We now know that energy use by housing in the U.S. accounts for about 21% of green house gas emissions and that global warming has probably already reached a tipping point. A point from which we can now only mitigate worldwide effects that will eventually be catastrophic. That problem with global warming however is that politically we don’t act on “eventually” very well. Politically we’re much better at reacting to collapsing skyscrapers, market crashes, and other “Pearl Harbor” kinds of events. So policy changes in reaction to the slow moving Chinese water torture of global warming are likely to be a series of tepid half measures until our grandchildren are face-to-face with the sea water lapping up against the second story buildings in Brooklyn.
However, long before that happens, Peak Oil will kick our not so green or sustainable butts into action in a very Pearl Harbor kind of way.
The growing consensus is that Peak Oil (the point at which worldwide production begins an irreversible decline) will happen within the next ten years. Some (T. Boone Pickens, Matthew R. Simmons) believe that we peaked in 2005, but that we had enough headroom so that demand has not yet exceeded supply. Lending credence to Pickens and Simmons, the International Energy Agency has just warned of a supply “crunch” after 2010 due to rapidly rising demand and slower-than-expected production gains.
Once this “crunch” creates obvious and persistent shortages we can expect inflation, unemployment, oil related military adventures, and a world wide recession. If that weren’t enough, N. American natural gas production is expected to peak by 2010! Either event will put us in crisis/action mode, and combined they will easily supplant “Terrorism” as the number one social, financial, and political issue. The only good news, is that this coming “energy Pearl Harbor” will be the political tipping point that gets us on the road to true sustainability.
The following commentary by James Howard Kunstler gives us an entertaining look at what’s to come.
“The final blowout of cheap oil is now ending, and the suburban juggernaut is entering its death throes. It wasn’t slain by the New Urbanists, but they will be the last ones standing – just as the little warm-blooded mammals were the last creatures standing when the dinosaurs expired in the warm Cretaceous mud. The focus of their work will certainly have to change. There will be no more suburban subdivisions (or the accessories and furnishings of them – the strip malls, Big Box pods, and fried-food out-parcels), and the TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development) will emerge not as a counterpoint to all that crap, but as the template for a redefined type of village or town scaled to the new realities of available energy.
We will be inhabiting the terrain differently from now on. Whatever intact farmland remains will have to be reserved for feeding ourselves, and the “countryside” that has been regarded as having only scenic or recreational value for so many decades, will have to be both productive and carefully tended by human hands. Our big cities will certainly shrink, contract, and the fortunate ones will redevelop and re-densify at their old cores and around their waterfronts. The part of Philadelphia that we were in last weekend may be about as big as a sustainable city can get – minus the skyscrapers, which, alas, will be obsolete.
The demographic shift to come will be a shocking reversal of what has been going on since the start of the industrial revolution. The small towns and small cities of America -the places that have moldered in desolation and squalor for decades – will be coming back to life, surrounded by an agricultural landscape shaped by human attention.”