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The Dystopians

Ben McGrath, New Yorker
(In American Chronicles, The New Yorker, January 26, 2009, p. 41 )

About doomers and the current economic crisis.

A year and a half ago, Dmitry Orlov, a forty-six-year-old software engineer from Leningrad, sold his apartment and bought a boat, on which he and his wife now live, in Boston. Orlov moved to the U.S. when he was twelve, and returned to the Soviet Union for the first time in 1989. Over the course of several visits, he observed the social effects of the Soviet economic breakdown.

His 2008 book, “Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects,” identifies the ingredients of what he calls “superpower collapse soup”—a severe shortfall in production of crude oil, a worsening foreign-trade deficit, an oversized military budget, and massive foreign debt—and he argues that the U.S. is not only vulnerable but likely to fare worse.

Until recently, Orlov identified the readers of his book, and of a blog he maintains, Club Orlov, as belonging to one of three basic cultural categories: “back-to-the-land types,” “peak oilers,” and all-around Cassandras, or doomers. But in the past few months, he has acquired a fourth audience, composed of financial professionals, who have been bolstering his “gut feeling that the United States is bankrupt.” One of Orlov’s greatest fans is the author James Howard Kunstler, who also writes a weekly blog column.
(26 January 2009)
If you want to read the article, it looks as if you’ll have to buy the issue. The New Yorker won’t be making it public access. Some highlights from the article also appear in a post by Alex Akesson.

Interview with James Howard Kunstler

Kurt Cagle, O’Reilly Broadcast
James Howard Kunstler first came to my attention a couple of years ago with his publication of The Long Emergency, a look at the problems of suburbanization and the coming economic shocks that were likely to come as oil production peaked globally and started to decline.

… KC: What role can technologists – programmers, scientists, engineers and inventors – play in helping to ameliorate the changes that you foresee happening?

JHK: Personally, I think one of our biggest ailments now is the techno-grandiosity displayed by people in the tech sector. There’s some notion that just because we can move pixels around a screen with a mouse, that all the woes of mankind will yield to a set of techno tricks. This is dangerous fucking nonsense. It’s especially appalling in those who are desperately trying to rescue the Happy Motoring system by seeking to engineer cars that run on something other than fossil fuels.

For instance, the Rocky Mountain Institute, supposedly an “environmental” organization, has put its cred and muscle behind the development of a “hypercar.” What fucking idiocy. It only promotes the idea that we ought to continue being car dependent! This kind of thing drives me nuts. Of course, I’m not anti tech or anti science — I just think we’ve lost ourselves in fantasies of omnipotence that are very pernicious. What tech has to do now is re-engineer local, small-scaled living — the systems we depend on — so we can live in a manner consistent with our ecology, with the reality-based energy diet of the decades-to-come. The techies for the most part are not so interested in this. Just look at the assholes in NASA who are still fantasizing about space travel when we need to teach tens of millions of Americans how to garden!

Kurt Cagle is an Online Editor for O’Reilly Media.
(14 January 2009)
Pointed out by Big Gav.

Top 100 Stories of 2008 #1: The Post-Oil Era Begins

Ben Hewitt, Discover Magazine
Nine billion gallons of corn ethanol were produced in the United States in 2008, twice as much as in 2006. By the end of the year, though, dreams of a sustainable, domestically produced fuel that could help end our addiction to oil had deflated. The puncturing reasons came from all directions. Corn ethanol, aided by a generous subsidy from the federal government, has had the lead in alternative fuels, but recent studies reveal that it is much more costly, both economically and environmentally, than people had thought. Sharply rising grain prices underscored ethanol’s impact on household budgets and the global food supply. And then oil prices tumbled, making ethanol significantly less competitive in the energy marketplace.

Transportation fuel accounts for 28 percent of the country’s energy use. With oil reserves headed inexorably for depletion, shortages and more wild price swings (like last summer’s $147-a-barrel spike) very likely loom ahead. The vexing question—surely one of the greatest scientific and technological challenges of our time—is what will take petroleum’s place.
(22 December 2008)

Oil Price Over $100, in a Blink

Michael J. Economides, Energy Tribune
The Cassandras are out in force these days. Some are true believers. Others are masochistic oil men. They claim that the recent price of oil — at almost $150 — was a “spike” fomented by speculators. And now that the oil price is down, it will never go over $100 again, it may even go down to $10 or it will stay at $30, forever.

Some of these analysts have written for this publication. How US-based speculators, as blamed by a recent TV show, can cause the wild ride towards $150 oil, is mystifying. This was supposed to happen while world oil consumption was more than four times that of the US. Big, bad oil is no longer blamed for the price hike?

The analysts are right on one thing. There was never really a rational reason for $150 oil. Headlines ruled and speculators did ride them. But oil at $40 is also irrational, fed by headlines about the economic crisis.

There are three main reasons why oil cannot stay at $40 or even $70.

First, is the physics of flow in porous rock reservoirs.
(20 January 2009)