James Howard Kunstler in "Too Much Magic" convincingly smashes hopes for techological solutions to the U.S. energy shortage. Kunstler, although others dispute him, says the world has already reached the era of "peak oil," and that such panaceas as shale oil, shale gas (fracking), wind and solar, biofuels and so on won't provide sufficient replacements for petroleum.
Kunstler is thorough in providing reasons why even highly touted alternative fuels won't keep us from the collapse of our oil-based culture. One area he neglects - the book was apparently written late in 2011 - is new sources of oil in the melting Arctic. Shell Oil has begun exploring in the Arctic, although because of equipment problems, it's had to delay its work for a couple of years. So, the polar bears are safe for now, if they can find a patch of ice or two on which to float. The Arctic might provide a new bump in world oil supplies, at least for a few years. Overall, though, Kunstler makes convincing arguments that easily attainble oil is running out, and that such solutions as T. Boone Pickens' natural gas-powered cars are so much "magic."
A couple of years ago, I read one of Kunstler's books, perhaps "The Long Emergency," which devastatingly criticized the suburban auto culture of U.S. cities, singling out my own town of Atlanta as the worst of the bunch. I am also a fan of his weekly blog blasts on "Clusterfuck Nation," which take a more comically sardonic, apocalyptic tone than "Too Much Magic," which searches for a few fleeting rays of optimism.
It sounds as if all we can hope for is a more localized culture, something like a collection of 19th century villages. In his blog, Kunstler expects violent, revolutionary change, while the book leaves open the possibility of gradual change to the new post-oil economy. Unlike the high priest of global interconnectedness and rapid tecnological change, The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, Kunstler sees the world as eventually turning less complex and more localized.
One of the values of Kunstler's book is giving a good synopsis of the collapse of global finance that led to the 2008 recession, from which the United States and the world are still staggering in zombie half-recovery. The suburban-car oriented economy for which he delivers a post mortem likely has more life than he allows, but it will eventually crash. I still have a bit more hope in technologies such as electric cars and wind and solar power than Kunstler, but his book raised my skepticism. Kuntsler makes a persuasive case that both political parties' messages that we can achieve energy self-sufficiency are based more on wishful thinking and delusion than reality. At least President Obama mentioned climate change in his Democratic Convention speech. Kunstler shows that global warming deniers are charlatans exploiting Americans' refusal to face scientific facts. The Republican Party, which once subscribed to the reality of climate change even in the days of W., is now in total denial, as the world possibly heads to the point of no return.
"Too Much Magic" is a sobering look at the choices facing the United States and the world as the era of resource scarcity and climate change brings wrenching change. Despite its bleak prognosis, "Too Much Magic" raised my hopes that human beings can find ways to manage a new world, without depending on technogical magic.