The documentary The End of Suburbia tells a dark story about the implications of oil dependency, and wonders if future generations will make different choices to curb their consumption patterns
New Urbanist James Howard Kunstler opens the film, saying, “The whole suburban project can be summarized pretty succinctly as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. America took all of its post-war wealth and invested it in a living arrangement that has no future.”
There’s a good amount of doomsday forecast in the film, describing why we grew dependent on fossil fuels, and the implications now that we’ve reached reached peak capacity. What I find most interesting is the way the film highlights our willingness to live beyond our means and our reluctance to accept responsibility for the inevitable consequences that follow. We want what we want, but shortsightedness in the face of instant gratification seems to have blinded us from the fact that there’s a bill to be paid at the end of the night.
My brother and I got into a conversation about living past Peak Oil, and he seems confident in the belief that technology will find a way forward. Whether it’s through solar panelled vehicles or other alternative fuels, his sense is that too much is at stake not to find innovative methods to maintain our existing lifestyles.
That sentiment brings to mind a scene from this summer’s blockbuster film, The Avengers, when Nick Fury, director of the espionage agency SHIELD and played by Samuel L. Jackson, explains the urgency of locating the Tesseract, because it’s a source of “unlimited sustainable energy, which is something we sorely need”. I can’t help but find it laughable to think that we can continue to maintain current trends of consumption and produce waste that’s usable by other systems of production. For me, it’s equivalent to hoping for a team of superheros to fly down from the heavens and save us from ourselves. While it may make sense in the movies, the more likely story seems one where we account for the choices we’ve already made.
The End of Suburbia is not without hope, suggesting that the path forward can be found in living locally, developing networks of people at the community level, and finding approaches and strategies that speak to the particular resources and circumstances of each particular person.