James Howard Kunstler

American writer

James Howard Kunstler (born October 19, 1948, New York City, New York) is an American author, social critic, public speaker, and blogger.

Jim w mustache.jpg

QuotesEdit

World Made by Hand (2008)Edit

Kunstler, James Howard. World Made by Hand. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2008. Print. ISBN 978-0-8021-4401-0.

  • In the early twenty-first century farming had all but died out here. We got our food from the supermarket, and not everybody cared where the supermarket got it as long as it was there on the shelves. A few elderly dairymen hung on. Many let their fields and pastures go to scrub. Some sold out to what used to be called developers, and they'd put in five or ten poorly build houses. Now, in the new times, there were far fewer people, and many houses outside town were being taken down for their materials. Farming was back. That was the only way we got food.
    • Chapter 1, p. 5
  • We lived more by the sun than by the clock, but I did own a clock. It was an eight-day windup console clock which I kept on the mantel in the living room, and it was the only timepiece in the house that worked anymore.
    • Chapter 4, p. 20
  • Living by the clock was an old habit that died hard. Not much that we did required punctuality, but people still wanted to know what time it was.
    • Chapter 4, p. 20
  • The racket was coming over what used to be our public radio station, WAMC out of Albany, but the familiar reassuring voices of normality were long gone. Some febrile evangelist was railing from the Book of Revelation.
    • Chapter 4, p. 20
  • I switched on the television on the outside chance that something might come through. Nothing had been on for years. The local network affiliates withered away after the national network of cable channels went out until there was nothing.
    • Chapter 4, p. 20–21
  • I searched the FM band but there was nothing besides other pious pleaders, and they didn't come in too well. The AM band offered about the same thing, only with worse reception, nothing remotely describable as news, and no music because commercial entertainment as we knew it was no more, and its handmaiden, advertising had gone with it.
    • Chapter 4, p. 21
  • I had one of those steel thermal mugs you carried everywhere with you as a kind of signifier of how busy, and therefore how important you were.
    • Chapter 4, p. 22
  • It was obvious there would be no return to "normality." The economy wouldn't be coming back. Globalism was over. The politicians and generals were failing to pull things together at the center. We would not be returning to Boston. The computer industry, in which so many hopes had been vested, was fading into history.
    • Chapter 4, p. 24
  • In a world that had become a salvage operation, the general supply evolved into Union Grove's leading industry. When every last useful thing in town had been stripped from the Kmart and the United Auto, the CVS drugstore, and other trading establishments of the bygone national chain-store economy, daily life became a perpetual flea market centered on the old town dump.
    • Chapter 5, p. 28
  • We regarded opium as a godsend. It did not develop into an illicit trade, though. There was no legal prohibition, no police running around trying to suppress drugs, driving up the price artificially, and no marketing system. There were no distant markets to send it to because shipping anything was slow at best and often unreliable, and travel was something you just didn't do anymore. Anybody could grow their own poppies or buy raw opium paste from one of the growers. Farmers made more money growing raspberries or asparagus. They grew poppies as a public service. A few people took to smoking opium, but those with an extremely apathetic attitude toward survival tended not to last long in the new disposition of things.
    • Chapter 5, p. 30
  • Children […] had sat in those very box buildings under buzzing fluorescent lights listening to their science teachers prattle about the wonders of space travel and gene splicing and how we were all going to live to be a hundred and twenty-five years old in "smart" computer-controlled houses where all we had to do was speak to bump up the heat or turn on giant home theater screens in a life of perpetual leisure and comfort. It made me sick to think about. Not because there's something necessarily wrong with leisure or comfort, but because that's where our aspirations ended. And in the face of what had actually happened to us, it seemed obscenely stupid.
    • Chapter 6, p. 33–34
  • Motion is a great tranquilizer.
    • Chapter 6, p. 34
  • Few dogs were around anymore. Some had been eaten during the hunger that followed the flu in the spring of that year. People didn't talk about it; it was so demoralizing.
    • Chapter 7, p. 36
  • Jesus […] look how we live? I'm practically a serf.
    • Chapter 7, p. 37
  • You could argue people are generally better off now mentally than they were back then. We follow the natural cycles. We eat real food instead of processed crap full of chemicals. We're not jacked up on coffee and television and sexy advertising all the time. No more anxiety about credit card bills.
    • Chapter 7, p. 37–38
  • We all knew the apparatus of justice had dissolved.
    • Chapter 12, p. 57
  • As the world changed, we reverted to social divisions that we'd thought were obsolete. The egalitarian pretenses of the high-octane decades had dissolved, and nobody even debated it anymore, including the women of our town. A plain majority of the townspeople were laborers now, whatever in life they had been before. Nobody in town called them peasants, but in effect, that's what they'd become. That's just the way things were.
    • Chapter 21, p. 101
  • I remembered Albany […] as just another down-on-its-luck small American city that had sacrificed its vitality to a whirring ring of homogenous suburbs.
    • Chapter 29, p. 140
  • We're building our own New Jerusalem up the river. It's a world made by hand, now, one stone at a time, one board at a time, one hope at a time, one soul at a time.
    • Chapter 29, p. 142
  • Whatever the other failures of the U.S. government were, it had managed to print an excess of dollars which, combined with the collapse of trade and communication, had severely eroded the currency's value.
    • Chapter 30, p. 146
  • I lay awake […] listening to the rain drip from the eaves and thinking of the big map that hung from the top of the chalkboard in my primary school in Wilton, Connecticut, so many years ago, back in the days of cars, television, and air-conditioning. The states on this map were muted tones of pink, green, and yellow. Over it hung the flag that we pledged allegiance to every single morning. "One nation under God, indivisible..."
    • Chapter 31, p. 150
  • I'd been carrying [my Ruger .41 Magnum] so many days that I had almost forgotten it was there. This was the kind of world we now lived in.
    • Chapter 36, p. 171
  • I argued that the human race should have known it was in trouble, at least we in the United States should have, given how insane our way of life had become. Minor quit blowing into his harmonica long enough to say that John D. Rockefeller and the Bush family had made a deal with the Devil going back all the way to the 1900s.
    • Chapter 38, p. 181
  • Could we even pretend the law still existed? Or was it something you made up now, as the occasion required?
    • Chapter 38, p. 181
  • The essence of politics was to not act on your impulses.
    • Chapter 42, p. 199
  • There's real strangeness in this world of ours. Back in the machine times, there was so much noise front and back, so to speak, it kept us from knowing what lies behind the surface of things.
    • Chapter 55, p. 262
  • It was more possible that the human race possessed some spark of divinity that was worth cultivating than that a mysterious being was up there in the ether somewhere with anthropomorphic qualities of goodness and mercy running the whole show.
    • Chapter 65, p. 315–316

The Long Emergency (2005)Edit

Kunstler, James Howard. The Long Emergency. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2005. Print. ISBN 978-0-8711-3888-0.

  • It has been […] hard […] to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in […] society. Even after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that collapsed the twin towers of the World Trade Center and sliced through the Pentagon, […] [we are] still sleepwalking into [an uncertain] […] future. We have walked out of our burning house, and we are now headed off the edge of a cliff. Beyond that cliff is an abyss of economic and political disorder on a scale that no one has ever seen before.
    • Chapter 1, p. 1.
  • It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit of modern life. All the necessities, comforts, luxuries, and miracles of our time […] owe their origins or continued existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel. Even our nuclear power plants […] depend on cheap […] [fossil fuels] for all the procedures of construction, maintenance, and extracting and processing nuclear fuels. The blandishments of cheap oil and gas were so seductive, and induced such transports of mesmerizing contentment, that we ceased paying attention to the essential nature of these miraculous gifts from the [deep] earth: that they exist in finite, nonrenewable supplies, unevenly distributed around the world. To aggravate matters, the wonders of steady technological progress under the reign of oil have tricked us into a kind of “Jiminy Cricket syndrome,” leading many Americans to believe that anything we wish for hard enough can come true. These days, even people in our culture who ought to know better are wishing ardently that a smooth, seamless transition from fossil fuels to their putative replacements […] lies just a few years ahead. […] This is a dangerous fantasy. The true best-case scenario may be that some of these technologies will take decades to develop–meaning that we can expect an extremely turbulent interval between the end of cheap oil and whatever comes next. A more likely scenario is that new fuels and technologies may never replace fossil fuels at the scale, rate, and manner at which the world currently consumes them.
    • Chapter 1, p. 2–3.
  • What is […] not comprehended about this predicament is that the developed world will begin to suffer long before the oil and gas […] run out. The American way of life [...] can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil and gas. Even mild to moderate deviations in either price or supply will crush our economy and make the logistics of daily life impossible. Fossil fuel reserves are not scattered equitably around the world. They tend to be concentrated in places where the native peoples don’t like the West in general or America in particular, places physically very remote, places where we realistically can exercise little control […]. For reasons I will spell out, we can be certain that the price and supplies of fossil fuels will suffer oscillations and disruptions in the period ahead […].
    • Chapter 1, p. 3.
  • The decline of fossil fuels is certain to ignite chronic strife between nations contesting the remaining supplies. These resource wars have already begun. There will be more of them. They are […] likely to grind on and on […]. They will only aggravate a situation that, in and of itself, could bring down civilizations. The extent of suffering in our country will certainly depend on how tenaciously we attempt to cling to obsolete habits, customs, and assumptions–for instance, how fiercely Americans decide to fight to maintain suburban lifestyles that simply cannot be rationalized any longer.
    • Chapter 1, p. 3.
  • [Thomas] Malthus was certainly correct [that demand will outstrip supply], but […] [fossil fuels] has skewed the [supply-demand] equation over the past hundred years while the human race has enjoyed an unprecedented orgy of nonrenewable condensed solar energy accumulated over eons of prehistory [in the form of fossil fuels]. The “green revolution” in boosting crop yields was minimally about scientific innovation in crop genetics and mostly about dumping massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides made […] of […] [petroleum] onto crops, as well as employing irrigation at a fantastic scale made possible by abundant oil and gas. The cheap oil age created an artificial bubble of plenitude for a period not much longer than a human lifetime, a hundred years. Within that comfortable bubble, the idea took hold that only grouches, spoilsports, and godless maniacs considered population hypergrowth a problem, and that to even raise the issue was indecent. […] As oil ceases to be cheap and the world reserves arc toward depletion, we will indeed suddenly be left with an enormous surplus population […] that the ecology of the earth will not support. We will discover the hard way that population hypergrowth was simply a side effect of the oil age. No political program of birth control will avail. […] It was a condition, not a problem with a solution. That is what happened, and we are stuck with it.
    • Chapter 1, p. 8.
  • The high tide of the […] [industrial] age also happened to be a moment in history when human ingenuity gained an upper hand against the age-old scourges of disease. We have enjoyed the great benefits of antibiotic medicine for […] a half-century. Penicillin, sulfa drugs, and their descendants briefly gave mankind the notion that diseases caused by microorganisms could, and indeed would, be systematically vanquished. Or, at least, this was the popular view. Doctors and scientists knew better.
    • Chapter 1, p. 9–10.
  • The recognition is now growing that the victory over microbes was short-lived. They are back in force, including familiar old enemies such as tuberculosis and staphylococcus in new drug-resistant strains. Other old diseases are on the march into new territories, as a response to climate change brought on by global warming [caused by the burning of fossil fuels]. In response to unprecedented habitat destruction by humans and the invasion of wilderness, the earth itself seems to be sending forth new and much more lethal diseases, as though it had a […] protective immune system with antibody-like agents aimed with remarkable precision at the source of the problem: Homo sapiens.
    • Chapter 1, p. 10.
  • At the very least, the Long Emergency will be a time of diminished life spans for many of us, as well as reduced standards of living–at least as understood within the current social context. Fossil fuels had the effect of temporarily raising the carrying capacity of the earth. Our ability to resist the environmental corrective of disease will […] prove to have been another temporary boon of the […] [industrial] age […]. So much of what we construe to be among our entitlements to perpetual progress may prove to have been a strange, marvelous, and anomalous moment in the planet’s history.
    • Chapter 1, p. 11–12.
  • The so-called global economy was not a permanent institution, […] but a set of transient circumstances peculiar to a certain time: the Indian summer of the fossil fuel era.
    • Chapter 1, p. 12.
  • […] Among economists and government figures, globalism developed the sexy glow of an intellectual fad. Globalism allowed them to believe that burgeoning wealth in the developed countries, and the spread of industrial activity to formerly primitive regions, was based on the potency of their own ideas and policies rather than on cheap oil.
    • Chapter 1, p. 13.
  • [Globalism's] demise will coincide with the end of the cheap-oil age. For better or worse, many of the circumstances we associate with globalism will be reversed. Markets will close as political turbulence and military mischief interrupt trade relations. As markets close, societies will turn increasingly to import replacement for sheer economic survival. The cost of transport will no longer be negligible in a post-cheap-oil age. Many of our agricultural products will have to be produced closer to home, and […] by more intensive […] labor as oil and natural gas supplies become increasingly unstable. The world will stop shrinking and become larger again. Virtually all […] the economic relationships among persons, nations, institutions, and things that we have taken for granted as permanent will be radically changed […]. Life will become intensely and increasingly local.
    • Chapter 1, p. 17.
  • In any case, the tragic truth is that much of suburbia is unreformable. It does not lend itself to being retrofitted into the […] mixed-use, smaller-scaled, more fine-grained walkable environments we will need to carry on daily life in the coming age of […] reduced motoring. […] Instead, this suburban real estate […] will enter a phase of rapid and cruel devaluation. Many of the suburban subdivisions will become the slums of the future.
    • Chapter 1, p. 17–18.
  • The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. It is likely to entail political turbulence every bit as extreme as the economic conditions that prompt it.
    • Chapter 1, p. 20.
  • In idle moments, I try to amuse myself by projecting my mind into other historical periods. Lately, I am fascinated by what it must have been like to live in the early twentieth century when so many of the things we take for granted in our daily doings today had just come on the scene and established themselves as normal accessories to everyday life […]. How modern it all must have seemed in 1924 when most adults could still remember a world of horse-drawn carriages, outhouses, kerosene lamps, and Saturday night baths! Whole ideologies had to be constructed to account for being modern and to explain it.
    • Chapter 2, p. 22.
  • Everything characteristic about the condition we call modern life has been a direct result of our access to abundant supplies of cheap fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have permitted us to fly, to go where we want to go rapidly, and move things easily from place to place. Fossil fuels rescued us from the despotic darkness of the night. They have made the pharaonic scale of building commonplace everywhere. They have allowed a fractionally tiny percentage of our swollen populations to produce massive amounts of food. They have allowed us to develop industries of surpassing ingenuity and to push the limits of what it even means to be human to the strange frontier where man imagines himself into a kind of machine immortality.
    • Chapter 2, p. 23.
  • The age of fossil fuels is about to end. There is no replacement for them at hand.
    • Chapter 2, p. 23.
  • We used [oil] […] as if there was no tomorrow. Now there may not be one. That's how special oil has been.
    • Chapter 2, p. 31.
  • Oil is the world's most critical resource. Without it, nothing works in industrial civilization as currently configured. Few people dispute the idea that the world will eventually run out of oil, and there is a broad recognition that it will happen […].
    • Chapter 3, p. 64.
  • The total planetary endowment of conventional nonrenewable liquid oil was […] two trillion barrels before humans started using it [and possibly more]. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the world has burned through […] one trillion barrels of oil, half the total there ever was, representing the easiest-to-get, highest-quality liquids. The half that remains includes the hardest oil to get, lowest-quality liquids, semisolids, and solids.
    • Chapter 3, p. 66.
  • The economic stress [struggle] among […] all nations, […] will be considerable and is certain to lead to increasingly desperate competition for diminishing supplies of oil [and every other resource].
    • Chapter 3, p. 68.
  • We surely will have to reform our land-use habits and the oil-based transportation system that has allowed us to run our car-crazy suburban environments. We'll have to drastically change the way we grow our food and where we grow it. Social organization may be quite different in the decades ahead. Features of contemporary life that we have taken for granted […] may fade into history. Politics that evolved to suit the […] [industrial age] may morph beyond recognition […].
    • Chapter 4, p. 141.
  • Our brains are […] not equipped to process events on […] scale[s] [larger than a human lifetime] […].
    • Chapter 5, p. 148.
  • [Global warming] […] happens to coincide with our imminent descent down the slippery slope of oil and gas depletion, so that all the potential discontinuities of that epochal circumstance will be amplified, ramified, reinforced, and torqued by climate change. If global warming is a result of human activity, fossil fuel-based industrialism, […] then it seems […] the prospects are poor that the human race will be able to do anything about it, because the journey down the oil depletion arc will be much more disorderly than the journey up was. The disruptions and hardships of decelerating industrialism will destabilize governments and societies to the degree that concerted international action […] will never be carried out. In the chaotic world of diminishing and contested energy resources, there will simply be a mad scramble to use up whatever fossil fuels people can manage to lay their hands on. The very idea that we possess any control over the process seems to be further evidence of the delusion gripping our […] culture […].
    • Chapter 5, p. 148–149.
  • […] Abrupt climate change may be normal in the planet's history, or, to state it differently, that the earth's climate is inherently very unstable. The period in which human civilization developed has been if anything, an anomalous ten-thousand-year epoch of remarkable stability.
    • Chapter 5, p. 149.
  • Fifty years of easy living with the miracle of antibiotics was a major contributor to the hubris that gripped the industrial nations in the early twenty-first century. Smallpox was eliminated except in strategic laboratory samples. Measles was conquered. Sexually transmitted diseases that used to leave people maimed and crazy were cured with one visit to the doctor. Many tropical diseases seemed to be on the wane as immunology and pharmacology bolstered widespread progress in sanitation and nutrition. The vanquishing of disease represented a […] meta-victory by mankind over a much greater set of enemies than the parochial combatants of our geopolitical wars. Indeed, these great advances of medical science against disease took place against the backdrop of war. The United States emerged victorious from the last […] world war, having defeated manifest political evil, armed with penicillin and sulfa drugs. The postwar antibiotic miracle contributed to a false sense of security in the public and a sense of […] omnipotence […].
    • Chapter 5, p. 167.
  • Despite miraculous advances in medical technology, genetic typing, and immunology, the nations of the world are not much better prepared for a severe flu epidemic than they were for the 1918 outbreak. Epidemic influenza is extremely difficult to counteract. […] If a pandemic broke out today, hospital facilities would be overwhelmed. Nurses and doctors would be infected along with the rest of the population.
    • Chapter 5, p. 173.
  • The germ theory, which emerged in the late nineteenth century, focused the world's attention on the specific agents responsible for […] diseases, but the social and ecological contexts are equally important, and these are now coming more prominently into play with world population well beyond the limits of the earth's […] [optimum] carrying capacity and with climate change […] in progress. […] Ecological […] [pressures], rapid changes in land use, penetration of formerly inaccessible habitats, and disturbed migration routes can lead to the appearance or diffusion of a disease. While we may be able to identify the microorganisms involved, we can be helpless in the face of it, and our behavior may still promote its spread.
    • Chapter 5, p. 177.
  • […] The disturbance of global oil markets as the permanent energy crisis begins is liable to interrupt global commerce and global travel. Fewer businessmen will fly […]. However, these same energy problems will surely reduce crop production, which would lead to reduced food aid to desperate populations in poor nations, which would then lead to compromised immune systems and the […] [invasion] of poor, hungry, and […] unhealthy people […]. This is an obvious recipe for conflict and woe. Where the refugee camps [are] set up, [the] disease will surely follow.
    • Chapter 5, p. 178.
  • The attrition of global populations by disease may be unavoidable. Some readers may regard it as the inevitable revenge of nature against the hubris of a human species arrogantly exceeding the carrying capacity of its habitat. Some may regard it as a moral victory against wickedness. Some may view it in the therapeutic mode as a positive development for the health of the planet. Many self-conscious "humanists" have militated for the goal of reducing population growth —though most of them would have […] preferred widespread birth control to a die-off. [Contraceptive methods] […] might have been just another product of the narcotic comfort of cheap oil […]. Apart from these issues of attitude and ethics, however, a major decline in world population, or change in demographic profiles, is apt to have profound and strange repercussions on everyday life.
    • Chapter 5, p. 178.
  • […] We […] flatter ourselves to think that we are above this kind of general catastrophe— because our technologic prowess during the […] [industrial age] was so marvelous that all future problems are (supposedly) guaranteed to be solved by similar applications of ingenuity. This was certainly the consensus among the scientists, computer geniuses, and biotech millionaires […]. They were uniformly uninterested in the issues of the global oil peak and natural gas depletion and utterly convinced that the industrial societies would be rescued by hydrogen, wind power, and solar electricity, all to be figured out by their cohort techno-geniuses in […] time. If there is anything we have been stupendously bad at in the preceding century of wonders, it is recognizing the diminishing returns of our […] [technological] prowess. Some of our greatest achievements, such as industrialized farming and the interstate highway system, have produced dreadful diminishing returns […]. This persistent failure or weakness […] negates the value of our ability to see what's coming. […] Rather than technologic progress, we are more likely to see a lot of technologic […] [regresses]—the loss of information, ability, and confidence.
    • Chapter 5, p. 181.
  • Many individual immune systems will be compromised by the hardships of the Long Emergency and disease will seize the opportunities presented, as it always has. […] Millions of human beings are going to die.
    • Chapter 5, p. 182.
  • As hunger and hardship increase, the world may see more than one wave of more than one disease. If […] an influenza pandemic emerges, for instance, many […] sufferers will succumb […]. […] The age-old human enemies […] will be on hand with new immunity to the old techno-tricks of the twentieth century. […] Nobody really knows where that is taking us, though we do know that […] [we] endured more than one ice age in the past.
    • Chapter 5, p. 182–183.
  • […] The human race living off the "drawdown" of nonrenewable fossil fuel resources is the equivalent of the algae […] enjoying a temporary rush of nutrients […].
    • Chapter 6, p. 208.
  • […] [Everything] can tend toward diminishing returns and unsustainability, […] even in the short term.
    • Chapter 7, p. 240.
  • The energy disruptions of the Long Emergency are going to remind us that the skyscraper was an experimental building form.
    • Chapter 7, p. 253.
  • The Long Emergency will cause unprecedented social and economic dislocation, and the outcome may be a world we would barely recognize. The […] egalitarian society we knew in the late twentieth century may become drastically more hierarchical as large numbers of desperate people place themselves in the service of those who control land, especially following a period of anarchy. Under such harsh conditions, the weaker individuals will sell their allegiance in return for security. You can't feed yourself or your family if you are dead.
    • Chapter 7, p. 286–287.
  • The circumstances of the Long Emergency will be the opposite of what we currently experience. There will be hunger instead of plenty, cold where there was once warmth, effort where there was once leisure, sickness where there was health, and violence where there was peace. We will have to adjust our attitudes, values, and ideas to accommodate these new circumstances and we may not recognize the people will soon become or the people we once were. In a world where sheer survival dominates all other concerns, a tragic view of life is apt to reassert itself. This is another way of saying that we will become keenly aware of the limitations of human nature in general and its relation to ubiquitous mortality […]. Life will get much more real. […] Nobody will get anything for nothing.
    • Chapter 7, p. 303.

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