Monday, December 17, 2007

The End of Suburbia.

I love movies (just had to get that out there). I love the motion-picture medium, I love transcendent acting, I love the special effects, I love the wide range of audioscapes, on and on. And yet, when I look at my Netflix queue and history, it’s completely dominated by DOCUMENTARIES. If that makes me a GEEK, well then give me the pocket-protector because the wedgie fits! Documentaries are rockin’. Oftentimes biased towards a particular viewpoint, yes, but a great source of new perspectives nonetheless.

Accordingly, I’ve experienced a number of impactful documentaries lately. One of which deserves a separate post (which I plan to give) and another that I’ll talk about now...

It’s called The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream. I watched it a few weeks ago and when it finished, I just sat silently... and thought... and worried (a little). Okay, I’m not gonna lie to you: it pretty much freaked me out for the evening. Yet given a few weeks to reflect on the topics, I’m not freaked out anymore, but instead I’ve been downgraded to simply “soberly concerned.” ;-)

The premise of the film centers upon the concept of Peak Oil (yes, despite the inherent downfalls of Wikipedia, this link offers some decent info on this concept). And while certain people interviewed come across as “alarmists” foretelling a Malthusian catastrophe, the science underlying their theories pretty much stands alone.

At Thunderbird, we were consistently guided to keep the concept of Risk Management in the forefront of our sights as business managers. And this film profoundly touched the risk management nerve in me. I’m increasingly convinced of the unavoidable problems of American suburbanism (both from a land-developer’s perspective and from a spiritual perspective). Obviously, this view is in direct opposition to what I currently do for a living, but the intricacies of that situation and my plans for the future aren't something I'm going to divulge on a public blog [but feel free to ask me about it all if we're ever hanging-out in person:-]. Anyway, without fleshing out anymore of the details of the film, how about I just pose some of the questions that have been rolling around my skull as a result?

- What if the suburban lifestyle (which America promotes and accelerates) that thrives on consumption, individualism, and driving becomes virtually unworkable in the not-too-distant future due to oil production issues?

- What will the economic & social transition period look like? How devastating will it be?

- Could the transition effectively eliminate the “middle class” (for some amount of time)?

- Is New-Urbanism the only solution? If not, then what else?

- America looks to be, hands-down, the most ill-prepared for this new world economy... could this “event” effectively end the six to seven decade reign of U.S. geopolitical dominance?
And more personally…
- What does this mean for my family?

- What sort of actions should I take right now to prepare/safeguard?
I really do have quite a bit of confidence in the entrepreneurial zeal and innovation that is a hallmark of American culture, but there’s definitely a rub here, in my mind. While my parents’ generation (the Baby-Boomers) will likely live almost their entire lives in a world that operates under U.S. hegemony, I feel fairly comfortable saying that my generation will see these circumstances unexpectedly change. And it’s kind of uncomfortable to think about: because, as Americans, we’re used to calling the shots in a lot of ways... we’re used to having numerous currencies pegged to our dollar... we’re used to countries importing our entertainment, our culture... we’re used to foreigners speaking “our” language in THEIR land rather vice versa. Even I, someone who dislikes many of these aspects of the U.S., am instinctively unnerved by the thought of living under a different regime.

So, there it is. Sorry for the wordy post... (why do my ramblings end up being so wordy??) I’ve formulated some responses to the above questions, but nothing of much worth. I’d be very interested to hear anybody else’s thoughts on these matters.

(And we haven’t even touched on the spiritual implications of all of this! Oy… must lie down:-)

*Photo Credit: SingInYourSleep


Kate said...

Interesting. I can't say I've given oil a lot of thought other than increasing gas prices.

If it makes you feel better, we've done our part and stopped using oil (if our propane was derived from oil...) to heat out house. :-) And I have become more of a true stay-at-home-mom in that I do spend most of my time at home now, very, very little driving. I've often wondered if we could get by with only 1 vehicle.. but probably not with so many kids.

I think that if everyone could focus on how to live more conservatively, not just in respect to oil, we could avoid numerous crises. The fact is that as Americans on average go - we are wasteful, short sighted, and ignorant.

maventheavenger aka jamie said...

Great post, Adam. I'd like to hear your ideas about what you might think of doing to prepare. Did the movie give any suggestions?

Yard said...

Okay, I don't know about all this 'earthy' talk, but I do know I'm astute enough to catch a link that conveys mockery and catalyzes virtual horseplay.

I thought this sort of frightful cyber-behavior was beneath you. Unfortunately I was mistaken, and's on.

Anonymous said...

The documentary loses a lot of crediblilty when you find out the host, Barrie Zwicker, believes 9/11 was an inside job. I do not see how you can believe anything this man says when he himself has no sense of reality. Also, many of the other gentlemen in the film believe the U.S. went into Iraq solely for oil, where's the evidence. Sadaam's men even believed he had WMD's! I'm sorry this film lacks some major cred.

maventheavenger aka jamie said...

Anonymous: a lot of people think that 9/11 was an inside job--just because you don't doesn't destroy the credibility of an entirely different documentary.

AdamBam said...

@ Jamie: (Sorry for the delay in responding here)… Yes, the question of preparation is an interesting one for sure. The driving theme throughout the film was this notion of a return to local-living, e.g., living in close proximity to our daily needs of work & errands, increased food-growth & agriculture at the residential level (like converting lawns to gardens! ;-), etc. And, for reasons ranging from collective relationships to ecology to sustainability, I think these trends make a lot of sense. It stands to reason that existing urban settings would become more desirous simply due to the increased necessity for that localized lifestyle. I think those that are already living in a setting where they can rely mostly on foot, bike, or public trans for their daily needs are wisely positioned for some sort of major disruption in our American lifestyle.

Yet, if I’m honest, I still feel a bit of a rub here (and I think this rub may apply to some of the ideas that I experienced in Sleeth’s book). A lot of the proposed solutions require us to make sacrifices within our current lifestyle of unsustainable consumption. And I think these sacrifices are valuable and necessary (particularly from a spiritual viewpoint). Yet, I still hold very high hopes for innovations in technology and design. From a purely practical standpoint, it seems to me that sacrifices in our advanced lifestyles should really only need to be made in order to bridge the transition-period when new ideas and designs are presented that will continue the advancement of societies.

Does that make any sense?

AdamBam said...

@ “anonymous” (again, no name?): You’ve made an interesting comment here considering that I went out of my way in the original post to concede that a number of people in the film do come across as alarmists. Yet, these were not the individuals that connected with me as much as people like Matthew R. Simmons, who speaks articulately (and from credible ground, imo) about the problems surrounding these issues. Have you even seen this film?

I’m gonna go with Jamie on this one… credibility is very subjective.