Ritawatch 5: James Howard Kunstler (transcript)

MediaRitawatch 5: James Howard Kunstler

David Room: This is David Room, for Global Public Media. On the Rita Watch with James Howard Kunstler; on September 22, 2005. Jim, could you tell us your perspectives on Hurricane Rita?

James Howard Kunstler: I suppose the most obvious thing is; we don't really have any record of having storms this big and strong, striking within such a close period. And, it suggests to us, that there's really something going on with the world climate. And, the ocean temperature in the Gulf of Mexico, are probably responsible for this. What's happening is, that energy is dispersed from the heat of the Gulf of Mexico. But, it makes you wonder if the heat is not being dispersed, due to the means that we've been familiar with for thousands of years. Which is the Gulf stream. If all that heat is dissipated in the Gulf of Mexico, what does it mean for the Gulf stream, for years to come?

David Room: One thing that I've heard a number of times is; we are not able to attribute Hurricane Katrina, or Rita for that matter, to global warming. Can you comment on that?

James Howard Kunstler: I don't think that there's any question that these hurricanes are happening because the ocean temperatures are much warmer, since we've been recording these things. So, I consider that to be pretty much a false argument. Now, people also argue that global warming is or is not caused by human activity. And, I'm not even sure that - that argument even matters much anymore. Because, we're still stuck with the consequences of climate change and global warming. Whether it's being caused by us. Or, whether it's the result of a natural cycle. So, we see it's still something we have to contend with.

David Room: Right, yeah. The argument that I've been hearing is; the climate is so complex, that there's no way that we can directly attribute it. Which, seems to give us an out.

James Howard Kunstler: You know, there are some obvious correlations, that are hard to ignore. Namely, the increase in carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, generally. And, I'm not sure it's worth investing alot of our time in arguing about whether this is caused by human beings or not. We're pretty much stuck with the facts that these things are happening.

David Room: What are the implications that you see, as possibilities with Rita heading for the oil patch?

James Howard Kunstler: Well, I think the implications are fairly obvious. We're going to lose a substantial portion of our refining capacity, probably. And, for a period of time, we can't really predict. The same thing with natural gas supplies. We get an awful lot of natural gas from that part of the Gulf of Mexico. Alot of these things are processed there in refineries, and stored there. And, we're obviously going to see a disruption in the easy motoring society. How this resonates through our economy, I can't say. But, it's hard to imagine that it will not have an effect on us, generally.

One of the things that impresses me, is that as the price of gasoline goes up; there must be an awful lot of people around the United States, who are making individual decisions. Not to buy large, new suburban houses, far away from the places that they work. And, those individual decisions, are going to add up, sooner or later; into a trend, that will affect the end of the housing bubble. And, when that stops - and, when all the easy credit creation associated with it stops; I wonder how that's going to affect the financial markets. Because, they've been mostly feeding off of all this supernaturally created credit, coming out of the mortgage industry. And, when that stream of debt and credit, which is then securitized and traded, stops flowing; I think things are going to get kind of hairy in the financial sector.

David Room: I've read a number of commentaries, that suggest the response to Hurricane Katrina, gives us a glimpse of what the post-petroleum future may look like. Do you have any comments on that?

James Howard Kunstler: Well, I don't actually see the post-petroleum future becoming that acutely disorderly, right away, in a short period of time. I do think, that to some extent; these storms and the behavior that we see coming out of them, is somewhat anomalous. But, as a general rule; what we have to be worried about is, not just personal misbehavior by a few people, her and there. It's really institutional breakdown of everything. From our banking system, to the complex systems for running our infrastructure. And, paying for these things, and maintaining them.

Those are the kinds of disorders, which become very insidious and corrosive. And, sooner or later; you find yourself, living in what is the equivalent of a kind of third world country. Where nothing really works right. And, you see alot of very desperate behavior associated with that. But, I don't see the United States, as becoming 'Riot in Cell Block B', overnight.

David Room: In those commentaries; one of the things that is noted is the lack of effectiveness of the government response.

James Howard Kunstler: Well, I predicted in my book, "The Long Emergency"; that is was likely that the federal government, would become more ineffectual and more impotent. Rather than more powerful. And, I think that we're seeing exactly that. The lack of inability to control events. And, to some extent; I think that perhaps our expectations, that they all should perform like superheroes. May have been inflated, in the first place. But, alot of the muscle for rebuilding, may also be quite a bit less than we are hoping and wishing, and expecting.

David Room: I've read several reports that indicate, that the most effective response to Hurricane Katrina was coordinated groups of citizens. Does that surprise you?

James Howard Kunstler: No, it doesn't surprise me. That the grass roots performed better than a big, unweilding set of government agencies. People on the ground. People on the scene; intend to act more agilely in emergencies, than people in offices, thousands of miles away. So, no, I'm not surprised to hear that at all. But, of course, alot of the people on the ground, were also creating problems. So, it sort of works both ways. But, I take your point. Sure.

David Room: Does Hurricane Rita have any implications for global oil peak?

James Howard Kunstler: That's a good question. I was thinking this morning, that it may actually end up being a kind of distraction. And, that would be unfortunate. Alot of the public will draw the wrong conclusion. That the problem we are going to have with gasoline prices and with supply, are due only to storms. And, not to a more generalized pattern of global peak production. And, the arc of depletion behind that. So, in some ways; I think that it's going to be a troublesome and mischievous event. In terms of public awareness, and their ability to process information about what's happening to them.

David Room: Earlier, you mentioned that you see government becoming more ineffectual. And, I'm wondering if you see the need and opportunity for communities to become more self reliant. And, to start localizing, for essential goods?

James Howard Kunstler: i think it would be a good thing. And, a necessary thing for local communities, to become more self reliant, and to relocalize. But, I'm not convinced that it will happen easily or automatically. Because, we're still dealing with communities that are not in an essential way, economically self sufficient. They still depend on paychecks, from big corporations. And, whether that means a lot of kids working in fast food operations. Or, guys working for a large oil company. These are not neccesarily communities that can fall back on their own resources, any time soon. So, it remains to be seen, as to how that may happen.

In terms of casual volunteer activity, we could expect to see that, probably under any circumstances. Because, I actually believe that people are fundamentally thoughtful and kind. And, empathetic, and caring about their neighbors in distress. So, that's something I believe, we ought to expect.

David Room: Should local government, consider Katrina and Rita, to be wake-up calls?

James Howard Kunstler: Katrina and Rita, are going to be wake-up calls for local governments; whether they want it to be, or not. Although, I'm not sure what it will wake them up to. New Orleans is starting out - to some extent, to a partially blank slate. And, they're going to have a long process of rethinking who they are. And, what they might become. It remains to be seen, what will happen with Texas. And, of course, there's a tremendous amount of oil production and refinery infrastructure, in and around Galveston and Houston. God knows, what's going to happen with that stuff. I imagine, alot of it's going to to wrecked. The whole country is heading into a kind of a convulsion, in which all bets are off. And, it's going to be a very strange fall of 2005.

People often ask me these days; if this is the beginning of 'the long emergency'? And, I tell them; I really don't know. But, I think you can see it, from here.

David Room: This has been David Room, interviewing James Howard Kunstler. On the Rita Watch. For Global Public Media

End of Interview

MediaRitawatch 5: James Howard Kunstler