free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 305. KUNSTLER THOUGHT Y2K WAS THE END OF THE WORLD

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Using the Wayback Machine, emersonbiggins from 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.

"Y2K is real. Y2K is going to rock our world."
-- 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?

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.
-- by JD


At Saturday, May 27, 2006 at 7:00:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

A funny sidebar about this piece: some dickhead at the mostly lib-rag LA Weekly picked it up and ran with it for a mash story in mid-1999. It was almost entirely founded on Kunstler's own propaganda, and actually made the cover of the goddamn issue.

Its jist was identical: we're all fucked, and every solution you've heard is a government or corporation-sponsored lie. Blah, blah. Wrap your head around a shotgun and prepare for the flood.

Of course, it didn't come to pass. Readers spammed up the publication's box in the weeks that followed with angry demands for an explanation/retraction, which was never offered. One of their writers did a freelance piece that then turned the blame onto the SOURCES analyzed rather than the author, which was a lot like Springfieldians burning down the observatory so they'd never have to deal with another comet.

And just last week, the Stranger in Seattle had a vague little reference to PO in its hokey "doomerwatch" page. Nothing's worse than pop journalism making a horribly misguided stab at apocalyptic irony. Cripes.

At Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 2:01:00 AM PDT, Blogger Sinus said...

Your argument supposes that the Peak Oil problem is somehow more true/ or less true in proportion to the credibility of the person telling you about it

The argument is that Kunsler is a incompetent worthless liar that can't be trusted.

At Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 2:06:00 AM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Yeah. The point isn't whether or not Peak Oil exists or has repercussions similar to those that were projected for Y2K.

The point is that this guy's a snake-oil salesman with one channel: loud, stupid panic. He's supposed to come up here with his gospel next month, I'm half-tempted to show up at his "reading" with a mean drunk and plenty of JD-like questions.

At Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 9:06:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

LMAO. Flamebaiting as a call for civility. Now we're cooking with gas.

Good boy, Byo. Have a cookie.

At Sunday, May 28, 2006 at 11:43:00 PM PDT, Blogger JD said...

There are a lot of other people who think Peak Oil is a problem, and they are certainly no fools!

How do you know they're not fools? The appeal to common opinion is a fallacy.

Prior to Y2K, there were many highly qualified, authoritative people who thought Y2K was going to wreak havoc. Look up Ed Yourdon, Ed Yardeni, Robert Bennett etc...

Edward Nash Yourdon is a computer consultant, author, and lecturer and a recognised pioneer in a software engineering methodology - structured programming.

Ed was the lead developer of the structured systems analysis and design methodology (SSADM) of the 1970s, and was a co-developer of the Yourdon/Whitehead method of object-oriented analysis/design.

He has authored over 550 technical articles and authored or coauthored 26 computer books since 1967.

He is a graduate of MIT, earning an SB in Mathematics in 1965.

During the late 1990s, he was one of the leading proponents of the theory that the 'Y2K Bug' would lead to a collapse of civilization, or at least protracted economic depression and technological breakdown on a wide scale. He wrote several books and produced at least one video putting forth that theory (and offering advice on how to survive the coming crisis), though his current website makes little or no mention of this.


At Monday, May 29, 2006 at 9:40:00 AM PDT, Blogger Step Back said...

Debunking DEBUNKED:
Showing that Chicken Little was wrong the last time does not as a matter of logic prove that he (Kunstler) is wrong this time.
A thousand wrong turns in the past do not unright the next right turn in the road.
I am not saying by this that Kunstler is right. I'm just saying that chastising his past does nothing, from a logical sense, to overturn his current position.

Now if you want to argue that we are irrational reptile creatures who pay more attention to the tingle of our gut than to rational thought, and that we like to follow leaders who were "right" in the past because our "sound logic' tells us that therefore they must be right this time (no matter how illogical such a conclusion is), then you have succeeded.

BTW, Y2K was not a hoax. It was very real. It was thanks to the hard work of many legacy COBOL programmers that the disaster was averted.

At Monday, May 29, 2006 at 10:22:00 PM PDT, Blogger JD said...

That is unfortunately not to say their bleak outlooks concerning PO are necessarily irrelevant,

We started with "Kunstler is right" and you have now modulated into "Kunstler is not necessarily wrong". That itself is a backpedal, so I'll declare victory.

I do like the awkward phraseology, though, and I would encourage you to use it more in your recruiting literature: "WAKE UP CALL!! It's not necessarily impossible that the people predicting the end of the world might be right."

At Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 12:20:00 PM PDT, Blogger mattbg said...

There are some obvious similarities between the Y2K and peak oil situations, but there are also some very important differences:

- the targets were well-defined, and there was a clear deadline that everyone had to meet. There was uncertainty about which systems needed fixing, but there wasn't any uncertainty about when they had to be fixed by. Many companies had all hands on deck when the time change occurred so that any problems that did occur could be dealt with immediately.

- the environment in which Y2K changes needed to be made was entirely man-made, and searchable. Much of what needed to be replaced or fixed were stored in intangible assets that were easily discoverable and modified

- there was sufficient public awareness of the problem, and enough attention given that this alone may have helped make it a non-issue

- it didn't require individual non-professionals to take any personal action; it was in the hands of professionals. You didn't have the problem of requiring the general population (who, generally, didn't understand the problem) to conserve, cut back, or anything like that.

Kunstler makes a valuable contribution because he provides great attention to detail with respect to what could go wrong. His scenarios are valuable food for thought.

At Tuesday, May 30, 2006 at 1:44:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Subtracting the quantifiable data aspect of PO--in this case, specific "deadlines", an ACTUAL peak date not based on conjecture, speculation or blind doomer hopes and environmental and political aspects--leaves you with the exact same issues, though.

Problem + Innovation = Solution.

In many ways, it'd be much nicer if we did know in all absolute sense that we had until 3PM on December 6th of 2009 to get the ball rolling. But Y2K hysteria didn't kick into full-bore mode until at LEAST a year before the rollover in the public eye; in that sense, PO's got a huge headstart. Mitigation and mentality is already beginning to get a foothold on public awareness--perhaps, ironically enough, fueled by end-geeks like Kunstler and Savinar--and investment in remedial technologies is EXPLODING globally, despite having no guarantees or parameters about the when, where, why and how of PO's effect on global economies.

The trends are only going to slant harder in the coming years, but even if you subscribe to the 2010 theory, there's a lot of forward momentum going on. I suspect the ultimate reason is that PO is a billion times more profitable than Y2K ever was outside of the bug-hunting market; where there's blood, there's folks eager to sell bandages.

At Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 2:25:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

"Ironic" in the sense that--in any objective sense--Kunstler and Savinar are the LAST guys who should be acting as ambassadors for the PO message. Anybody whose main stake is solely financial (Which Matt, to his credit, fully admits) and then, somewhere in the rear, environmental or social, is really just acting in the same vein of politicians.

"Here's your call to arms. Where's my check?"

But you're absolutely right. The media loves a prophet, and a million hours of someone like Rapier offering hard testimony is going to pale in social worth when held up against a few hours of ominous voice-over work and someone pounding a doomsday pulpit.

At Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 2:38:00 AM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Well, at least he's not even pretending to be anything more than a schizoid troll.

The ultimate fallacy: That anybody who types "ha ha ha" would survive more than 32 seconds in a post-apocalyptic environment.

Good for a larf, though.

At Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 3:28:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Right. And don't forget to note the dumb-as-all-fuck "somehow, this problem will overshoot me and my faction/people/political party and rain down on you like God's Wrath" ideology. Of course, as omnitir noted, you're no doubt typing this from your fortified, self-sufficient compound ten miles beneath the Earth's surface as an autonomous participant in global affairs.

So far, we've pretty much seen every cliche' doomer behavior compacted into one tiny thread. Erratic logic, balls-out trolling, apopleptic nonsense and the need to ignore anything that points out how stupid and/or illogical whatever "points" are being made really are.

You're a credit to your species, Byo. You goofy, backwards shit. Keep swinging for the fences.

At Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 5:16:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Hell, I'm just impressed that he went with something as conservative as 5%.

While bastardizing Campbell for the sake of fearmongering, you might as well go 7%. Or, hell, 10% if we're feeling sassy.

At Friday, June 2, 2006 at 12:09:00 AM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Wow. It really didn't take much to break that bitch.


At Friday, June 2, 2006 at 7:48:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Truest thing that's been posted in this thread yet. Well-said, Jev. Well-said, freak.

At Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 9:44:00 AM PDT, Blogger al fin said...

Nice. What a fine menagerie of catastrophe junkies and doomseekers, JD. Almost as if you have them trained to dance on command.

Any old catastrophe will do--just send your check, money order, credit card number, or bank account number to our fine charity, and we WILL SAVE THE WORLD!!

Al Gore? No, Al Fin.

At Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 2:30:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

But you get this fine nylon mesh totebag and a football phone with any donation over fifty dollars, Fin.

How can you go wrong?!

At Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 7:33:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. Hauser said...

Hey. As a joke, it's pretty funny. And that's all this is, even on the off chance that it's unintentional.

Off I go. See you guys around the other prog-science hotspots. Peace.

At Tuesday, June 20, 2006 at 5:01:00 AM PDT, Blogger Chad Mars said...

actually, Y2K was real, and it did affect a lot of servers. just not on the massive scale as was predicted because so many companies prepared for it. your argument...debunked!

At Monday, August 25, 2008 at 1:31:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've also noticed that the person running this blog has said some of the same things as Kunstler. Such as using rail and electrification.

So now where does JD stand?

At Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 5:24:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Rabid Doomsayer said...

At the time he wrote about Y2K he was bang on the money. His end of the world got through to senior management in a way that the IT professionals could not. When it was almost too late, the money was provided to test and solve the problem.

Similarly Peak oil is solvable, if we do something about it. It is very late in the day, and we are not doing very much yet.

At this stage of the game doom and gloom is appropriate, or we can do something. Your choice.

At Monday, August 31, 2009 at 8:15:00 AM PDT, Blogger MiscellanyEsq said...

JHK's response to a query about his piece on Y2K:

Note, he voluntarily posted this on his website. Perhaps he did "hide" it somewhat by not linking to it, but he certainly has no qualms about putting it out there now.


Post a Comment

<< Home