Kunstler (who calls himself an "actualist") is an urbanist, thinker and writer whose books (like The Geography of Nowhere, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and others) have developed a loyal following among people as diverse as architects, engineers, road-builders, developers and environmentalists, spoke for more than two hours in plain English, laying out a list of what felt like insoluble problems even as he proposed solutions.
Here's some of what he said, in no particular order and some of it, frankly, for effect:
- The United States is "comprehensively broke at all levels." Ideas of a new economy, based on new ideals won't work "because the money is not there. It's gone." The "middle class will disappear" shortly and people will not be happy about it.
- "We are not going to save 'happy motoring'" because "we have been using far more oil than we are finding since the 1980s." To maintain our current levels of use "we'd have to find a Saudia Arabia a year and we're not going to do that."
- Mexico, our No. 3 oil supplier, is running out quickly. "Oil is done" as a base for our transportation and, frankly, our culture.
- Suburbs represent "the greatest mis-allocation of resources in he history of the world." During "the last 20 years, suburban sprawl was the economy. We're done with tract houses, roads--building and repairing them--sprawl, homebuilders, Realtors, Wall Street mortgage traders. They're waiting for the bottom to be hit in real estate so they can start again. It won't and they won't. We're going to have to make other arrangements for everyday life in America."
- "Forget cars."
- "Here's a prediction: In five years there will be no airlines."
- "We're going to have to re-localize and downscale. We're moving away from 'solutions' to 'intelligent responses.'"
- "Agriculture will change to something local, smaller. We're going to have to reorganize the way we do commerce. Wal-Mart will fail and stores like Wal-Mart--the boxes--will fail. Our whole network will have to be rebuilt."
- "Schools are too centralized and will fail." He sees a system of homeschools becoming a system of neighborhood schools, which will supplant the central school concept."
- "Globalism has had its brief period." It, too, will die soon.
- "We will learn to inhabit the terrain differently in villages, towns, cities that have a relationship with rural areas."
- "I fear we're putting in too much energy to sustain the unsustainable."
- "Rebuilding the railroad system is vital. It is a fact we're not even talking about right now, but it can be done and should be done. We need a project we can do right now and this is it. It needs to start right away."
- "When you have enough places that aren't worth caring about, you wind up with a country that's not worth defending." (This quote was originally incorrect, saying "a country worth caring about.")
Kunstler gave a view of America that may once have been as the scenario for its best shot at a future: small towns, local products made by local craftspeople, a system of commerce that has little use for money traders. It is an idyllic view and one that may work only because we are forced by our own excess into doing it--sort of a post-apocalyptic scenario--sans a major war.
This one could have easily slipped into a depressing evening, but Kunstler--for all his gloomy predictions--is upbeat and surprisingly hopeful that we can remake ourselves, even as we show absolutely no sign of doing that. Still, it's a nice mental exercise.