Reading Journal Entry: The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler

The subtitle of The Long Emergency is Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, but it's really about Peak Oil. Peak oil = we are going to run out of oil, and it's already started.

Now, as it happens, I am predisposed to be charitable towards this idea. But the sloppy thinking in this book completely failed to convince me of anything. I became more skeptical instead of less as a result of reading it.

Kunstler blames oil for World Wars I and II, for the rise of communism, for the fall of communism, and for the Great Depression (this was my first clue).

After that the man starts abusing the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. I quote:

"Entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, says that the change in state in any given amount of energy flows in one direction, from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused or dispersed and spread out."

Wrong.

Then:

"Simple, ordered flows drain entropy faster at a faster rate than complexly disordered flows (...) which is why a Wal-Mart economy will bring us to grief more rapidly(....)"

Wrong again. You don't get to apply thermodynamic laws to economic theories.

Further:

...the earth is a closed system(....)

No, no,NO!

Given the number of inaccuracies and exaggerations I found in areas I am knowledgeable about, I am completely unwilling to give any credibility to his somewhat hyperbolic assertions concerning topics I'm not knowledgeable about.

I can't recommend this book; in fact, I think the slandered concepts it contains might want to rise up and strangle the author to prevent him from hurting others.



3 comments:

Maxine said...

Funny how even the most basic scientific concepts do not permeate into people's consciousness.
I wonder how many of these types of books there are out there by people who either get science wrong, or who think you can be intuitive about it (climate, for example, is particularly susceptible to the latter).
Uncertainty is a scientific concept!
Good review, as ever, thanks.
I've seen a few more postings about that NY Times list, by the way, nobody much seems to like it (surprise!).

Poplar Reader said...

The silly thing, is that it's much easier and more logical to explain it all by saying that there is a political and economic system to blame for wars, depression and the rest. That system needs raw materials and there is a drive for oil. The old "we'll run out of oil soon" worry is real, but you can't dress it up in pseudo-science. At least if you provide a genuine explanation for the thirst for oil (i.e. it lubricates the wheels of the current political/economic system) then you can start to think of alternatives. Otherwise, why bother getting out of bed?

mapletree7 said...

Funny how even the most basic scientific concepts do not permeate into people's consciousness.

They permeate, but in horribly strange mutilated ways.... The Second Law of Thermodynamics is one of the most egregiously misused 'laws' of them all. Don't you know? Evolution would be against the second law of thermodynamics (so it didn't happen). Sigh.

I've seen a few more postings about that NY Times list, by the way, nobody much seems to like it (surprise!).

Please drop me a line if there are any I haven't seen that don't know about the new blogger list - I'll want to send a personal invite.

And poplar reader:

but you can't dress it up in pseudo-science.

And pseudo-social-science as well! I was shuddering I tell you.

Aha! I have it!

The DaVinci Code is to Foucault's Pendulum as The Long Emergency is to Collapse