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(Last edited: Saturday, 15 April 2006, 1:46 PM)


PetroCollapse New York Conference
October 5, 2005

Remarks by James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Long Emergency

In the waning months of 2005, our failure to face the problems before us as a society is a wondrous thing to behold. Never before in American history have the public and its leaders shown such a lack of resolve, or even interest, in circumstances that will change forever how we live.

Even the greatest convulsion in our national experience, the Civil War, was preceded by years of talk, if not action. But in 2005 we barely have enough talk about what is happening to add up to a public conversation. We're too busy following Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson, or the NASCAR rankings, or the exploits of Donald Trump. We're immersed in a national personality freak show soap opera, with a side order of sports 24-7.

Our failure to pay attention to what is important is unprecedented, even supernatural.

This is true even at the supposedly highest level. The news section of last Sunday's New York Times did not contain one story about oil or gas - a week after Hurricane Rita destroyed or damaged hundreds of drilling rigs and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico - which any thought person can see leading directly to a winter of hardship for many Americans who can barely afford to heat their homes - and the information about the damage around the Gulf was still just then coming in.

What is important?

We've entered a permanent world-wide energy crisis. The implications are enormous. It could put us out-of-business as a cohesive society.

We face a crisis in finance, which will be a consequence of the energy predicament as well as a broad and deep lapse in our standards, values, and behavior in financial affairs.

We face a crisis in practical living arrangements as the infrastructure of suburbia becomes hopelessly unaffordable to run. How will fill our gas tanks to make those long commutes? How will we heat the 3500 square foot homes that people are already in? How will we run the yellow school bus fleets? How will we heat the schools?

What will happen to the economy connected with the easy motoring utopia - the building of ever more McHouses, WalMarts, office parks, and Pizza Huts? Over the past thirty days, with gasoline prices ratcheting above $3 a gallon, individuals all over America are deciding not to buy that new house in Partridge Acres, 34 miles from Dallas (or Minneapolis, or Denver, or Boston). Those individual choices will soon add up, and an economy addicted to that activity will be in trouble.

The housing bubble has virtually become our economy. Subtract it from everything else and there's not much left besides haircutting, fried chicken, and open heart surgery.

And, of course, as the housing bubble deflates, the magical mortgage machinery spinning off a fabulous stream of hallucinated credit, to be re-packaged as tradable debt, will also stop flowing into the finance sector.

We face a series of ramifying, self-reinforcing, terrifying breaks from business-as-usual, and we are not prepared. We are not talking about it in the traditional forums - only in the wilderness of the internet.

Mostly we face a crisis of clear thinking which will lead to further crises of authority and legitimacy - of who can be trusted to hold this project of civilization together.

Americans were once a brave and forward-looking people, willing to face the facts, willing to work hard, to acknowledge the common good and contribute to it, willing to make difficult choices. We've become a nation of overfed clowns and crybabies, afraid of the truth, indifferent to the common good, hardly even a common culture, selfish, belligerent, narcissistic whiners seeking every means possible to live outside a reality-based community.

These are the consequences of a value system that puts comfort, convenience, and leisure above all other considerations. These are not enough to hold a civilization together. We've signed off on all other values since the end of World War Two. Our great victory over manifest evil half a century ago was such a triumph that we have effectively - and incrementally - excused ourselves from all other duties, obligations and responsibilities.

Which is exactly why we have come to refer to ourselves as consumers. That's what we call ourselves on TV, in the newspapers, in the legislatures. Consumers. What a degrading label for people who used to be citizens.

Consumers have no duties, obligations, or responsibilities to anything besides their own desire to eat more Cheez Doodles and drink more beer. Think about yourself that way for twenty or thirty years and it will affect the collective spirit very negatively. And our behavior. The biggest losers, of course, end up being the generations of human beings who will follow us, because in the course of mutating into consumers, preoccupied with our Cheez Doodle consumption, we gave up on the common good, which means that we gave up on the future, and the people who will dwell in it.

There are a few other impediments to our collective thinking which obstruct a coherent public discussion of the events facing us which I call the Long Emergency. They can be described with precision.

Because the creation of suburbia was the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world, it has entailed a powerful psychology of previous investment - meaning, that we have put so much of our collective wealth into a particular infrastructure for daily life, that we can't imagine changing it, or reforming it, or letting go of it. The psychology of previous investment is exactly what makes this way of life non-negotiable.

Another obstacle to clear thinking I refer to as the Las Vegas-i-zation of the American mind. The ethos of gambling is based on a particular idea: the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing. The psychology of unearned riches. This idea has now insidiously crept out of the casinos and spread far-and-wide and lodged itself in every corner of our lives. It's there in the interest-only, no down payment, quarter million-dollar mortgages given to people with no record of ever paying back a loan. It's there in the grade inflation of the ivy league colleges where everybody gets As and Bs regardless of performance. It's in the rap videos of young men flashing 10,000-dollar watches acquired by making up nursery rhymes about gangster life - and in the taboos that prevent us from even talking about that. It's in the suburbanite's sense of entitlement to a supposedly non-negotiable easy motoring existence.

The idea that it's possible to get something for nothing is alive and rampant among those who think we can run the interstate highway system and Walt Disney World on bio-diesel or solar power.

People who believe that it is possible to get something for nothing have trouble living in a reality-based community.

This is even true of the well-intentioned lady in my neighborhood who drives a Ford Expedition with the War Is Not the Answer bumper sticker on it. The truth, for her, is that War IS the Answer. She needs to get down with that. She needs to prepare to send her children to be blown up in Asia.

The Las Vegas-i-zation of the American mind is a pernicious idea in itself, but it is compounded by another mental problem, which I call the Jiminy Cricket syndrome. Jiminy Cricket was Pinocchio's little sidekick in the Walt Disney Cartoon feature. The idea is that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. It's a nice sentiment for children, perhaps, but not really suited to adults who have to live in a reality-based community, especially in difficult times.

The idea - that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true - obviously comes from the immersive environment of advertising and the movies, which is to say, an immersive environment of make-believe, of pretend. Trouble is, the world-wide energy crisis is not make-believe, and we can't pretend our way through it, and those of us who are adults cannot afford to think like children, no matter how comforting it is.

Combine when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true with the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing, and the psychology of previous investment and you get a powerful recipe for mass delusional thinking.
As our society comes under increasing stress, we're liable to see increased delusional thinking, as worried people retreat further into make-believe and pretend.

The desperate defense of our supposedly non-negotiable way of life may lead to delusional politics that we have never seen before in this land. An angry and grievance-filled public may turn to political maniacs to preserve their entitlements to the easy motoring utopia - even while reality negotiates things for us.

I maintain that we may see leaders far more dangerous in our future than George W. Bush.

The last thing that this group needs is to get sidetracked in paranoid conspiracy politics, such as the idea that Dick Cheney orchestrated the World Trade Center attacks, which I regard as just another form of make-believe.

This is what we have to overcome to face the reality-based challenges of our time.

At the bottom of the Peak Oil issue is the fear that we're not going to make it.

The Long Emergency looming before us is going to produce a lot of losers. Economic losers. People who will lose jobs, vocations, incomes, possessions, assets - and never get them back. Social losers. People who will lose position, power, advantage. And just plain losers, people who will lose their health and their lives.

There are no magic remedies for what we face, but there are intelligent responses that we can marshal individually and collectively. We will have to do what circumstances require of us.

We are faced with the necessity to downscale, re-scale, right-size, and reorganize all the fundamental activities of daily life: the way we grow food; the way we conduct everyday commerce and the manufacture of things that we need; the way we school our children; the size, shape, and scale of our towns and cities.

These are huge tasks. How can we bring a reality-based spirit to them?

I have a suggestion. Let's start with one down-to-earth project that we can take on with confidence, something we have a reasonable shot at accomplishing, and fairly quickly, something that will address our energy problems directly and will make a difference for the better. Let's get started rebuilding the passenger railroad system in our country.
Nothing else we might do would make such a substantial impact on our outlandish oil consumption.

We have a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.

The fact that we are not talking about this shows how deeply unserious we are - especially the Democratic party. I am a registered Democrat. Where is my party on this issue? Where was John Kerry? Where are Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer? We should demand that they get serious about rebuilding the public transit of America - not next month or next year but tomorrow, starting at the crack of dawn.

Any person or any group who finds themselves in trouble has to begin somewhere. They have to take a step that will prove to themselves that they are not helpless, that they are capable of accomplishing something, and accomplishing that first thing will build the confidence to move on to the next step.

That's how people save themselves, how they reconnect with reality-based virtue.

We were once such a people. We were brave, resourceful, generous, and earnest. The last thing we believed was the idea that it was possible to get something for nothing. That we were entitled to a particular outcome in life, apart from the choices we made and how we acted. We can recover those forsaken elements of our collective character. We can be guided, as Abraham Lincoln said, by the better angels of our nature.

We lived in a beautiful country with vibrant towns and cities, and a gorgeous, productive rural landscape, and we were sufficiently rewarded by them so we did feel driven to seek refuge in make-believe all the livelong day. When we wanted to accomplish something we set out to do it, to make it happen, not merely to wish for it. We knew the difference between wishing and doing - which is probably the most important thing that adult human beings can know.

I hope we can get back to being that kind of people. This effort here today is a good start.

Please sir, can we have some more?

(Last edited: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 3:42 PM)
Please sir, can we have some more?

Virtual learning environments are getting kids excited about education. Teesside pupils have developed an appetite for a piece of software called Moodle - and grades have improved as a result. Irene Krechowiecka reports

Tuesday October 4, 2005
The Guardian

When Darren Smith returned to work at Egglescliffe school in Teesside after a couple of months' absence, his pupils were pleased to see him, of course, but their most pressing question was would they be able to continue using Moodle? While Smith had been off sick he'd kept in touch with exam classes, setting and marking work remotely, courtesy of this brilliant piece of software. Brilliant because it's simple to use, is designed for educators by educators, has an ever growing range of powerful features and, perhaps most important of all, is open source (free).
"When I realised I'd be off for a while I decided using a virtual learning environment (VLE) would enable me to keep working with pupils. Moodle appealed because I could use it straight away without going through lots of sales. The pupils responded really well, with many spending considerable time out of school working through materials again and re-reading comments I'd made on their work. The results were good that year - in the GCSE class everyone got C or above and there had been several borderline students."

Teachers can use Moodle to publish course materials, set up discussions, send messages, hand out and mark assignments, create self-marking tests, and have live chats or one-to-one private discussions with their pupils. Students can access their courses from any internet-linked computer and everything anyone does is logged - even if they tell you they spent hours struggling with a task, there's a foolproof way of checking.

Smith was worried that pupils might find this intrusive but that's not so: "They see it as being of benefit. Moodle has now spread across the school, and resources and homework for most subjects can be accessed on line. Parents often worry that, when children say they're using the internet for homework, they're really playing games, but the Moodle logs show that's not the case."

The word, Moodle, is an acronym for modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment. But for its Australian creator, Martin Dougiamas, it's also a verb that describes "an enjoyable tinkering that leads to insight and creativity".

When Dougiamas started work on Moodle he imagined it would largely be used by higher education. So he's been surprised to find the biggest user group around the world are secondary schools. "They've turned out to be a vocal bunch and have driven a lot of the recent changes, which is great. Change, collaboration and learning from each other are very much features of any open source community. Software works better when it's free, a concept that can be hard to grasp if you're used to paying for it."

He's passionate about the idea of Moodle remaining free: "It feels wrong to put a cost on educational software. Not only does it open up experimentation and contributions from the community, but software costs nothing to replicate once you have written it. I prefer to find other ways to fund development."

The ethos of collaboration has spread to Moodle content, too. Darren Smith has made all the ICT courses he's created for years 7, 8 and 9 freely available for download from These zipped files can be dropped into Moodle and Smith hopes that, as other teachers edit and change his work, they will likewise share, creating a repository of high-quality teaching materials.

Teachers involved in the new DiDA ICT qualification will soon be able to drop the free materials being developed by North West Grid for Learning into Moodle. The DiDA-delivered materials use technologies such as 3D Game Based Learning and chromakey video. To register an interest use the "contact us" section at http://

In a virtual world it's easy to blur the distinction between who is the learner and who is the teacher; several schools have experimented by allowing pupils editing rights so they can work alongside teachers, creating and designing courses. At Perins school in Hampshire, Moodle courses are being developed by a team of students (gurus) and teachers (specialists). The gurus come from years 7 -11, and are led by year 10 and 11 ICT students.

Gideon Williams, head of ICT, says there is no problem with giving pupils full editing rights. "Students think it's a fantastic way to learn, and they provide great insight for the teachers because they know what works for them as pupils. We want to encourage independent learning and thinking, and Moodle is an excellent tool for this."

Amy Johnson, a year 11 guru, says she's really enjoyed working with teachers on the project: "We all learnt a lot about what lessons need to include and what students like in their lessons. Moodle gives everyone a chance to get their say about how and what they want to learn."

Colin Charde, the school's head of English, was suspicious at first. "I expected it to be another bandwagon, something I would forget about after the training, but it's not. It enhances teaching and learning and has become an invaluable tool."


Part of Moodle's appeal is its simplicity. It doesn't have special pages for editing purposes - as you're viewing a page you can make changes to it by turning the editing function on. Anyone who can create an email with an attachment has the skills to start using Moodle. As you delve into its potential there's more you'll want to learn, but it's extremely intuitive. The contextual help is excellent and the busy global message boards on the main Moodle site ( provide answers to everything. For those who prefer their help notes as hard copy, Jason Cole's Using Moodle (O'Reilly Community Press) is a comprehensive guide. Buy it from and you'll be helping the UK Moodle community's effort to pay for a stand at the Bett show.

Creating courses, no matter how intuitive the interface, is time-consuming. For those who want an easy introduction to the power of a VLE, Moodle offers some quick wins that save teachers time and extend their reach. Setting up message boards or chat sessions to support homework and revision takes little effort and is an effective way of providing out-of-lesson support - pupils often end up helping each other, with the teacher keeping an eye on what's happening.

At Parrs Wood in Manchester, Moodle was initially used to deliver personal development courses at key stage 3. Deputy head Jo MacKinnon chose Moodle because it was so user-friendly, quick to set up and adaptable. "We started using it to provide skills-based activities which students could work on in our independent learning centre when staff were absent. It proved effective and a growing number of teachers now use it for a range of subjects.

"This term we've moved to using it for all staff communication and the feedback from teachers has been very positive."

Parrs Wood also provides support to other schools interested in exploring Moodle through the Specialist Schools Trust ICT register (