“The End of Suburbia” Still groundbreaking and urgent?


In this morning’s email is an article titled, STILL GROUNDBREAKING AND URGENT from nextworldTV.  Here is the text that accompanies an edited version of the original film.

“We’re literally stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up” – James Howard Kunstler
This is the film that years ago, inspired the spark for the creation of Nextworldtv. Released in 2004, it is still groundbreaking and urgent in it’s message and the questions it raises.
“Since World War II North Americans have invested much of their newfound wealth in suburbia. It has promised a sense of space, affordability, family life and upward mobility. As the population of suburban sprawl has exploded in the past 50 years, so too has the suburban way of life become embedded in the American consciousness.
Suburbia, and all it promises, has become the American Dream.
But as we enter the 21st century, serious questions are beginning to emerge about the sustainability of this way of life. With brutal honesty and a touch of irony, The End of Suburbia explores the American Way of Life and its prospects as the planet approaches a critical era, as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip supply. World Oil Peak and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels are upon us now, some scientists and policy makers argue in this documentary.
The consequences of inaction in the face of this global crisis are enormous. What does Oil Peak mean for North America? As energy prices skyrocket in the coming years, how will the populations of suburbia react to the collapse of their dream? Are today’s suburbs destined to become the slums of tomorrow? And what can be done NOW, individually and collectively, to avoid The End of Suburbia?”

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Back in January of 2008, (remember 2008? Ugh!) I posted an article about the peak oil phenomenon.  In that post, I referred to this movie, “The End of Suburbia”.  On July 3, 2009, we screened it at the Village amphitheater.  Well, since its release in 2004, a fair amount of oil has gone under the bridge.  Something like seven or eight year’s worth.  Time tends to sort out the truth of predictions.  So, where are we now?  There are many who claim that we have passed the peak and global oil production is clearly in decline.  Predictions that oil companies would be forced to move to ever more exotic technologies and expensive extraction methods like fracking and oil shale or sand extraction, or ever deeper ocean drilling.  These predictions have proven true and with disastrous ecological consequences in the Gulf of Mexico, Canada and the Bakken oil fields.  Yet, the oil industry maintains that the newer technologies have made these methods of extraction cheaper, so there is still plenty of cheap oil.  OK, if so, why does gas at the pump continue to rise at such a steep pace, accented by short periods of relief?  And why is our military still in the Middle East with sabres continually rattling, now at Iran?

On the other hand, one of the claims of the movie is that we are also running out of natural gas that fuels most of our power plants.  That makes continued growth impossible and suburbia doomed.
But T. Boone Pickens, in a TED talk claims we are at the dawn of a new boom in cheap energy on the back of natural gas while reaffirming that “the days of cheap oil are over”.  Fact is, natural gas is incredibly cheap right now.  A financial newsletter that I track says that cheap natural gas, with the build-out of the required infrastructure to replace gasoline for trucks, buses and finally cars, heralds an investment opportunity not seen since the oil and suburban construction boom of the 50’s.  If cheap natural gas is here for the long term, are all our problems solved, with peak oil just a speed bump on the on-ramp to a global concrete superhighway?

Meanwhile, the great recession (depression) rolls on.  America is clearly overextended financially.  Talk of QE3 at the Fed is back in the news.  Is our current financial predicament an outcome of peak oil or, as some claim, evil banker boogeymen intentionally wrecking global economies to bring about a New World Order that will enslave us all?  The specter of hyper-inflation and social chaos still looms as the can gets kicked further down the road.

Hmmmm… Information, disinformation.  Booms, busts, fear, reassurance.  What’s real?  Still cloudy? Tired of guessing what’s coming down or when?  It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting.  But, embedded in this doomsday flick is a bright spot.  Notice that the precursor to the Suburban boom of the 50’s was a more genuine promise of grand country living in a few planned, rural communities where people actually had livestock and raised their own food, but still had access to cultural refinements.  These early communities were for the wealthy, while suburbia became a caricature of that dream.  Fast forward to today, the dream of self-sufficient, country living is not reserved for the wealthy.  It’s a more authentic, peaceful way of life available to the rest of us.

Ready to stop the hand-wringing?  I think there are better reasons to check out of suburbia than peak oil.  They go back to a time when people knew and trusted their neighbors, a time when life was less complicated and people lived closer to the beauty that is nature.  It was also a time of creative invention, when Americans were confident in their own practical skills and full of the joy of exploring and learning new things because they could.  Let’s rebuild that life together at the Village on Sewanee Creek.

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