Insights · May 12th, 2008
He is, quite simply, one of the most provocative American thinkers and writers alive today. He is James Howard Kunstler, author most recently of the novel, World Made by Hand.
In recent years, Mr. Kunstler has become best known for making the case that “peak oil” is here, now, the moment when we begin the second half of the oil age. The ride down the backside of the curve will, he argues, be steep, bumpy, and full of dislocations far beyond the minor inconveniences we usually imagine may be associated with higher gasoline prices. Mr. Kunstler lays out this argument, along with often biting, and occasionally hilarious commentary on moden American urban and suburban life, in his weekly blog, a must read for me each Monday.
Recently James passed through Seattle on his national book tour promoting the new novel, and he was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview. Below, we present the 22 minute interview in full. (It is also available at many video server sites on the web often in two parts due to length.)
First, a brief review of his novel. I was eager to see how James would turn his world view of the end of oil into fiction, and the novel succeeded for me in character, setting, and story. Set in the relatively near but indeterminate future, in a small town in upstate New York, we find the townspeople living without cars or internal combustion engines of any kind. Fleeting bursts of electricity serve only to recall tantalizing memories of days gone by, and the characters are generally struggling to remember how to grow food, fix things that are broken, and get by in a world made by hand. They are literally trying to recall a way of life only a generation and half lost in time, yet as distant and difficult to access as the most ancient history.
In order to arrange a world without functioning national or regional government James adds in a cataclysmic event or two on top of an energy crisis and a much hotter world. Taking note of contemporary trends to elevate superstition and spiritualism over science, he brings to the town a spiritual leader and his band of people seeking a peaceful place to make a new life. Much of the story revolves around the difficulties of integrating several alternative lifestyles among bands of former townspeople and newcomers attempting, simply, to survive in a new reality.
While Mr. Kuntsler takes the logic of the end of oil to extreme ends in order to create a dramatic story, he never-the-less creates a plausible world. Entering into that world you are forced to take stock of your own knowledge and skills as you imagine how you would fit in, were the world to step back in time. Would you, as many characters do, fail to cope with the loss of much of modernity, or would you, like the heroes of the story, settle into the steady rebuilding of life and community?
Glen Hiemstra Interview with James Howard Kunstler
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.