…connecting faith and the environment

By Sarah Streed

My middle son needs help with his reading. He’s an A student in science and a few other subjects, but his Language Arts grade always pulls him down. So when I saw him reading a Rolling Stone magazine of his older, guitarist brother, I offered to buy a subscription. This is how I ended up reading “The End of Oil” by James Howard Kunstler. The article is an excerpt taken from his book The Long Emergency. Briefly, it explains that The Long Emergency is what we face now in 2005, the year of the global oil production peak. We are on the downward side of the bell curve of oil supply—there is still oil, but it is of inferior quality, harder to get and located in countries where they hate us. The years of cheap oil are over.

“Most immediately we face the end of the cheap-fossil-fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as the necessities of modern life …”

The article was riveting, so I wrote to ask Kunstler if I could excerpt part of his book in Ethical Energy, WICEC’s quarterly newsletter. (Go to: .) He responded yes, and having seen the Wisconsin address on my email, said that he was coming to speak at UW-Madison. I then asked if I could interview him, a request that he granted. This was how I ended up speaking personally to Mr. Kunstler and was able to ask him some questions about his vision of the future. (For the full interview, again, go to .)

When I asked him what was the answer to the global energy predicament we face, he talked about how we’re going to have to downscale our activities in America, living much more locally than we do now. For example, the average food item travels 1,200 miles to get to our tables, taking enormous amounts of cheap oil. The trucks that bring oranges from Florida all winter and the planes that bring pineapples from Hawaii demand a constant supply of cheap fuel.

Kunstler spoke of how living locally will change our relationships. We will once again, like our great-grandparents, be living—and working--side by side with neighbors, and these relationships will be much more “complicated and meaningful” than they are now.

My curiosity was aroused by the end of the article in the Rolling Stone that said: “The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. We will not believe that this is happening to us, that 200 years of modernity can be brought to its knees by a world-wide power shortage. The survivors will have to cultivate a religion of hope—that is, a deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on. …Years from now, when we hear singing at all, we will hear ourselves, and we will sing with our whole hearts. …”

I asked him if he thought of the “religion of hope” as a spiritual thing.

He answered: “Yes. I think we live in a society that in some ways is depraved at the most ordinary level. I think that some people will find a pathway toward a different belief system …”

He spoke of people living and working intimately together and carving out a new lifestyle based on things other than consumption and cheap entertainment.

I think Kunstler’s right. If you listen to the scientists, and read behind the lines in our celebrity and trivia-driven media, you see that our current level of consumption cannot continue. The host of cheap plastic toys we throw at our kids, the exotic foods we eat as daily fare, it all relies on enormous quantities of oil to either make it or ship it.

The interesting thing was that I wasn’t depressed or despairing after reading Kunstler’s work and listening to him talk. To the contrary, I was exhilarated. I was trying to figure out why this should be so, when it came to me: This is what faith is. Faith is facing the hard and difficult times in life with hope rather than despair, courage rather than discouragement.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with America’s emphasis on buying things as the path to happiness. (Not that I don’t do my share of buying; the Long Emergency will certainly change our family life.) But I see Kunstler as a prophet, calling us to look ahead and strive for what really matters. There is a future ahead for us. It will be different, and it could include some tough things, but it will be good—I believe that.

June’s tip: Read The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler.

Sarah Streed is a board member of the Wisconsin Interfaith Climate & Energy Campaign (WICEC) and runs Write Stuff Works ( ) a writing business. She lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin with her husband and children. Email

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