Guest Post: The New Abnormal

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by James Howard Kunstler of,

The collective state of mind in the USA these days may be even more peculiar than what went on in Germany in the early 1930s, when the Nazis were freely elected to lead the country and reconstructed the battered national psyche into a superman cult that soon beat a path to mass death and ruin. America has its own way of going crazy. We don't goose-step to tragedy; we coalesce into an insane clown posse and stumble into it by pratfall -- juggaloes dancing backwards off the cliff edge. 

We've been softened up and made extra-stupid on a 60-year-long diet of TV and kreme-filled donuts.  Instead of a "master race," our political fantasies revolve around a master wish - to get something for nothing. Want to feel good about yourself? Smoke some crank. Want to become economically secure? Buy a Powerball ticket or drive to the local casino. Want political esteem? Plug a flag pin into your lapel. Want status? Borrow free money from the Federal Reserve at zero interest and arbitrage it into massive earnings for your primary dealer bank. All these behaviors are the consequence of a culture that elevated advertising to such a high social good, it ended up drowning in its own manufactured bullshit.
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A subset of our master wish has been on vivid display in recent months, namely the idea that God has blessed the USA with a limitless supply of new oil that will allow us to keep driving to WalMart forever. This propaganda from an oil industry desperate for capital investment has been swallowed whole by people in authority who ought to know better, just as that same class of people in Germany of 1934 should have known better about what they were bargaining for in economic well-being with the Nazi agenda. In our case, the propaganda drumbeat is being led by formerly respectable news organizations. The New York Times, National Public Radio, Bloomberg News, Forbes, and The Atlantic Magazine are media giants that have lately spread the "good news" that America will soon be 1) "energy independent," 2) the world's leading oil exporter (greater than Saudi Arabia is now!), and the "go-to nation" for cheap manufacturing.
All of these claims are false, by the way. The American way-of-life was designed to run on $20-a-barrel oil, not $90-a-barrel oil, and "new technology" has not changed that. The unfortunate and, to some extent, mendacious memes about the wonders of "new technology" have only snookered the public into a false sense of security about a future that will disappoint them badly and probably provoke an extreme political reaction as the reality of our predicament sweeps through daily life.
Most of the current "endless oil" fantasy revolves around shale oil. Just to get a visual idea of what this amounts to, consider this map. It depicts the two major shale oil production regions of the USA: the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford "play" in Texas. Bakken production is confined almost entirely to four counties in North Dakota (Williams, Mountrail, McKenzie, Dunn). The Eagle Ford region touches perhaps ten Texas counties. Now, realize that the oil fields all over the rest of the USA (including Alaska) are in decline. Here's where the "bonanza" of new oil all comes from:
The oil coming out of these places is high cost and low flow-rate oil. This is exactly the opposite of what US oil production used to be (low cost and high flow-rate) when we were busy building all the freeways, strip malls, housing subdivisions, suburban office parks and all of the other stranded assets that now make up the infrastructure of daily life in this country. Those were the days when you could pound a single pipe vertically 1000 feet down (not much deeper than many home water wells) into the temperate wheatfields of Oklahoma (drive to work in shirtsleeve weather!) and after that modest investment in drilling you could kick back and depend on a great flow rate (5,000 barrels-a-day, not unusual) of sweet light petroleum for years.
Horizontal drilling (often more than 10,000 feet down + many "laterals" an additional 10,000 feet horizontally) and then fracturing "tight" rock for shale oil is not only a way larger capital expense (lots of steel!) but the flow rates per well (82 barrels-a-day average) are laughable compared to the halcyon days of conventional oil -- little better than "stripper" wells. Consider also that shale oil well flow-rates decline greater than 60 percent in the first year (rapidly thereafter, too) and you can see easily that there will be no "kicking back" to run the pump-jacks like cash registers, as in the old days. In fact, the rapid depletion only prompts more frantic drilling and re-drilling to keep the production at its current rate - the "Red Queen Syndrome" ("I'm running as fast as I can to stay where I am"), which means fantastic capital expenditure to keep drilling and fracking more wells (even more steel!). Consider also, that the small "sweet spots" in the shale oil regions were the ones drilled first (in earnest after 2003), for the simple reason that they were the most promising. This was the "low hanging fruit" -- easy to pick. Outside these sweet spots the oil may be too meager or difficult or costly to bother drilling for.
This is a picture of a boomlet that may run a few more years -- if the banking system doesn't implode and the massive stream of capital doesn't quit flowing to the shale counties. The excitement will all be over before 2020, but I suspect that troubles in finance and banking will put the schnitz on the shale gas mania long before that date. What will happen when the American public discovers that they were lied to about yet another important matter? The discovery will coincide with very severe changes in daily life that won't be avoidable. Everyone will be affected. Many will be impoverished and suffer real hardship. That's when the public goes apeshit and starts tearing down the house.
Apart from the issue of sheer economic suffering and all the damage that will ensue, consider that it will be generations before anyone believes the "authorities" again -- though, like the oil age itself, the era of giant national media will probably prove to be a one-shot deal, too. Future generations -- if they are lucky -- may read the news on one-page circulating broadsides, printed laboriously in hand-set type by letterpress. Or maybe they'll be reduced to just parsing out rumors.

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Osmium's picture

It is true.  We will never "run out" of oil.  There will always be oil underground that is not recoverable.

knukles's picture

Must be true... otherwise they wouldn't print it.

Plus, it did come from meteorites along with gold and water.
So du-uh on you nonbelievers!

And them dinosaurs created global warming, too, bitchez

ZerOhead's picture

I predict the final "Oil Boom" will come from recycling the asphalt from the interstate highways we don't use anymore.

Can't fly Lord Bankfine's private jet on battery power you know...

RafterManFMJ's picture

Deep acoustic imaging shows Mars is chock full of Hydrocarbons, and the Mars-to-Earth interplanetary pipeline is under construction as we speak. All is well.

auntiesocial's picture

nice post. only thing missing is the Orange Faygo reference.

Dingusdongus's picture

I wouldn't worry. God is hardly likely to let the USA run out of oil.

DaveyJones's picture

yes, but the Devil is in the details

upWising's picture

DRINK alcohol.  (If a little is good, a lot is better, and too much is better YET!)
WATCH more television.  (If it's on TV, you know it is true.  That's what TeeVee is for!)
TAKE your medication as directed.  (If He wears a White Coat, he knows what is he is talking about).
SHOP as directed.  (If a little is good, a lot is better, and too much is better YET!)
DRIVE wherever you go.  (Why walk to the end of the driveway when you can drive?)
SUPPORT AND BELIEVE your preacher. (If he is a Rev. and has a shiny suit, he is telling the truth. Give generously!)
DISPLAY the Flag.  (Lapel pins, bumper stickers, flying in tandem from the back of your pickup).
ADJUST your BarcaLounger.  (You have a Constituional Right to Chillax and be Comfortable). 


You are Defending The Homeland.

U-S-A-Number 1!

knukles's picture


The Mae West Theory of Bountifulness 

If some is good and
 More is better
  Then way the fuck too much is just about right

WillyGroper's picture

Goodness had nothin to do with it.

Cleve Meater's picture

Very funny... Only thing missing is EAT lots of phony Frankenfood so you can get your Medicare subsidy for your electric go cart.

In all seriousness, has anyone out there considered just moving abroad? At some point, I think we'll see an exodus. If the craziness continues, it has to happen. These two dudes did it with families. Interesting idea:

InTheLandOfTheBlind's picture

not to mention the gasification of coal

insanelysane's picture

I hear there is oil on the moon but building the pipeline is going to be a bitch.  Damn thing keeps moving.

This just in's picture

THe gassification of my man cave.

the Absurd's picture

To actually understand the end of cheap oil, one must acknowledge that many things that are unthinkable become only a matter of time.

Most people don't want to understand that, and that's understandable.  If Obama came out and addressed the nation about peak oil, anarchy would break out world-wide.  They really can't admit it at this point on a large public scale.  Jimmy Carter kind of tried to explain exponential growth, but no one wanted to hear it.

There is the Hirsch Report, so I'm sure they know.

Could you imagine Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly all of the sudden sounding like Michael Ruppert?  They would probably be fired.  Whatever happened to Dylan Ratigan after his ranting that went viral?  The public can't handle the truth and largely don't want to hear it anyway.

Like Osmium says, we will never "run out of oil".  We'll just reach a point where it's not economically viable to recover what remains, and everything will shut down - from the just-in-time inventory system that keeps the store shelves stocked to the airlines.

ZerOhead's picture

We'll just reach a point where it's not economically viable to recover what remains, and everything will shut down...

Never forget that oil... like water... always flows towards money. Both are huge input costs in modern agriculture which is perhaps the most important and productive industry left in the declining Western economies. You can't just shut this sucker down and not expect complete societal implosion.

Let's not forget that a single gallon of gas has the energy equivalent of around 500 hours of human labor so I see the price rising one hell of a lot higher before things begin to shut down. When you see horses pulling wagons in the streets again you will know for sure the end is near...

I see a lot of bicycles these days going up and down my street... and vehicles are just going to have to get smaller and more fuel efficient (or 2 wheeled). High fuel prices will eventually do that even without those carbon taxes the Gorists and Banker/Political classes want so desparately.

The prices will get crazy to be sure... but I don't expect production to collapse... people will just have to pay more money they already don't have for it...

the Absurd's picture

When it takes more energy to extract the oil than the oil can provide in whatever form, it's not economically viable to extract it.

If money is not backed by adequate energy, it quickly becomes worthless.

Humans will go back to using slave labor directly (for farming, not iPods).

In my view, industrial civilization is an anomaly in human history.

Citxmech's picture

Don't forget that "modern" farming is essentially "hydroponic" in that crops are fueled 100% by chemical fertilizers in what is basically a non-nutritious growth medium.  To grow crops without commercial fertilizers would take a realignment that would make a transition from cars to bikes look like a cake-walk (essentially, we need to eliminate mono-cultures, and incorporate crop-rotations that include grazing animals - a la "Polyface Farms").

As energy costs go up - irrigation is going to become a HUGE issue.  And then there are the issues with the declining aquifers, rivers, and lakes - and the new normal boom/bust weather patterns. . .   (basically, if cheap oil-based energy is a thing of the past - our food security will evaporate).


DaveyJones's picture

the sick truth is that water capture and regeneration is relatively easy is we use permaculture principles. People like Geoff Lawton have demonstrated over and over again that swales on contour can easily rehydrate even a desert landscape. So does natural lanscape with organic cover that actually absorb and hold the water. These methods only take a few years to establish completely self sustaining systems. Permaculture systems work and are more productive because they mimic nature. Imagine that, actually using the systems that already function on this planet to diverisfy plants, nutrtion, water and production. It is so intrinsic and fundmanetal that no wonder the control criminals want to deny it as an option. Nothing to hold, deny, distribute, and profit from.  People ask if the permaculutre systems can produce enough to survive (which they can) but the right question to ask is if the current systems can continue. We have no choice but to abandon these extermely "temporary" and destructive methods and go back to want worked in perpetuity.

Citxmech's picture

"Nothing to hold, deny, distribute, and profit from."

This is precisely why global supply chain based "value-added" processors get protected at all costs - localization eliminates the potential for their obscene profits.

The transition to a high-cost energy future is going to have to grow from the roots up and will be fueled by necessity.  

ZerOhead's picture

I am growing raspberries and blueberries in their natural environment DJ.

No irrigation, tilling, fertilization, herbicide, insecticide or fungicide application necessary.

Perhaps some bee hives in the next few years...

DaveyJones's picture

you the man

check out the alpine strawberry. very small, taste literally like a fine wine. wont survive in the supermarket but it's easy to drive to your backyard. Every berry is a hit to the banker, the tanker and the monsanto wanker 

akak's picture

Davey, you are absolutely correct about the alpine strawberries --- I grew them for several years (outside of their natural growing zone, until a hard winter killed them all), and their flavor and aroma are fabulous, FAR and away better than the giant, woody strawberries from the grocery store.

Even better are the wild beach strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis) of the Pacific Northwest coastal regions, which are WILD in the intensity of their aroma and flavor ---- even better than the alpine strawberries, I think --- but which sadly almost never produce berries in cultivation for some reason.  I pick them wild here in Alaska, and while they are rare, they are worth almost any amount of time and work to find and pick.

Citxmech's picture

Akak - any idea where to get seeds/starts for the wild beach strawberries?  We grow Alpines currently, but being in the PacNW - I'd love to give these a try!

FYI folks - if you only eat store-bought berries - you've got to try fresh-picked - it's like the difference between a shitty recording and a live concert.    And they last 10x as long too.

akak's picture

Citxmech, I have seen beach strawberry plants for sale through various catalogs, Northwest Territorial springs to mind, but even they state right in their catalog that the plants are really only being sold as a ground cover, and that one should not expect the plants to produce any meaningful amount of berries.  Unless you can place them in EXACTLY their natural environment ---- oceanside sandy soil --- they will almost certainly not produce many, or any, berries for you.  I have tried for years to coax beach strawberries into production in my own yard, which is only one mile from the coast, and have only managed to get one measly handful out of the patch in one single year.  It is an ongoing source of mystery for many botanists just why they are so finicky.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

Citxmech, the American Beauties Native Plants website has info on them here:

On the left side of the page toward the bottom you can enter your zip code to see if there are any sources local to you.

akak's picture

The inability to self-propagate and blob-up fruit of US 'american' beach strawberryism is very much something.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

akak said:

The inability to self-propagate and blob-up fruit of US 'american' beach strawberryism is very much something.

Alas, ala, 2.75 times alas, somehow sounds like Chinese citizenism strawsberryman poured by AnAnonymystical propagangelists to prevent US 'american' citizens from producing technique giving blobbing up of beach strawsberry fruit much the dangdang.

In Chinese citizenism economics, such production is equivalent to consumption. US 'american' citizen production is disacceptable because diminish demand for Chinese citizenism strawsberries enriched with lead and cadmium.

It is another leap in logics Chinese citizenism citizens are used to.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Well, I had thought I'd achieved strawberry nirvana when I had tried Fraises des Bois in France years ago ( I think they are the alpine strawberries of which you speak). These little rascals are packed with so much flavor, a handful can out do a ton of commercial berries in flavor.. We can only grow them in a window box, our summers are just too hot. I tried growing them on our porch once and was continuously fighting the birds and weather so I gave up. We have 6 breeding pairs of Orioles that visit us every year and always spend a few days whacking the window trying to get at the berries. The joys of living in the desert. I can't imagine anything better than a fraise.


thomcat00's picture

Localized, organic farming is already practiced successfuly on the small scale. Community gardens exist in many cities. Distribution will still be a huge hurdle.

Shigure's picture

+1 And don't forget that food has to be transported from farms, processed and packaged and then on to the shops. Recently there was a report of trucks turning off their refridgeration units to save fuel.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

You are correct. The Polyface model is the only one that is remotely sustainable. However, given the population of this country, I can't imagine how this can be implemented. Local farm production will have to be seriously considered. When I was a kid I remembered driving for miles in LA through vegetable farms. Now all that farmland is under miles of cement propping up an endless sea of tract homes. Just obscene.


the Absurd's picture

I have no idea when the next major crisis will be, although I suspect it will be in this decade. In many ways it's happening right now, just not everywhere and to the same degree in all places.

I think the next financial crisis, whether it starts in Japan, Europe, or the US, will be unstoppable and set off a chain reaction world-wide, as central banks and governments have lost most of their credibility with people who are paying attention.

Chris Martenson gives a good presentation without getting hysterical.

I also recommend reading Shadowstats Hyperinflation Special Report.  He expects "The Great Collapse" by 2015 and focuses more on the US and financial aspects of the situation.
SpiceMustFlow's picture

Martenson's strongest suit seems to be making good points without getting hysterical.

Either way would anyone disagree that while the current "green techs" blow balls currently, the only way to make them more viable would be spiked hydrocarbon prices? I'm no expert by any means, but improvements in alternative energy seem to be tied directly to rising traditional prices logically, in an environment where there might be rational business models out there in no need of subsidization. We might see a younger generation full of Ross Beatys.

mind_imminst's picture

I interviewed Hirsch 3 years ago. He said in 2 to 5 years that oil production declines would begin to hamper the economy. Not yet, but still some time on his prediction. He said natural gas was just about meaningless in the whole scenario, because not much oil is used for power generation. However, natural gas DOES prouce electicity for the tiny but growing number of electric vehicles.

Citxmech's picture

Looks to me like oil production cost are hampering the economy right now.  Look at fuel prices and the collapse in gasoline useage.  No real growth, no juice to keep the debt-based Ponzi going - hence the deflationary tendancy that is being held down by currency devaluation.

DaveyJones's picture

Are you suggesting the economy is not "in the hamper?"

Are our transition rates as fast as the disruption?

Are our "leaders" being honest about this?

Are we being honest with ourselves?

Bastiat's picture

1st paragraph was poetry.

Seize Mars's picture

Bah. Could have been straight from "Rolling Stone."

Bastiat's picture

Ok I use the word lightly.  But Kunstler is a good writer.  Lots of good writing in Rolling Stone too, content and style:  see Matt Taiibi.

aerojet's picture

He writes fine, but he never seems to be able to correctly tie a phenomenon back to its correct cause.  He's all over the place with idiotic cause and effect scenarios that he tortures into supporting his twin hatred for suburbia and for oil. 

Bastiat's picture

Won't argue with that.  Oil is a big deal but yes he is prone to going off in the weeds at times.  Don't read him much anymore but used to look forward eagerly to his next rant back in the Clusterfuck Nation days.  Passion, outrage, and a sharp pen.