305. KUNSTLER THOUGHT Y2K WAS THE END OF THE WORLD
Using the Wayback Machine, emersonbiggins from peakoil.com has kindly unearthed the Y2K predictions of James Kunstler written in the pre-Y2K period. This is all very amusing because it turns out that Kunstler made exactly the same predictions for Y2K as he is now making for peak oil.
-- James Kunstler (April 1999)
emersonbiggins also notes:
It turns out that the Y2K stuff is still on Kunstler's server, but it's not linked from anywhere on his site, which makes the information impossible to find without the URL.This is material which Kuntsler is not proud of. Highly embarassing material he wants to bury and hide.
So here's a tip for all you media people out there. When you interview Kunstler, you don't want to just let him run loose. If you do that, he's just going to start rattling off the usual doom-and-gloom spiel out of that rodent-like face of his. He's like a wind-up toy, so you don't want to press that button.
Instead you're going to want to put him on the defensive by hitting him with the hard questions, such as:
- Why is it that we're supposed to listen to you -- a fiction writer, with no technical expertise whatsover -- on a technical subject like Y2K or peak oil?
- Didn't you make exactly the same predictions once before regarding Y2K? Let me read you a few of them, as archived on your website. What happened there Jimbo?
KUNSTLER ON Y2K (Source)
My Y2K - A Personal Statement
1. From Duh to Huh?
Writing this in April of ‘99, I believe that we are in for a serious event. Systems will fail, crash, seize up, cease to function. Not all systems, maybe only a fraction, but enough, and enough interdependent systems to affect many other systems. Y2K is real. Y2K is going to rock our world.
People will consequently suffer. I don’t know how much. Some people may lose their lives - but more likely at the hands of a disabled medical establishment than because of civil disorder, loss of power, starvation, bad water, or other projected horrors (though these, too, are possible). Some will suffer the loss of fortunes, some of any income whatsoever, and many of something in between. Quite a few will find themselves suddenly without an occupation, and few ideas about how to make themselves useful to other people (without occupations themselves). Many will suffer a loss of comfort and modern convenience, and if that goes on any longer than a week, it may escalate into serious problems of public sanitation and infectious disease.
The foregoing may seem to be little more than unsupported generality. I will be more specific below. I won't knock myself out trying to empirically demonstrate the "truth" of these assertions. It seems to me that the Y2K problem is so broad, systemic, and unprecedented that imagining its repercussions calls for something beside conventional thinking. Many of the effects I anticipate will not be provable one way or the other until the interconnected and interdependent skein of events this problem represents plays out. Since the effects of Y2K are apt to follow fractal pathways of self-organization - with strange, surprising twists - understanding them may be better served by a mind in free flight. These scenarios therefore should be taken for what they are: an exercise in human imagining.
Nor will I go into the technical history of Y2K as a computer programming blunder. There are more than enough concise essays about that elsewhere on the internet and in other media. I assume that anyone reading this already knows enough about underlying problem. I am more interested in the social, economic, cultural, and political ramifications. Personally, I have moved from an emotional state of surprise, to alarm, to despair, and now to hopeful anticipation of Y2K in the months since I first heard my wake-up call. It was a lovely July day, 1998. I was driving to Schroon Lake on the Adirondack Northway (I-87) when Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) came on a noontime NPR broadcast and told the audience that Y2K was a global problem that had to be taken very very seriously. He explained why. It was all new to me. Up until then, all I’d heard about the Y2K "bug" was that it might screw up a few computerized accounts receivable. Senator Bennett’s message was a clear and plausible warning that there was much more to it, and he did a good job of outlining the areas of concern: the power grid, telecommunication, nuclear arsenals, manufacturing supply lines, industrialized agriculture and so on. He certainly didn’t come across as a nut.
I was stunned and fascinated by the implications. In the months that followed, I read whatever I could find about Y2K. Coverage in the regular media turned out to be rather sparse and shallow, shockingly so as the months tick by and danger approaches. I don’t believe, as some do, that newspapers, television, and radio are necessarily unequal to the task. The poor quality of their coverage may be more a reflection of the public’s ridiculously short attention span these days in what has become for practically everybody a daily shitstorm of e-mail, news, tabloid idiocy, advertising, entertainment, infotainment, and work-related required reading. Otherwise, I really can’t account for this failure and don’t especially want to try here. On the internet, however, there is a wealth of information about Y2K. It ranges from the deeply paranoid to the earnestly idealistic, with a broad credible, sensible middle, and dashes of skeptical mockery here and there. Most of this commentary, across the whole spectrum, is intelligent and remarkably well-written, even by the extremists...
This leads to another major aspect of Y2K. I believe it will deeply affect the economies-of-scale of virtually all activities in the United States, essentially requiring us to downsize and localize everything from government to retail merchandising to farming. Particulars below.
If nothing else, I expect Y2K to destabilize world petroleum markets. These disruptions will be at least as bad as those produced by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo (so-called). The aftershocks of that event thundered through the American economy for the rest of the decade, giving us several years of interest rates above 15 percent and a weird malaise that puzzled economists called "stagflation (stagnation + inflation). The OPEC embargo involved a lot of backstage political shenanigans, but apart from these, the actual market shortfall appears to have been about five percent of our imported oil. In 1973 less than half of our oil came from foreign producers. Today, more than half does. Of that, at least 30 percent comes from countries that are considered unprepared for Y2K, countries over which we have no control and limited influence.
I doubt that the WalMarts and K-Marts of the land will survive Y2K. Their fabulous success the past 20 years had been due to the combination of continually falling gas prices, relative world political stability (and long distance outsourcing of cheap labor), and computerization. They operate at extremely narrow profit margins. They will not be able to adapt to even modest changes, and especially fluctuations, in their business equation. In order for WalMart to make a $100 profit, it has to ship 1000 plastic wading pools from California to Pennsylvania - and then sell at least 997 of the wading pools. What happens to their profit margin if the price of truck fuel goes up even modestly - say 30 cents a gallon (which by international standards would be a tiny increase)? What happens to WalMart if their customers’ disposable income decreases by seven percent? What happens if their merchandise supply chain is interrupted by the Y2K problems of their thousand-fold vendors? Or if their own systems produce corrupted data. Or if all the above happens during the same time period? It seems to me that national chain retail is exactly the kind of activity that has achieved an absurd and inadaptable economy of scale, and that they will not be able to function in a post-Y2K world.
The aftermath of Y2K will require us to do things differently. We are going to have to live more locally, and more self-dependently. All our activities will have to be conducted on a finer scale. The "move to quality" that is sometimes invoked in discussions of financial investments will apply across the cultural and economic board. There will be less room in our lives for junk of all kinds: junk food, junk merchandise, junk entertainment, junk relationships. We are going to have to re-invent smaller-scaled farms (with value-adding activities), and we’re going to have to localize, or at least regionalize, commerce. We may have to start making some things again ourselves, or do without them for a while.