Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation
© 2012 Jim Kunstler
Twelve years ago, at the urging of my sociology professor, I attended a lecture on Peak Oil and the Future of Suburbia, by a man I realized I’d been sitting very near to at lunch. Jim Kunstler gave me a lot of food for thought that night, though a friend of mine and I agreed that he sounded a bit like a crank. He’s…particularly wound up in Too Much Magic, which rehashes much of what he’s written about before, and adds on some rants that connect, generally, to this volume’s specific grievance: a tech-religion of wishful thinking, in which all of our problems can be resolved through more innovation and technology.
Re-reading my response to that lecture in 2008 makes me realize how Kunstler has a steady, reliable train of thought; occasionally a new car is added, or some new graffiti appears along the side, but it’s the same engine and basic cargo. In The Geography of Nowhere, Kunstler delivered a full broadside against the distortion of American urbanism from big cities and small towns into an endless homogeneous mass full of cheap, fake houses and box stores with a fifteen year lifecycle. He argued that this promotion of sprawl was not only socially disastrous, but financially unsustainable, relying on cheap oil and an economy driven by expansion. In The Long Emergency, he repeated that argument, and argued that peak oil was imminent and that it would combine with climate instability to destroy global civilization as we know it. In Too Much Magic, written after the housing bubble pop and subsequent recession, Kunstler reviews his previous arguments and adds to them his interpretation of the housing bubble’s boom and bust, connecting the decades of cheap credit to his critique of suburban spawl.
When I purchased this, it was with the thought that Kunstler had examined fracking, nuclear energy, and other technological solutions and was offering his review of them; instead, it’s largely an updated retread of Kunstler’s prior arguments, which this time emphasizes how often we ignore reality for our desires, wasting time and energy chasing distractions like the AI singularity. Fracking is addressed, but not nearly to the degree that it should have given Kunstler’s steady focus on peak oil; it’s a short chapter and adds no more than you might find from reading articles at his website. Other alternative energies are dispatched with the same haste. Considering how dramatically fracking has altered the energy landscape in the last ten years (turning the US to a net energy exporter), fracking bears serious consideration. How long of a window did it create for the petroleum economy, and what kind of consequences does that kind of development have for our geologic stability and water/soil health? I don’t know, but Kunstler’s quick write-off of it here was obviously well off the mark.
In short, though I find Kunstler a stimulating and entertaining author, there’s not enough genuinely new content in Too Much Magic to bother with.