James Howard Kunstler: The Long Emergency is finally here (Coronavirus and oil meltdown, part 1)

  • Published on March 10th, 2020

Around the same time that most Americans set their clocks ahead this weekend, something more momentous shoved the world into an epic phase-change, and the modern era, with all its mighty baggage, was finally swept away, along with that single lost hour of darkness. We’re in a new world, and one night later, out on the freeway of history, the engine of the global economy threw a rod. The chauffeur is still standing alongside the stricken vehicle in the breakdown lane, scratching his head while sour-smelling smoke wafts up from the hood.

Financialization money meltdown

By James Howard Kunstler

Lots of things are blowing back on us now, especially from the patches, tweaks, and work-arounds we applied to the shuddering system while the “check engine” light was flashing the past twelve years. After the awesome skid of 2008, you’d think the world’s money managers might have learned something about the hazards of stepping on the gas when those lights were flashing. Sadly, the tens of thousands of PhD economists in the back seat couldn’t think of anything else to do. And history will regard them as no better than the hooded priests of the 1300s who swung their smoking censers in the dark streets while the stricken town folk bundled their dead.

The new disposition of things is upon us, and the sooner we get with the program, the better. Welcome to The Long Emergency and its aftermath, a world made by hand. Expect that a lot of things crashing, grinding to a halt, and falling to pieces will not get patched back together and restarted. When the dust settles from all that, we’ll discover one of the primary conditions of the new era: we’re poorer — a lot of what we took to be money, or things that represented money, were figments. “Money” itself, as manifested in currencies, may become a slippery concept, with low credibility. If that’s the case, people ought to ask themselves: how can I be useful or helpful to the others around me in a way that will raise my own social capital and accumulate, at least, the good will of these other people, and perhaps some of their help or service in return for mine? That is the beginning of building a local community — people bound together by mutual obligations, responsibilities, duties, and rewards.

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We’re lucky for one thing: this crisis of advanced civilization is striking at the very start of the planting season. If you’re prudent, you can begin at once to organize serious gardening efforts, if you live in a part of the country where that is possible. I’d go heavy on the potatoes, cabbages, winter squashes, and beans, because they’re all keepers over winter. Baby chicks sell at the local ag stores for a few bucks each now and you’ll be very grateful for the eggs. Get a rooster — even though they can be a pain-in-the-ass — and you won’t have to buy any more chicks.

If you live in a part of the country where the terrain is rugged and well-watered — as I do — start scoping out local hydro sites that might potentially generate electricity or drive machinery directly from water power. We will probably need more of that. Around here many of those sites are signified by the ruins of decommissioned factories and hydro-stations from not much more than a century ago. They were originally built with a lot less machine power than we would use today, and a lot more power of men working in groups. We’ve forgotten how effective men can be working together with pretty simple tools. We were too busy devaluing men in recent decades for the sake of a moral crusade to erase “gender” differences. Well, that will be bygone so fast your head will spin.

The big cities won’t do well if supply chains stay down for a month or longer. This ought to be self-evident. If you have friends or relatives in places where food can be grown, or in the small towns favorably located near productive land and running water, maybe this is a good time to start negotiating some new arrangements and making a move, if you can. Nobody knows yet just how deeply the effects of corona virus will cut through daily life in the weeks ahead. The potential for disorder isn’t tiny, looking at the current situation, at least in terms of broken business relationships and the flow of vital goods. We’ve apparently entered the hunkering-in-place stage of the crisis. Be prepared for plenty of action when the hunkering ends and the hungering begins.


James Howard Kunstler – Watching the sunset of civilization through the Overton Window

James Howard Kunstler: The global coronavirus shutdown


(Excerpted from James Howard Kunstler ‘s blog, Clusterfuck Nation.)

About the Author

James Howard Kunstler has been writing about peak oil and the destruction of American civil society since the 1990s. He is the author of The Long Emergency, Too Much Magic, The Geography of Nowhere, the World Made By Hand novels, and more than a dozen other books. He lives in Washington County, New York.