Book Review: World Made by Hand

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler

When I read James Howard Kunstler’s (JHK) book The Long Emergency, it had a profound impact on me. I had been aware for many years that “running out of oil” was a serious matter. After all, I mentioned the challenge of peak oil in my graduate thesis in 1995. But my focus was more on finding a source that could replace oil as it ran out. Reading The Long Emergency was the first time it really hit me that I was missing a lot of key pieces of the picture.

The book’s impact wasn’t because I thought his vision of the future was necessarily correct, but it made me think about possibilities. It caused me to look at the suburbs in a new light, and to really appreciate how vulnerable the U.S. is to oil shocks. It made me realize that problems will start to crop up – not when we run out of oil – but simply when supplies can’t meet demand. In the U.S., we built a society based on cheap oil, in which one can live 40 miles from work and drive a gas guzzler to and from work each day. As I read his book, it really sank in that this model was likely to come to an end sooner rather than later. And just as soon as I finished reading it, I got a copy of Matt Simmons’ Twilight in the Desert and read it. Those two books helped me decide that I needed to start trying to educate people about energy issues.

In JHK’s latest book – World Made by Hand – he shares his vision of life after oil. It’s a far cry from the future I imagined as a child; a future in which man was conquering the galaxy and we were all flying around like the Jetsons. The future JHK evokes resembles the Wild West of 150 years ago – except with a few modern touches surviving.

The book is set in upstate New York (JHK’s home state) in the fictional town of Union Grove. In this world, life is very hard. There are no cars, electricity is rarely on, wars have wiped out major U.S. cities (Washington D.C. was wiped out on my birthday, 12/21), religion has made a resurgence, warlords carve out territory, and lawlessness is rampant. But communities are much tighter, the food is healthier, neighbors lend a helping hand, and people have to be a lot more self sufficient. I believe these latter aspects of the future world represents the future that JHK would like to see.

As with his previous book, this one caused me to think about possibilities I had not previously considered. I spent a lot of my time pausing to evaluate whether I felt like a particular scenario was likely. I think if you accept the key premise – that no more oil is available – then the future he envisions is probably pretty close to the mark. Oil provides all kinds of conveniences that we take for granted, and I doubt the average person can appreciate how different their world would be if the taps dried up. Yet that is the world that JHK has produced in this novel.

But that’s not the way I think things will play out. If you read between the lines, the book is set no more than 15 years into the future. The date is never given, but there is a mention of a woman in her 90’s who was a nurse in WWII. Assuming 20 as a minimum age, then the setting of the book is some time between now and maybe 2025 at the latest. I simply don’t believe we will lose our mechanized transport options in that time frame.

On my recent trip to India, I saw a lot of people who were using very little fuel, but were still getting around by motorized transport. We have such a tremendous amount of fat that we can cut from our fuel consumption. It may be that by 2020 we do have a lot less oil available, but oil will still be available. And some countries – Brazil for instance – are not likely to run into supply issues for decades. It is hard to envision a world in which the U.S. has no more access to oil, but Brazil is motoring happily along. Even though there isn’t much mention about the rest of the world – mainly because there is little communication with the rest of the world – I couldn’t help but imagine that in JHK’s world there were a lot of countries that would have been able to maintain their fuel supplies.

The book touched upon a lot of themes that I have thought about over the years. Long before I was involved in writing about energy, I was a student of evolutionary biology. One of the things that my studies made me appreciate is that modern medicine has allowed many people to contribute genes to the gene pool that centuries ago would have been cruelly weeded out by evolution. What that means is that most of us are carrying around genes that are only mildly deleterious in the age of modern medicine, but could quickly shorten our life spans without modern medicine. And in this book, JHK pulled modern medicine out from under the population. The result is as I would expect – vast numbers of people died out. I have speculated before that without modern medicine, more than 90% of the population would likely be dead within 10 years from conditions that today don’t trouble us too much.

Consider your own health. Have you been hospitalized for appendicitis? How many times have you required antibiotics to treat something common like strep throat? Have you required surgery? These are all things that can kill without modern medicine. So I have a great appreciation for modern medicine. When I go to a developing country like India that’s one of the first things I think about: Do the people have access to modern medicine?

Another theme that I have thought a lot about – and that JHK tackled in the book – was mining of the municipal dumps. I have often thought about the amount of metals, useful plastics, and just various odds and ends that would be of enormous benefit in a resource-depleted world. I have no doubt that regardless of how the future plays out, there will come a time that we are mining the dumps regularly.

One thing that I haven’t discussed yet is the story itself. I really didn’t expect much from the story. The real story for me was what a world without oil might look like. But the underlying story was actually pretty good. The characters are really interesting, he makes the relationships interesting, and he throws a few surprises into the mix. I have to hand it to JHK – he tells a good tale. Some of the characters (and names) seemed a bit over the top, but otherwise I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen next. So I got a bonus in that aspect.

If you are like me, and you enjoy thinking about possibilities (good or bad), then this book is definitely food for thought. If you want to remain oblivious to the threat of peak oil, or are otherwise convinced that technology will enable the status quo to remain, then you probably won’t care for it (although again the book is worth a read for the story itself).

Note: If you are curious about JHK’s views, the current issue of Business Week has an extensive interview with him:

Good-Bye, Cheap Oil. So Long, Suburbia?

42 thoughts on “Book Review: World Made by Hand”

  1. The American people are not going to accept a decline in their material standard of living, just because oil is in short supply. Any politician who tries to sell oil supplies as a reason for material want, will have have a career blighted, as Jimmy Carter’s was by the malaise speech.

    A shortage of oil does not mean a shortage of energy, or even of liquid hydrocaron fuels. For example, read what Europe is doing at the end of their blind alley.
    “Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears” by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the NYTimes on April 23, 2008.

    America will do likewise.

  2. Don’t need anymore depressing things in my life right now. Not even thinking about Peak oil because I’m trying to dig myself out from the mountain of debt incurred trying to build a startup. But the stories you’ve told lately are not unusual. They are the same structure and stuff of tales told of many great disasters both religious and moral. If you look at any of the “left behind” books you will see what I mean. Tales of people sucked up into the rapture and saved because they truly believed are no different from those who live the green life and are happy with every child the Mrs. popped out because you don’t have birth control and dying at age 40 from an infection by a splinter or maybe from a horse stepping on your head.

    In the language of the leaders of this green doom future sound amazingly like apocalyptic preacher’s in charismatic evangelical churches. If you follow the path of the righteousness you shall be saved. Abuse and cast out the unrepentant who dare claim that they have a right to live in more than a minimal amount of square footage. Disparage and ridicule those who refuse to live in close proximity to those they cannot stand. Fear not public transportation for if you are truly green you shall not be struck them down by communicable diseases or criminal elements. For the reward of the truly green is a short life. One in which you make no imprint on the world or the people around you. No ever have known you were here.

    What’s interesting about this language is it’s also a language about control. The preachers of the one true word tell the gullible… I mean faithful what to believe and how to act. They tell them the constraints of their lives. From this control these preachers gain power which makes them more visible to other faithful and power sources in the world.

    Another side effect of this kind of language is that the word “sustainable” has been reduced to a zero content phrase that that should trigger your BS detector. I’m willing to bet that a vast majority of the greens that use the word sustainable don’t have a single clue what it means nor do they understand the meanings of the words in the paragraph surrounding the word sustainable.

    I refuse, no I absolutely reject the assumption that in order for us to live well by this planet, we have to return to a nasty brutish and short life. As you’ve pointed out, we have built wonderful things. But I think part of the reason I reject the primitive society is because of medicine. I like the fact that I’ve lived past 17. Without modern medicine I think, by now, I would have died at least seven or eight times. I have had appendicitis, been in car accidents, almost crushed by heavy equipment (double digit tonnage) a few times, and a few heavy duty Yellowjackets stings. I am damned lucky I can still count to 10 on my fingers. If, we lived the village oriented life, I probably would be either dead or disabled. If disabled, living a solo life in my parents house and total dependent on them for god knows how long as was my father when he herniated multiple disks when I was a small child. Just seeing him live there in bed not being able to do anything is an image that stays with me till this day.

    I do think we’re attacking the problem from the wrong end. Instead of making things possible for the rich, instead, make the poor more energy efficient. Replace their vehicles, the low end, discarded used vehicles with crap mileage with something at least 50 to 60 miles per gallon. Make it free, make it a no interest loan, I don’t care. Just get them out of the low mileage vehicles that use. Then apply the same techniques to their living space. If you have to, take a chunk of houses where it’s nice by eminent domain and put up medium density housing that doesn’t suck. Hell, we can build it out of container cargo crates for fairly cheap money. The point is, there are far more poor than there are rich and if you can fix their world, energy efficiency will trickle upward.

    So I reject doom and gloom. I believe firmly that we are not destined to follow a green rapture fantasy. I believe we need to turn the problem upside down and solve it from the bottom.

  3. RR – thanks for the review of JHK’s recent book.

    The vision that JHK has for a future America – in which a mixed modal (traditional hand labor + some remnant of the industrial age) society finds a way to exist… reminds me of something old…

    The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans show.
    (Their sitcom/drama show, not the musical variety show.)

    Pat with his Jeep driving along Roy riding Trigger… that was mixed mode!

    Fortunately there is an episode on Youtube:
    Start paying attention around 3:50 into the episode – it might bring a smile (or at least a smirk) to your face.

  4. If PHEV’s pan out,I’ll be one of those liberals yapping for another mandate. If one or two manufacturers can sell a PHEV,they all can. And if they can all sell PHEV’s,why sell anything else? We all switch over to PHEV’s,and OPEC can kiss our American butts.

    The only other mandate I’ve ever favored,is solar roofs on all new construction. We really need to get on that one soon. Yeah,we’ve got enough coal to produce electricity for generations. But,even if we wanted a dirtier world,the grid we have now is already stretched to the breaking point.

  5. ROBERT–

    it’s amazing how quickly we focus on tranportation and electricity and there impacts on our lifestyle/survivability should oil supply disappear or become”very” limited. how many other items found necessary in modern life trace their beginings to petrochemical sources. or need petrochemicals in the process for their creation.

    coal and other energy sources[dirty or “clean”] could provide back up alternates for a great number of energy applications. i sense a void in understanding of oil’s total involvement in the “necessities” of our lives today.

    as you point out the breakage is large in its depth, but what’s lacking is a good appreciation of its breadth.


  6. Robert, have you read Amory Lovins’ “Winning the Oil Endgame”? Highly recommended. The polar opposite to JHK. Even Al Gore quoted Lovins in his latest talk.

  7. Anon – I do think we’re attacking the problem from the wrong end. Instead of making things possible for the rich, instead, make the poor more energy efficient.

    I liked your post, particularly comparing green AGW doomers to apocolyptic fundamentalists – bet that post would go over real well on the greenie blogs!

    Your idea to improve fuel economy for the poor is a good one, but not new. You will recall that the Germans had the same idea with the “Volkswagon” or “People’s Car”. The Indians want to produce the Tata to improve living conditions not to save fuel.

    It seems that environmental and safety regulations may actually be making things WORSE. The air cooled Volkswagon Beetle of the 1970s got around 35 MPG. It was easy to work on and cheap. The 2008 model gets 22-28 MPG is heavy, complicated, and expensive. Returning to more fuel efficient, but higher emissions vehicles may actually be better for the environment if it means getting people out of less efficient vehicles.

  8. Dear Robert
    Back in the nineteen sixties I was listening to a person on the car radio who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was very concerned about the population explosion coinciding with the mechanization of almost everything we do or produce. He thought we would not know what to do with ourselves causing much unrest. In that time the State of Connecticut hundreds of thousands of people were employed in the manufacturing of all kinds of widgets plus arms that served the whole world. We built great hospitals that were sustained by our insurance policies. Most of that is gone to China via Taiwan, Japan or any other place with cheap hands, including India.
    Sometimes when I see a city worker mowing a park lawn with a huge diesel engine I ask myself will there ever be a time the fuel will become more expensive than a half dozen laborers? That would be a good incentive to replace that engine with a solar electric device. Man loves his machinery.
    J.C., Sr.

  9. Kunstler style fantasies are a good read. Sadly, Kunstler seems to believe his own fantasies. Oh well. At least we can choose to close the book and live in the real world, even if Kunstler can’t.

    Americans are immersed in media-driven visions of doom and collapse. That’s what sells papers and attracts viewers to the boob toob.

    Instead of dwelling on media and doomer fantasies, why not solve problems in our own neighborhoods. Bio-energy is not a global solution. It’s a diverse set of local and regional solutions.

    Local and regional problem solving. Get enough locals and regionals solving problems and pretty soon a big chunk of the globe is working better.

  10. RR-
    Your mood is dark of late.
    But sheesh, global oil production is hitting all-time records, even while most oil is locked up in Thug States. Shell says they can extract shale oil at $30 a barrel (we have gobs of that stuff).
    If Iran, Iraq rejoin the family of man….In about five years, do Mexico and Venezuela cry for foreign help?

    The No. 1 user of oil is transportation, and we can build cars that run off of a grid, not the ICE.
    Meanwhile, demand is declining, not rising, due to the price mechanism.
    I just not see a glooy future.

    Anon: I have been through some cruddy start-ups as well, and ran a money-losing furniture business for 15 years. You can declare bankruptcy. Hide some assets. After a while, it does get better. I have lost my life savings twice. (And one wife, but I got another one).
    After a while, you learn to gamble, roll with the punches. Remember, you can retire to a low-cost country, such as Thailand.
    A used paperback novel, newspaper, and conversation with friends — the rest? Not that important….good luck man.

  11. “I have often thought about the amount of metals, useful plastics, and just various odds and ends that would be of enormous benefit in a resource-depleted world. I have no doubt that regardless of how the future plays out, there will come a time that we are mining the dumps regularly.”

    People in Third and Fourth World countries already do this. They have for years.

  12. And in this book, JHK pulled modern medicine out from under the population.
    Makes for a good and scary read, I’m sure. But not particularly likely to happen. Remember, the most valuable part of medicine is knowledge. Unless JHK foresees mass brain washing of all our doctors, that knowledge lives on, regardless of the circumstances. In the village of Mad Max, there is every reason to look well after the doctor, and to make sure his every need is met. (The Chem Eng would be next in line.)

    So, even if medicine (read: pharmaceuticals) are in short supply (read: expensive; making for great business opportunities for a suitably qualified Chem Eng), medicine (as a science) is not dead.

    Sacrifice may well lie ahead. Collapse of society? Not so much.

  13. Robert, I have another book to recommend: Internal Combustion by Edwin Black.

    The problem is not a lack of hydrocarbons in the ground, but a surfeit. That surfeit threatens to destroy our civilization through global warming.

    Remember that the atmosphere originally had no oxygen. The oxygen (now 209,400 ppm) came from CO2 through photosynthesis. Somewhere on Earth are the hydrocarbons produced from that photosynthesis. It takes only another 70 ppm of CO2 to change the climate catastrophically, i.e. only a tiny portion of the hydrocarbons out there.

    If conventional fossil fuels run out before we stop our addiction by putting a fossil prohibition in place, humans will turn to unconventional fossil fuels. The textbook Fundamentals of Renewable Energy Processes cites testimony of the USGS before Congress in 1998 saying “the amount of methane contained in the world’s gas hydrate accumulations is enormous, but estimates of the amounts are speculative and range over three orders of magnitude from 100,00 to 270,000,000 trillion cubic feet [100,000 to 270,000,00 EJ] of gas.” The same textbook gives oil as 18,900 EJ and natural gas as 15,700 EJ. Of course to mine the hydrates is climate suicide, but that won’t stop humans from doing it unless we have prohibitions with teeth.

    The most important thing next step is a Coal Non-Proliferation Treaty.

  14. If you want to see one way things could play out, you don’t need to read fiction. Just go visit an Amish community.

    That is not my prediction for the future though.

    There are easy technological alternatives. It only takes 5000 square miles of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) in the desert to power the 3.9 trillion miles the US will be driving in 2050 (420 million people, 9300 VMT per capita), if we switch to electric cars.

    Similarly, it will take only 11,351 square miles of CSP with Thermal Energy Storage (TES) to generate all the electric power the U.S. There are no barriers to adopting either of these technologies (no R&D required). It only takes political will. That is unfortunately one resource we lack in the U.S.

    Re mining municipal dumps: ah yes, our Strategic Trash Reserve.

  15. RR-
    Your mood is dark of late.

    To the contrary, I am in a great mood. Back home with the family, relaxing a bit. And as I said, I don’t think the future will play out as JHK thinks. But I do enjoy reading and thinking about different scenarios.


  16. There is really no reason to be that gloomy about the future.

    Life wasn’t that bad in the U.S. in the 1870s and 1880s, and they were using no liquid hydrocarbons then.

    Even in the most dire circumstances, we wouldn’t have to live any worse than our great-great grandparents did; and it should actually be a lot better since we won’t have lost any of the vast gains in scientific knowledge we’ve gained since then.

  17. RR: to reprise what I said to Optimist:
    I’d hate to see what you call a dark mood….have fun with the kids…..

  18. I was reading a (CIBC) claim that the new oil production records includes natural gas condensates that are not “viable” as transportation fuels, and that if we exclude condensates, we are past peak. Is it true that condensates are not easily converted to transportation fuel?

  19. Is it true that condensates are not easily converted to transportation fuel?

    Not true. A large fraction of those condensates have carbon chains right in the gasoline range. You can blend condensate easily into gasoline.

  20. Remember that predictions say more about the seer than the future.
    Amen to that.

    Remember that the atmosphere originally had no oxygen. The oxygen (now 209,400 ppm) came from CO2 through photosynthesis. Somewhere on Earth are the hydrocarbons produced from that photosynthesis. It takes only another 70 ppm of CO2 to change the climate catastrophically, i.e. only a tiny portion of the hydrocarbons out there.
    Hey Earl,
    I have a question: If earth’s atmosphere was originally more than 200,000 ppm CO2 (assuming all that oxygen was present as CO2 originally), how did life come into existence, seeing as [i]t takes only another 70 ppm of CO2 to change the climate catastrophically? What was earth’s surface temperature @ 200,000 ppm of CO2? 800°C?

    The problem is not a lack of hydrocarbons in the ground, but a surfeit. That surfeit threatens to destroy our civilization through global warming.
    Or, it is simply a heat transfer problem: we need to transfer some more heat to outer space, to keep the system in balance. Somewhere out there is a mechanical engineer who is going to figure this out…

  21. Earl, that massive amount of CO2 in Earth’s early atmosphere was not sequestered into hydrocarbons, but into carbonate rock.

    Catch How the Earth Was Made on the History Channel for details. Earth’s second atmosphere was much like Venus’, mostly CO2 and ~92 times current pressure. The critical difference is water, even the most ancient crystals the geologists have found indicate the presence of copious amounts of water.

    it takes only another 70 ppm of CO2 to change the climate catastrophically

    I say bunk. CO2 has been well about 1000ppm several time in Earth’s geological history without climate catastrophe. Check the chart labeled Global Temperature and Atmospheric CO2 over Geologic Time

    The US has a lot of oil we can’t drill for, for political reasons. Wipe out DC, and those restrictions go away. Ditto for the regulations that have kept our refinery capacity from growing along with our needs.

    And modern cities are tremendously dependent on transportation. That’s how the food is brought in. If that infrastructure collapses, so do cities.

    By the way, Global Warming stopped about ten years ago. If you need to worry about the climate, worry about a cooling period

  22. Is it true that condensates are not easily converted to transportation fuel?

    Not true. A large fraction of those condensates have carbon chains right in the gasoline range. You can blend condensate easily into gasoline

    I used to be the engineer looking over a natural gas condensate plant. We condensed the heavier hydrocarbons from natural gas streams. We made something called “drip gasoline” by the old timers. It was NGLs with 3 grams of tetraethyl lead. Condensates are mostly paraffins with low octane numbers, usually around 60-70 RON. I would blend up the gasoline and then my knock engine operator would test it. Ocasionally a 5 gallon can or two would end up getting “road tested” in my old ’68 Mustang or my operator’s Ford pickup truck.

    So yes, it is possible, and I am probably the ony one posting here who has actually made his own gasoline.

  23. In response to anonymous at 3, it’s interesting to observe the way that people view proposals for dealing with enivronmental resource issues with monetary issues. If someone suggests that it’s not sustainable to have a 40 mile each way commute, that’s the deathly language of control. On the other hand, if I go into a local shop every week and try and take a week’s groceries on a storecard I never pay off and the shop-owners refuse to serve me, they aren’t imposing their evil control on me but pointing out the facts of life. Likewise attempting to suggest that way out of proportion resource usage is being controlling, yet if I was a waiter trying to take more than my share from the communal tip jar and others talk to me about it, that’s not the dark hand of control but people making valid points.

    I wonder if it comes down to childhood experiences? We all learn that money is limited and accept that as natural but there aren’t limited resources which aren’t pre-limited by money. Note that I tend to support the “sustainable” view that if everyone was resource conscious then much less restriction would be necessary than if everyone engages in an ever increasing orgy of consumption and leaves the next generation to pick up the pieces.

    But in actuality you’re probably better off following the advice later in the thread to defraud your creditors by hiding assets and declaring bankruptcy and then starting all over again. The next generation needs to be killer smart given the number of problems we’re leaving them.

  24. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t added the last paragraph to my post. (Irrational venting after having seen a relative with a small business in the middle of a supply chain having to deal with customers who take delivery of goods but don’t pay.) I stand by my point that standards that people use when dealing with money don’t seem to apply to sustainability issues.

  25. optimist asked about my 70 ppm vs. 209,400 ppm comments. Remember that the conditions of the early (first 1.5 billion years) Earth would not be hospitable to us or even any land animals.

    I did oversimplify, as larryd pointed out. A lot of CO2 did go into carbonate rock, but then a lot of O2 produced from photosynthesis went into oxides (e.g. rust). These two effects go in different ways, so I cannot really say that there are hydrocarbons corresponding to more or less than the current atmosphere O2 level. However the potentially huge methane hydrate deposits indicate something similar.

    However, as to larryd’s bunk comment: I know full well that CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere exceeded 450 ppm at various times (e.g. the Permian-Triassic and the Paleocene-Eocene boundaries). The PT boundary saw 95% of all extant species go extinct. That qualifies as much worse than a catastrophe in my book. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, 57 million years ago) also saw mass extinctions and saw sea level rise 20 meters in a short time and there were sub-tropical conditions in Antarctica for a time.

    The sea level rise associated with the PETM would be worse than a catastrophe for our civilization.

    I suggest larryd read Mark Lynas’ book Six Degrees.

  26. we’re already up more than 70 ppm (or is it the next 70 ppm) and we are currently experiencing a blizzard in Minnesota. All that extra snow may insulate the lake ice meaning that a good portion of our lakes will still be frozen for the fishing opener. That will be a catastrophe. I may not get my pool open until mid May.

  27. The U.S. should be taking emergency measures to get off the oil tit,and onto the grid. It’s pretty damned amazing that we aren’t. Half our record trade deficit is oil imports. The country bleeds a billion per day just to tank up our cars. We bleed another billion per day on the Middle East. Does anyone remember when a billion dollars was a lot of money? The economic cost is bad enough. But,when you realise what would happen if the supply chain were suddenly broken,it’s spooky as hell. Yet,here we are….piddling around with halfass measures like ethanol.

    If an alien race were watching,they’d have to think we’re out of our frikking minds.

  28. I only want to throw one thing in. For most people it would just be a quibble, I suppose, but not for someone like me with my background.

    I, my father and his brother all had to have our appendixes out as children. It’s something that would probably have killed each of us 150 years ago – but not 100 years ago. It’s not modern medicine any more, and would probably still be available in the world described.

  29. RR, you said that there is a lot of fat that can be trimmed — and that’s absolutely correct. In effect, that is a point I made in several comments. I said that when we figure how much energy we need, we also factor in the waste and glitz. That’s how forecasts of energy “needs” come up with such incredibly huge numbers. And then people just assume that we must supply that much energy, and before you know it, members of Congress (have these people ever grown up?) are threatening OPEC.

    Yet, I am not sanguine. The American sense of entitlement pretty much guarantees that, faced with a much-reduced energy diet, most Americans will agree that going to war for oil is the right option.

  30. Here’s my one and only prediction for the future… In the future there will be plenty of things to worry about. Not to minimize the problems we face but at any point in history there have been doom and gloomers warning that the end is near. They all seem to underestimate our ability to adapt to a changing world.

    Let’s not forget that JHK was an alarmist on the Y2K bug. When it turned out okay he mumbled something about the hundreds of billions of dollars spent “in secret” to avoid catastrophe. Yet here he is still selling books by viewing the human race as mindless lemmings headed for the cliff.

  31. Above anonymous, writing is JHK’s job, so even if he’s wrong, he isn’t going to give it up. I’m sure he enjoys writing about doom and gloom too much.

  32. IMO the label “global warming” attached to the drivers and results of change in the global climate system leads many people to a misleading mental model of what may be happening. “Global warming” implies the earth is like a soccer ball stuck in an oven where simple tests of temperature anywhere on the sphere surface suffice to determine if and how change is occurring.

    Instead, climate is a very complex system in which changes in the amounts of energy across the system leads to counter-intuitive changes at various points in the system. Applying an otherwise reasonable appearing test under a wrong model most often leads the holder of that wrong model to an erroneous conclusion; type III “errors” are unfortunately infrequent.

  33. Consider annual kWh per capita by state. The U.S. average is 76% higher than the most efficient state, or Germany or Japan. Currently we use 12,347 kWh per person in the U.S. Most of the first world, including California uses around 7,000 kWh per person. If the Federal government adopted California’s efficiency standards, policies, incentives, and regulations, and between now and 2040 the per capita kWh falls to 7,000, while the population rises to 392 million, then electricity production in the U.S. will fall from 3424 TWh in 2005 to 2744 TWh. Efficiency can reduce energy usage in the US even while population rises.

  34. The other 49 states would also need to adopt CA’s climate, which is kind of tricky, and CA’s aversion to electricity-intensive industries such as steelmaking, aluminum smelting, uranium enrichment and so on.

  35. The other 49 states would also need to adopt CA’s climate, which is kind of tricky, and CA’s aversion to electricity-intensive industries such as steelmaking, aluminum smelting, uranium enrichment and so on.
    OTOH, we may all figure out how to do these things much more efficiently…

  36. doggydogworld said, “The other 49 states would also need to adopt CA’s climate“. What evidence do you have that it is California’s climate that makes a difference? First of all, consider page 12 of Art Rosenfeld’s Extreme Efficiency Presentation. We all used to use the same energy per capita, but some held the line, and others gorged.

    Apparently you also did not check the reference I provided before. If you had, you would see the 10 most efficient states were Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, Alaska, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, and California. There’s not much weather correlation there.

    There is a large correlation between efficiency and blue states, and inefficiency and red states.

  37. doggydogworld said, “CA’s aversion to electricity-intensive industries such as steelmaking, aluminum smelting, uranium enrichment and so on.” I suppose you think that Japan, France, Germany, and the UK are likewise industry adverse, since they are similar to California in per capita electricity consumption.

  38. What evidence do you have that it is California’s climate that makes a difference?

    A few years ago we moved from CA, where no one in our neighborhood even had air conditioning, to TX where our A/C stays on for months. Houses are also bigger in TX (we got about 3x the floor space for about half the price). My A/C use alone exceeds the 7000 kWh TX vs. CA gap shown on your table. I’d also note A/C was not that widespread in 1960 when Rosenfeld’s graph begins.

    There’s a lot more going on that A/C, though. I mentioned industry. This EIA Excel spreadsheet shows that in CA industrial consumption is about half of residential. In Wyoming, the “least efficient” state on your chart, industry consumes more than 3x as much as residential. Industry is attracted by WY’s rates, which are much cheaper than CA’s. Note that industrial consumption in CA has actually DECLINED since 1990, despite significant population growth.

    “2nd most wasteful state” Kentucky also has low rates. A single uranium enrichment plant in Paducah increases KY’s per capita consumption by 3200 kWh/year. That’s almost half of CA’s total! Of course some of that enriched uranium makes its way into CA’s reactors. I wonder how much electric consumption California, the “#1 efficiency state”, exports in this manner?

    I don’t mean to knock CA. The state has taken a leadership role in efficiency and deserves applause. But the story is a lot more complex than your table indicates.

  39. Kunstler is a hack and a millennialist carnie who fondly hopes that “the reality of our oil predicament falls on the hapless public like a hammer of God and the people of California die for their f*cking cars in their f*cking cars and over their f*cking cars.”

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