Talkin’ peak oil blues: The new KunstlerCast book

Crary and Kunstler

Duncan Crary and James Howard Kunstler, the Robin and Batman of the peak oil world. Photo:

Beloved curmudgeon and peak oil prophet James Howard Kunstler doesn’t mince words.

Whether it’s on his Monday blog, Clusterfuck Nation, in his many public appearances, as a featured commentator in documentaries, or in books like peak oil classic The Long Emergency, Kunstler delivers the bad news straight on. Take his comments in the ABC-TV film Earth 2100:

One of our political leaders said, not too long ago, that the American way of life is non-negotiable. And we’re gonna discover the hard way that, when you don’t negotiate the circumstances that are sent to you by the universe, you automatically get assigned a new negotiating partner. Named reality. And then it will negotiate for you. You don’t even have to be in the room.

The KunstlerCast

Kunstler is almost universally entertaining in this seemingly cynical way. But while failing to suffer fools, Kunstler brings intelligence, historical contextualization and a good deal of heart to his work. Nowhere is his range wider than on his weekly podcast, the KunstlerCast, hosted by journalist-broadcaster Duncan Crary.

Since 2007 Crary and Kunstler have been shooting the breeze on their show, billed as conversations on “the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl.”

The easy rapport between the host and his star makes listening to the podcast a delight. Together, the star and his sidekick have a unique ability to take on some of the weightiest matters of our time — energy depletion, hyperconsumerism, political corruption, the built environment, global warming, dying downtowns, what downmarket fashion says about American decline, corporate chicanery and more — as if it were light banter over hors d’oeuvres.

Not that they take it lightly. Weekly, Kunstler and Crary crawl right down into the belly of the beast, but their forays never come off as over-intellectualized, elite, or worse, boring. Instead, they talk with passion and persistence, but with a playful enough take on the subject of tragedy that you can count on the comedy just when you need it.

Cheez Doodle transcript

Cover the KunstlerCast book

The KunstlerCast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler by Duncan Crary, New Society Publishers, 300pp, $16.95.

That’s why it’s a delight that Crary has just released some of their conversations in book form as The KunstlerCast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler. The compilation of more than a hundred hours of audio includes Crary’s own initiation into peak oil awareness, along with reams of transcript tidbits from his four years chatting with peak oil’s most colorful pontificator.

Topics range from the straightforward (“The New Urbanism”) to the catty (“The Starchitects and Brutalism”). In each case, Crary and Kunstler riff on life in the contemporary world, with Kunstler’s formidable lay expertise in architecture, urbanism and the built environment providing a context for larger issues of resources and economy.

For example, Kunstler on the public realm:

In America we have some New England greens and courthouse squares in the Midwest and the South. But for the most part in the USA, public space comes in the form of the street and if you screw it up — if you dishonor it, if you fail to embellish it in a way that honors people’s existence — then you’ve got a real problem. Having turned all our streets into automobile slums, we no longer have any sense that it is a public space and that it does belong to us. Certainly not that it honors us. (KunstlerCast #154, April 28, 2011)

All chapters contain segments of the shows, sometimes combined as a continuation of the same theme. Mostly it’s a direct text stream from Kunstler’s edgy effusions, but there’s a little editing thrown in there to make a transcript read easier.

Peak oil hammer in an orange velvet glove

Compact and colorful, the book is well packaged and, sorry, I just have to say it…while its many merits stand alone as a great book to have anywhere in the house, this one in particular is that perfect kind of, well, bathroom book. If you want to gently edge your friends, family, and guests toward some peak oil awareness, just plop this baby down in the magazine rack in the hallway loo.

Nice bite-sized snippets helps make this one of those books you can open to any page and still get a nugget of wisdom along with a guffaw or two. And it’s the kind of stuff you’ll return to again and again for a peak oil or tragic-comic fix, when you just want to confirm that you’re not crazy for finding America clownish, or marveling in disgrace over grown men in high-water “baby pants.”

Duncan shines

With its excellent introduction by Crary, and his editing and other well-structured arrangements throughout, the book offers a way to get to know Crary better, too.

After several years in serious conversation with guru Kunstler, it’s clear that Crary has more than earned his chops in the peak oil and resource-lifestyle conversation. For a taste of his style you can always visit the KunstlerCast podcast site. But to hear more about his time working with Kunstler, check out this C-Realm podcast with Crary called “American Brigadoon.”

With his smooth on-air voice and relaxed yet informed demeanor, I hope we’ll hear more from this rising cultural observation star in the future.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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