James Howard Kunstler’s vision of the future is grim and one that many people would prefer not to consider at all. Former marketing executives working permanently as field hands, dissolution of central government, collapse of social institutions, ongoing civil war, starvation and famine — all happening on America soil — sound like elements from a science fiction novel. And they are.
Kunstler’s novel, “World Made by Hand” convincingly imagines the inhabitants of a fictional New England community coping with the future Kunstler predicts in “The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.” Kunstler was nice enough to send me a review copy of the novel shortly before it’s publication last year. I devoured it immediately, but never wrote a review. There are plenty of reviews out there, so anything I might write about it now would be superfluous.
I mention it today because the paperback edition came out this week. Also, I learned Kunstler is currently at work on a sequel. At least part of it, he told me yesterday, would be written while waiting on a flight at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. “World Made By Hand,” despite its cataclysmic setting, contains some hopeful notes. Can Kunstler offer the similar encouragement for those of us in the real world?
Kunstler’s critics like to paint him as a fear-monger who lacks the educational or professional background to make the kind of forecasts contained in his books and speeches. They point to his past predictions that did not come to pass. They call him a hypocrite for decrying air and car travel while using both while to arrive at speaking engagements all over the country. They “twang” him, as he likes to say, for failing to offer solutions (despite the fact that he wrote an entire book, “Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century” about solutions).
One solution Kunstler has been promoting for years is rebuilding our railroads. In current economic conditions, he told and audience in Savannah yesterday, a rail revival would mean more than just mobility. Making the trains run on time and to more places with more frequency would would help us prove to ourselves that we are a still nation that can still get things done. Now is the time to rescue rail infrastructure that’s out there “rusting in the rain” and restore our confidence, he said.
Local residents can also take hope in Kunstler’s suggestion that mid-size cities like ours will be “where the action is,” if we can recast our communities using a more sustainable model.