Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

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A Cheerful, Semi-Apocalyptic Look at Things to Come

A Cheerful, Semi-Apocalyptic Look at Things to Come: A summary of Michael Ventura’s Musings

by Anne R. Allen |

In these blood-soaked, declining years of the American Empire, much of the US seems to live in a collective SUV of the soul, sucking up the last reserves of the planet’s energy while making road kill of whatever crosses our path. As a nation, we have sacrificed our integrity, security, and liberty on the altar of the Great God Oil.

We are so devoted to our petroleum-based economy that we tolerate obscene profit-taking by multi-national oil companies and keep in power a tyrannical and phenomenally incompetent ruling regime — which consists entirely of oil executives.

Meanwhile, we gleefully fork over our country’s wealth to the communist government of China without a whimper of protest — even from the political right. The Bush administration increases the national debt at the rate of a billion dollars each day, borrowed mostly from China, to pay for its bloody, futile attempts to control the world’s oil reserves.

But scary as it is, the collapse of the oil-based economy may be our only hope.

You can read some fascinating predictions of a post-petroleum America in “Things to Come,” an essay series by Michael Ventura that appeared in the Austin Chronicle between September 30 and November 11, 2005. It’s available online in the Chronicle archives at

Ventura, a founder of L.A.Weekly and author of seven books, including the bestseller We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, is one of our most clear-eyed and underrated social commentators. He’s not known for his optimism, but his series offers some guardedly hopeful predictions. He calls himself a “cheerful semi-apocalyptic.”

He sees a slow progression of changes, which will be “up-down, … which is, after all, the way one walks.” As oil creeps to $100-$200 a barrel and beyond, we’ll first be forced to change our travel habits; then our consumption of goods and services, and finally our approach to work, food, shelter and community. We’ll have to learn to walk again: Down/Up, Up/Down.

Change #1
Air travel gets prohibitively expensive

a) less likelihood of global pandemics
b) Slowing of the pollution that causes global warming (He points out that during the three-day hiatus in air travel after 9/11, air quality improved measurably.)
c) Families move closer together.

Change #2
car travel becomes a luxury.

a) We revive our railroads and bring them up to European/Asian standards.
(Trains can run on anything: wood, coal, bio-fuel or magnetic energy.)
b) Small town retail centers thrive as people shop closer to home.
c) Fitness and health improve as we walk and bicycle to work and shopping.

Change #3

long-distance transport of goods becomes unprofitable.
a) Outsourcing ceases. American manufacturing is reborn.
b) Walmart evaporates.
c) Local small businesses spring up in every community.

Change #4

Petro-chemicals that sustain mega-agribusinesses disappear.


a) Organic farming becomes the norm
b) Small farms are viable again.
c) Eating habits change to cheaper, vegetable-based diets.

Change #5

Petroleum-based plastics become rare.


a) We stop stuffing landfills.
b) We learn to repair rather than discard. Repair businesses flourish.
c) We relearn skills for creating what we need from natural materials.
Craftspeople thrive.

Change #6

Global communications and economies break down.

a) Strong local communities form in towns and urban neighborhoods
b) Artists, storytellers, musicians, actors and athletes flourish locally, not on a single global stage.
c) No worries about your credit report. You don’t have one. But you do have to honor your word.

Transition will be harder in the US than other “first world” countries because of crumbling infrastructure, poor public transportation, no national health care, and tremendous debt. We’ll suffer more than other countries from sudden mass unemployment and huge spikes in costs of basic services.

But we also have the resources to produce the energy to replace petroleum. We can grow grain to make ethanol. We have sun, wind, and water. We can rebound better and greater than ever, if we can elect leaders rather than looters.

It helps to remember that democracy was invented by small, independent businessmen. As large corporations fail and we rebuild our country one repair shop, yard sale, and produce stand at a time, we will have the chance to re-establish a democratic government that is not for sale.

In our new “yard sale nation,” status won’t be determined by the gadgets we buy, but by creativity, hard work and integrity

And best of all, Ventura says, we’ll be able to “tell the children that they’re needed – that we have a new world to build.”

He admits the transition will be harsh. But what could be harsher than telling our children their lives have no purpose, that they are here only to serve and eat Big Macs, and watch High Definition carnage on TV?

Anne R. Allen is a Los Osos-based freelance writer. She’s the author of two comic novels published in the UK, Food of Love and The Best Revenge, available at She’s also a columnist for the writers’ e-zine INkwell Newswatch. [email protected]

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"