in the suburbs, are vegetarian or vegan, and have at most two kids, not for environmental reasons but because of a definite feeling that people who don’t do that are lame. Geography of Nowhere floated around those circles, big time – I picked it up at an Uptown garage sale several years ago, along with a fixie frame for my friend and some tattoo-pattern t-shirts.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Crunch, the general public isn’t going to listen to anything about peak oil no matter where it comes from. They don’t want to hear it and don’t want to listen. That 5 second attention span has come from a lifetime of conditioning. *No one* has any chance of waking up the average joe at this point -he is going to have to wake up on his own. People like Kunstler and Sharon only reach those who are all ready awake and thinking and are looking around going wtf is wrong here?

    Kunstler isn’t even pretending to be a leader. He’s a prophet, and there’s a huge difference.

    My feelings about Kunstler are mixed. On the one hand, I think he’s a racist, sexist pig. But on the other, I love his writing. The writer in me can’t help but grin everytime I read something like the passages above. I read his blog every week, and while I don’t always agree with what he says, I enjoy the writing nonetheless. I think Kunstler may have woken more people up to Peak Oil than anyone else.

  16. Susan in NJ says:

    I haven’t read much Kunstler and never heard of him before reading Sharon’s blog and similar. I clicked through and read several of his blog entries and apart from the evocative Wile E. Coyote metaphor, I didn’t find much of interest in his rant or much to appreciate in his writing that would lead me to return.
    And even the metaphor is flawed if you try and push it. Although Coyote never learns, he always survives to try, try again. Don’t get me started on the roadrunner.
    So put me in the Crunchy camp on this one.

  17. Rebecca – I really can’t believe that people are that hopeless. It strikes me as being defeatist and that’s just not the way my brain operates. I agree that people don’t want to hear about peak oil and don’t want to listen because it’s an extremely scary idea being presented. Particularly if it’s being presented as an end of the world scenario. I know Kunstler would argue that he is not an apocalypticus (kind of like a platypus, but with a mustache), that he’s just portraying a realistic future that resorts back to an agrarian society. I think that’s a false scenario based more on his agrarian fantasy than on a reality-based one. But that’s a whole post on its own.

    I’m sure that over time people will eventually draw their own conclusions about it (when it’s finally in their faces), but I think getting the message across sooner rather than later can help prepare people and, ultimately, society and business to adapt instead of just waking up one day and wondering WTF happened.

  18. Vegan says:

    Although I don’t feel comfortable with Kunstler’s blunt and vulgar style (or view of women), I do appreciate his work in alerting me, family and friends to Peak Oil, etc. Kunstler’s 2005 book “The Long Emergency” and Michael Ruppert’s 2004 book “Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil” were indispensable early eye-openers regarding the corrupt US Empire and what we’re facing today and what will most likely transpire in the future.

  19. Sharon says:

    Ok, I’m hoping now that I never meet Kunstler again, because I’m always, always going to think of him as an apocalypticus, a platypus with a mustache (Just fyi, Kunstler now has a very-70s style mustache, which quite startled me when I met him). That’s really funny.

    I don’t know Crunchy, I really don’t. The two most common places people (at least the people I know who read my stuff) discover peak oil that I’ve heard of are The Long Emergency and Matt Savinar’s Peak Oil site. Both of them are over-the-top apocalyptic in their descriptions of things. And while some of their readers go on to have an over-the-top apocalyptic perspective, most of them don’t seem to – that is, a surprising number of people who read me, or John Greer (who is less doomy than me) or The Oil Drum report that they learned about PO from Life After the Oil Crash or The Long Emergency. They don’t necessarily agree with everything they say, but it was those sources that finally laid things out in hard enough terms that people got it. I think maybe Hummingbird has a point – that sometimes things need to be said loud and clear.

    It is true that most of us, me certainly included, are preaching to the converted – the difference, however, between me and Kunstler is that he’s bringing in new converts big time – he’s the guy getting people to google peak oil and find my site. Now one interpretation of my kind words about him would be that I’m a whore (and, after all, I said I did him, so how hard is that ;-) ), and I’m saying this just because people find me because of him, but I don’t honestly think that. I think that a certain percentage of people are turned off by what Kunstler is saying – just as a certain percentage of my readers are turned off by what I’m saying, and some (fewer, obviously) are turned off by what you say. But I think some people do listen, and wouldn’t hear if it wasn’t said in terms hard enough to shock and distract.

    Again, I disagree with Kunstler on a lot of things. I admit that being on the panel with him softened me on him in one respect – I had, until now, seen him as someone who was mean, when he was, primarily because it was funny and fun. When I saw him speak, he talked about how he’s often seen as an ironist, but how he doesn’t actually have a lot of respect for irony, or detachment. And what I did see when I heard him talk was that his anger is the anger of a person who truly and deeply believes we can and could have done better – it is frustration, and the fury of the disillusioned romantic. And since I’m rather a disillusioned romantic myself – I too believe we have the powerful capacity to make change, and that we are squandering it, it did soften me on Kunstler some. The anger is real, and it is underlaid with a kind of passionate belief that we don’t have to be here. I’d never found that in Kunstler’s writings – which seemed to be much more detached. And I can understand why this would actually send you running for the bathroom, but it is true nonetheless. I still think Kunstler makes a lot of mistakes, but I can understand them a little better, and appreciate the artfulness of what he does better.

    It was funny – Colin Beavan asked on the panel how many people feel helpless. I didn’t raise my hand, although it was a tough choice not to. Kunstler did – although he clearly couldn’t decide whether he should or not. I thought that was a fascinating moment – and a sad one – here’s someone who prescience, for good or ill has bought him a platform you and I can only dream of, and he feels helpless. Now it is perfectly possible he’d feel less helpless if what he did was more productive. It is also possible that he is doing it as well as he can, using what he’s got in all its limits, and he knows it isn’t enough. I honestly don’t know – but I found Kunstler in person oddly poignant, which is strange.

    Ok, Crunch is puking up a storm.


  20. Hummingbird says:

    It seems that the reasonable approach, Heinberg for instance, never gets heard beyond the converted.

  21. Rosa says:

    I just don’t have the stomach for the boys seeing who can piss farthest, whether they’re seeing who can give the bitterest vision of the future, antagonizing the cops in a protest line, refusing to make the ecovillage more accessible because only the macho is green, or whatever.

    One of Colin Beavan’s best qualities is his willingness to admit that he’s learning from others, instead of just preaching from on high. Other than him, I generally stick with woman bloggers, because they don’t encourage the “I’m smarter than you” nonsense. I really admire your willingness to wade into discussions on The Oil Drum, because every time I try to read the site I end up feeling like I was having a conversation around a trough urinal at the stadium.

  22. Sharon says:

    Rosa, I love that analogy – it made me laugh out loud. I can’t remember who said it (Susie Bright? Molly Ivins? Some funny woman I like) but there was someone who said, “I’ve been accused of Freudian Penis Envy, and I’ve been accused of being a Castrating Bitch. Both are true – not only do I want to cut off your dicks, I want to keep them for myself.” While I don’t think I suffer from either condition, I do think I could make the same joke – I don’t mind the guy stuff because I do think that the pissing contests sometimes are over interesting things, and I take a perverse pleasure from butting into the pissing contests and seeing how people react ;-) . But then again, as a friend of mine once said, “For a breastfeeding woman, Sharon, you are kind of a guy.” I look at the other women who do well in the PO world, and I think most of them are kind of guys too – I’m hoping that pretty soon it won’t be necessary to be guy-like in order to be a PO figure.


  23. Sharon, you just need to team up with another pair :)

  24. Squrrl says:

    I’m going to have to side with Sharon pretty completely on this one. First of all, she’s right about the over-the-top rhetoric being eye-catching, though in my case my first clear awareness of the situation came from Savinar, not Kunstler. From the beginning, though, I’ve really felt that after years and years of first shouting “Hey, we’re all f*d if we don’t do something soon,” and then “we’re all f*d if we don’t do something NOW”, now that the situation is pretty much we’re all f*d if we don’t do something yesterday, he’s mostly just gleefully shouting “Hahahahah I told you so.” Which, honestly, seems like a justifiable reaction. I don’t know if he has the mentality or even the experience to write the sort of domestic, concretely helpful suggestions that Sharon does, but he’s done what he knows to do with all his heart. (Wow…that sounds condescending. I don’t know the man…I’m just guessing here, and saying that I have sympathy for the man I think I see.)

    Meanwhile, I have a pretty sooty sense of humor myself, and don’t mind a dose of gleeful viciousness now and then. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after this particularly brutal line in an earlier post: “Lunch breaks may soon be a thing of the past for WalMart Associates. Maybe they’ll just play video games on their cell phones in the parking lot to allay their hunger.” I thought of a previous poster here who mentioned people calling a bill-assistance hotline to ask for help paying the cable bill.

  25. Sharon says:

    Oy, it is bad enough having a big pair of boobs on my chest some days – I have no idea how men manage even those little ones in such an inconvenient spot. No thanks.

    Must ask husband how he manages ;-) .

    Sharon, who anticipates a wet sponge being flung her way any moment now, as dish-doing husband realizes what she’s doing.

  26. Vegan says:

    Here’s a male blogger whose style may not please many, but who speaks the truth.

    Hey, Sharon, I admire courageous women who exhibit their non-existent COJONES. Are breasts more powerful than cojones?

  27. Peaksurfer says:

    I stepped away from this thread for a day and am kind of amazed to see it still going. So I am diving back in.

    This is Albert Bates here. I am somebody who was writing about climate change 27 years ago, and although I was aware of peak oil back during the Carter Administration, I tended towards techno-optimism until Peter Bane gave me a copy of Richard Heinberg’s Party’s Over. After reading that I dusted off and re-read my copy of The Prize, went to the archival files on Hubbert, and then in rapid succession absorbed The Long Emergency, Beyond Oil, Twilight in the Desert, and pretty much every book that has come out since (including the galleys of Depletion and Abundance).

    The Long Emergency was less impressive to me than World Made By Hand, probably because Kunstler has such a warped understanding of Southern culture (which, in my rural part of Tennessee, is more Amish and Mennonite than NASCAR and squirrel hunters) and history. I won’t reargue the War of Northern Aggression here, but Kunstler displays the same kind of cartoon sense of US history that he decries in others. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

    Kunstler is an admirable wordsmith and even more impressive performer. His stage background serves his mission well. I remember watching him hold forth from the stage in Cooper Union at the Local Futures conference. He was very sparing with his slides, but they were funny and pointed. One was of a big 747 pulled up to the gas pump, and the pilot leans out and says, “Fill it up with technology.”

    He had just been to Google HQ and so his story tilted out in that direction — the techno-cornucopians with their childish toys and undaunted optimism.

    It seems most often the case that when I get on a program at all, I get only 10 minutes just before the lunch break after being told to prepare a 30-40 minute talk. I could use more of Kunstler’s improvisational skill, but I am starting to gradually learn it the hard way. At that Local Futures talk I used my scarce minutes to introduce a non-peak-oil theme — isotherm migration (the idea that climate is migrating poleward from 30 to 400 miles per decade, depending on your location). Kunstler was in the audience, but he apparently failed to grasp the significance or do the math, or perhaps he just didn’t believe it, because WMBH lacks plausibility in the climate change area.

    Personally, I get much more morbid when speaking of climate change then anything that can be said about peak oil, subprime mortgages, Fannie and Freddy, the Bush cabal, or even nuclear Armageddon.

    Matt Savinar was also at that conference and had a hilarious presentation. I tried to meet him in person afterwards but he disappeared in a blink. At the busy bar scene that night, Kunstler was swarmed, so I stayed back in the corner with my ginger ale and tried to strike up a conversation with locals. I have a hard time raising my voice in loud scenes, something about 35 years in eco-community, and many mistake that for shyness. I had the same problem the next time I had a shot at Kunstler, which was in his hospitality suite at the Houston ASPO. He had just grown his mustache and was working the room, but it was very loud and excessively crowded, not my scene, so I split.

    So, anyway, here is my take on Kunstler the man. He is an artist and a poet. He gets to take a few liberties in search of creative expression. It is not all gems. The crude dumps on women and various other grossnesses can be excused because the man is a loner, a hermit. Here at The Farm we had decades of gestalt therapy that rubbed a lot of rough edges off even the most hardened egos. Try living in a 2 bedroom house with 30 other people for 15 years and see what happens to you.

    Kunstler is a town crier, not the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. He won’t help you get down from your acid trip. If anything, he will only make it worse. Like when someone said to Harry Truman, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” and Truman replied, “I just give them the truth, and they think its Hell.”

    Before I latched on to the truth of climate change in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I had already busted my illusions about nuclear power. I have gotten into trouble with Holocaust survivor descendents for publicly comparing nuclear power to the Holocaust, but I honestly believe that there is no moral distinction. I tend to view nuclear power in all its iterations as qualitatively undifferentiated from burning children in furnaces to produce electricity for home entertainment centers and plug-in hybrids. It is all the more gross because you can build 6 times more capacity of offshore wave energy for every dollar thrown into the genetic-furnace of nuclear energy.

    Kunstler is ambivalent about nuclear power, and we have exchanged communications about that with no change in either of our opinions.

    It is not appropriate to ask Kunstler to become something he is not. He has not had farming experience, so expecting him to speak of that in an informed way is unreasonable. The same is true of his experience with intentional community, complimentary currencies, stand-alone photovoltaics, solar cookers, or compost toilets. I don’t expect to hear much from him about any of that. He is only mediocre in new media like the web or podcasts. We have yet to see him in a DVD of his own, beyond End of Suburbia.

    He is very good at other things. He is a scholar of urban design and the built environment (comparable to Jane Jacobs), a futurist, and an artist at the top of his art. World Made By Hand is surprising in many ways, and I think one that most impressed me was the twist of the supernatural, which was both prophetic and plausible. Agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies are much more likely to have mystical connections to the natural world, and many of those will never be explained by any scientific method. That doesn’t make them any less real.

    Kunstler is a Tsadek. The name comes from the Hebrew word Tsodek meaning ‘to be right’, which is also the Hebrew word for ‘to be correct’, which is also related to the Hebrew word for ‘to be righteous’. The Hebrew word for ‘a righteous one’ is Tsadek; one who is righteous. The Hebrew word for ‘righteousness’ is also the Hebrew word for ‘charity’, Tsdaka.

    As a Tsadek, Kunstler gets to argue with God. He can curse, he can wail, he can try to shame God. It doesn’t matter. God doesn’t lose his authority. And who knows? Maybe Kunstler will be heard and God will do something.

    Referring (it is generally thought) to Bob Dylan, Don McLean wrote:

    When the jester sang for the King and Queen
    In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
    And a voice that came from you and me
    Oh, and while the King was looking down
    The jester stole his thorny crown
    The courtroom was adjourned
    No verdict was returned

    Kunstler is also the Jester. We would all be much poorer without The Jester.

  28. greentangle says:

    Enjoyed your comments, Albert, though I disagree with some of them. There’s constant similar argument about the possibility of right and wrong methods in my areas of interest, environmental and animal groups. I tend to prefer the radicals and think the mainstream is the problem not the solution, which no doubt explains why I enjoy Kunstler. But whichever one’s preference, I think the idea that everyone should write or act in one way is a bad one. Every method will appeal to someone.

  29. Brian M. says:

    I don’t think Kunstler or Samivar were my first exposure to PO, but they were early ones, and two other people in my community I just talked to about what got them into peak oil both had exactly the same reaction to Kunstler as I did. They read a little and said to themselves “I don’t agree with this guy but he is sure onto something, I better do some more research about this … ” Maybe audiences are a little more sophisticated than we give them credit for. People don’t really have 5-second attention spans even if we paint them that way, and people can be discerning even if the media trains them not to be. An idea can be planted and grow slowly only to come out looking a lot different than the fruit and the seed hidden in it. Good ole Sturgeon’s Law says “90% of everything is crud.” But that isn’t quite an insult, we sort through the 90% to get the other 10%.

    I must say I was pretty skeptical and leery about Hand Made World too, but am finding myself pleasantly surprised by it.

    Maybe it’s just so refreshing to see real anger and venom rather than endless veneers of blandly manufactured official optimism. I don’t know. You know early Anthony Bourdain was gleefully vicious and it was a joy, but then when he did the Cook’s Tour stuff he traveled around the world and ate in many locales including among the very poor, and it clearly humbled and shamed him some about his past excesses. But part of the result was an interesting nuanced balance. There is an analogy here somewhere but I can’t quite form it. The culinary world has room for a lot of personas and functions, the dedication of an Alice Waters, the thoughtfulness of a Thomas Keller, but also the bad-boy flamboyance of an early Bourdain, heck even the non-threatening accessibility of a Racheal Ray. There are similar spreads in the world of film, or political activism. Heck even my tiny area of formal logic has folk staking out role-niches like respected-authority, brooding-theorist, bad-boy flamboyant boundery-tester, and upbeat shameless promoter of the topic. Perhaps if Kunstler hadn’t staked out his niche early on, it would be necessary by now for someone else to have filled it. In fact, just as Bourdain eventually moved from the bad-boy role to the mature authority-figure role, maybe it is close to time for Kunstler to shift gears to more sober, balanced reflection and let some new upstart take up the banner of venom and boundary-testing. I don’t know. Just thinking out loud. Maybe if my own writing was polished and bitingly-insightful-funny enough I’d do it, or maybe Orlov can do it. Hmm..
    -Brian M.

  30. Peaksurfer says:

    Brian –

    Dmitry certainly has the wry wit. His sarcasm is more restrained than Jim’s. If Jim struck a more statesmanlike pose I don’t think Dmitry would fill the void. It would take a flamer somewhere in the deep ozone to make these guys seem normal.

    I have noticed that Matt Simmons is taking on a much sharper edge lately, getting the eyeballs rolling at CNBC and raising eyebrows even among other big oil people. He and Boone Pickens fully understand they will be ridiculed in the near term. Their reputation long term is secure. The same is true of Kunstler, but I don’t think that is what motivates any of them.

    What was it Thoreau said? “What is the good of having a nice house without having a decent planet to put it on?” Reputations are meaningless in the end if there is no-one left to regard them. If shocking statements is what it takes to sound the alarm, screw reputation.

    BTW, I enjoyed the foodie references.


  31. Sharon says:

    This is a fascinating discussion. I get the pleasure of showing up at these events once in a while, meeting people, and going back to my computer and my kids and land for quiet – I do most of my commentary from the comfort of my home, in my pajamas. I definitely can do the street theater part of peak oil activism, but I find it tiring, and not compatible, on the scale it needs doing, with having an agrarian life. Hell, I find it hard enough to do what part I do do. Kunstler, Heinberg, Bates and Simmons, among other, do dozens of “shows” a month – they show up and talk to people all over the place, do the dance (This is not in any way a derogation of the project – when I do it I think of it as a dance) over and over and over again. For all that I sometimes disagree with them, even strongly, I’m damned grateful that they do this work.

    I don’t know if Albert experiences it the same way, but when I started doing this, I thought “I was a teacher, I stood up in front of bored audiences full of kids whose parents told them they had to learn about Shakespeare and tried to explain why the plays were funny – I can do this.” But it isn’t like teaching, at least for me. Oh, sometimes it is, when you run into skeptics, but often instead of persuading, you are addressing this rapt audience of people who are angry, and afraid and who have no outlet for all this passion, except in their sense that you can help them get through it. Their sheer need is so great, and so powerful – and they are wonderful people, but the sheer mass of it is overwhelming, at least to me, particularly since I’m pretty unconvinced that I’m going to be able to do what people want from me. Combine that with the message, and the level of awareness required to research it, and it is tough work – tough even for me who doesn’t do it often and has no intention of picking up the pace.

    It is a little like theater, and a bit like teaching, something like storytelling, like therapy. It is hard work. Each time I do it I come home exhausted – usually a happy exhausting, but the way you feel when you’ve been through something hard. I literally can’t imagine what it would be like to go away and do this over and over again – although I can say that last year at the Community Solutions Conference, the speakers (including me) seemed almost all to be in various stages of stress. Richard Heinberg looked like death warmed over – he’d been on a plane everywhere. Peter Bane talked about having panic attacks getting into the car – I, who am generally not a depressive sort at all, was about as down as I’ve been in my adult life, partly because of the concatenation of bad news that came out about the climate last fall, and partly because I couldn’t honestly offer people what I felt they needed. I’m not sure it is always a choice how you spread your news – as Albert suggests, you are the person you are, and that’s how it goes – I know I can only talk and write like me – I can shape things and work with my audience to a degree, but the way I address things, the people I speak to, the people I annoy, the way I think – that’s not something I have tons of control over.

    I’m not trying to complain – I feel very lucky that this has turned into something of a career – but having had the opportunity to taste what the real leaders in this movement do daily, all I can say is this – it would take a better person than me not to develop a hard candy shell around their soft exterior in doing the work of the interviews and the talks. I don’t always love everything Kunstler (or anyone, me included) say, but I am damned grateful that there are people who will do the hard work of spreading the mesage the way *they* can – and people who will do it day in and day out – I literally could not be them, and so my critiques always have to carry with them the fact that I sure as hell don’t want to take up the mantle, couldn’t reach many of the audiences others do, and someone has to do it.


  32. Kati says:

    Chalk me up as another who learnt about Peak Oil from “The Long Emergency”. In fact, I’d been reading CFN for over a year before I found this blog. I much prefer Sharon’s style (and the fact that she doesn’t talk down to her readers), but I also see that Kunstler seems to be quite often ahead of the game and breaks a LOT of it down to the basics in a fashion suitable for the laymen.

    He made some very valid points in _Long Emergency_, _Geography of Nowhere_ and _Home from Nowhere_ and on his blog (though also in complete agreement with the “Racist, sexist pig” statement made above).

    As with anyone else, his words must be taken with a grain of salt (or a big hefty TBSP of the stuff), but there are still some very valid points to be gleaned from his writings. And, even without a college education, I also find his writing ironic and funny, even as bits of it piss me off. Not all of us uneducated types are completely lost to his humor.

  33. Rebecca says:

    I think one of the things I do like about Kunstler is that he doesn’t sugar coat things and he doesn’t hold back. So many people are determined to be PC and put things in a positive light with official spin -and here is Kunstler, anger, sarcasm and all, saying exactly what he thinks and if you don’t like it or him you can take a hike.

  34. Marvin Hamor says:

    Notably insightful. Continue to keep these reports coming.

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