Sunday, May 25, 2008; Page B03 : Everywhere I go these days, talking about the global energy predicament on the college lecture circuit or at environmental conferences, I hear an increasingly shrill cry for « solutions. » This is just another symptom of the delusional thinking that now grips the nation, especially among the educated and well-intentioned.
I say this because I detect in this strident plea the desperate wish to keep our « Happy Motoring » utopia running by means other than oil and its byproducts. But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system — or even a fraction of these things — in the future. We have to make other arrangements.
Fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system is probably the one project we could undertake right away that would have the greatest impact on the country’s oil consumption. The fact that we’re not talking about it — especially in the presidential campaign — shows how confused we are. The airline industry is disintegrating under the enormous pressure of fuel costs. Airlines cannot fire any more employees and have already offloaded their pension obligations and outsourced their repairs. At least five small airlines have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past two months. If we don’t get the passenger trains running again, Americans will be going nowhere five years from now.
We don’t have time to be crybabies about this. The talk on the presidential campaign trail about « hope » has its purpose. We cannot afford to remain befuddled and demoralized. But we must understand that hope is not something applied externally. Real hope resides within us. We generate it — by proving that we are competent, earnest individuals who can discern between wishing and doing, who don’t figure on getting something for nothing and who can be honest about the way the universe really works.
James Howard Kunstler is the author, most recently, of « World Made by Hand, » a novel about America’s post-oil future.