Posted by Big Gav
James Kunstler certainly has the knack for getting publicity, with his recent comments in Salon (vigourously debated at WorldChanging last week) leading to an outbreak of hostilities with the Rocky Mountain Institute's Amory Lovins at Salon, who obviously didn't appreciate being dissed in Kunstler's original interview.
Opinions on James Howard Kunstler's latest tract, The Long Emergency, vary pretty widely here at WorldChanging. Alex disagrees pretty strongly with Kunstler's dystopic vision; JonL found it (at least its manifestation in an interview in Salon) to be a "breath of fresh air." Personally, I'm in Alex's camp -- I'm tired of Apocaphilia in its various manifestations, and Kunstler in particular seems to claim that we can do nothing to head off disaster. Moreover, any attempts to invent better, more efficient, less damaging tools are pointless, in Kunstler's view, and he calls out Amory Lovins' "hypercar" idea for particular ridicule.In his rebuttal, Lovins' description of RMI's campus makes it sound like a dream place to live and work (well, its a long way to the beach, but apart from that):
Lovins didn't like that, and responded to Kunstler. Salon managed to get Lovins' response, as well as a second exchange between the two. I'd have to say that Lovins comes across as the clear winner of the debate, although that's undoubtedly my own biases talking, at least in part. Not just my bias for Lovins' perspective, though, my bias for research over accusation and thought over fear. Or, as Lovins puts it, "Facts are more mundane than fantasies, but a better basis for conclusions."
James Howard Kunstler criticizes me for supposedly suggesting superefficient cars at the expense of walkable neighborhoods. If he'll kindly look at my 1999 book "Natural Capitalism," he'll find that Chapter 2, "Hypercars and Neighborhoods," emphasizes the importance of both, and strongly supports New Urbanism. It suggests practical and profitable ways to build very efficient cars and not need to drive them much, so we can have communities worth living in and traveling to. I can't imagine why this approach should be deemed objectionable -- unless, of course, he simply didn't ascertain my actual views.I think its pretty clear that Kunstler shouldn't have picked on Amory and the Hypercar - as well as being inaccurate (as Amory isn't just saying lets build more efficient cars and all problems will be solved, and has spent a lot of time describing his vision of "green" urban planning design), it was both unnecessary and beside the point.
His claim that there is no practical alternative to current oil dependence, other than dramatic changes in settlement patterns and lifestyles, is also extensively rebutted in our peer-reviewed, independent study "Winning the Oil Endgame." If Mr. Kunstler thinks our study is wrong, he would do a public service by explaining how. Meanwhile, serious students of this subject may be forgiven for preferring our well-documented analysis to his qualitative contentions.
Calling RMI's main campus (at 7,100 feet in Old Snowmass, Colo.) "a hyper-suburban corporate campus masquerading as ... environmentally sensitive" seemed too bizarre to merit reply when David Owen, in the New Yorker (Oct. 2, 2004), said we'd promoted sprawl by not building in a city. But before this notion gains more currency by Mr. Kunstler's further embroidery, some facts should be noted.
RMI's main building is among the world's most energy-efficient, saving 99 percent of space- and water-heating energy, 90 percent of household electricity (the rest is solar-generated), and 50 percent of water, all with a 10-month payback in 1984. It has received more than 70,000 visitors and produced 28 indoor banana crops with no conventional heating system, down to -47 outdoors. Other RMI buildings also use solar micropower, exceptionally energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures, daylighting, superwindows and other sustainability-enhancing features.
RMI's organization-wide practices also include: On-site housing nearby (with high-speed wireless Internet) and bike parking for roughly half the staff and their families, with carpooling and free or discounted bus passes for the rest and a hybrid company car available to all employees; virtual and distributed offices (with similar car-displacing policies) linked by a high-speed virtual private network and Internet videoconferencing, which we also use worldwide to displace much travel; flextime, work-at-home, inclusive staff coordination, and community-building; buying 94 percent of electricity as certified-green, plus 100 percent solar-powered hosting of several Web sites; associate membership of the Chicago Climate Exchange, where we offset our small net carbon dioxide emissions, and of Climate Neutral Network; and comprehensive recycling.
I quite like Jamais' critique of (and usage of the word) apocaphilia - though I'm not sure it really applies to most of us in the peak oil blogistan - we may be obsessed with various forms of possible apocalypse (be it oil depletion, financial meltdown, outbreak of war, global warming, or more recently, plague), but I don't think any of us (outside of the eco-anarchist world perhaps) regard this as a good (or deserved) thing - just something to be worried about, and hopefully, to avoid.
I think one of the reasons I react so strongly to the statements of apocaphiles is their neo-Puritanism. The gleeful notion that the people in the suburban houses and big cars will be punished for their sins seems to bubble just under the surface. If my posts (and here I'll speak just for me, not for the rest of the WorldChanging crew) tend towards the technofix, it's because I don't think that wanting to live a comfortable life is sinful; approaches to change that let people live comfortable lives without feeling punished for their sins are going to be a helluva lot more appealing to society -- and therefore a helluva lot more readily used -- than approaches that intentionally demand less comfort and convenience.
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