Editorial -- Hurricane Katrina, Markdale, Ontario and The Long Emergency

By Bruce Rhodes

 

September 9, 2005

I recently read “The Long Emergency”, a cautionary account about the state of the world suffering the adverse effects of fossil fuels scarcity. Author James Kunstler offers pessimistic predictions for the USA: economic collapse, civil unrest, people shivering in their dark homes in winter. In short, Kunstler figures that we are “sleepwalking into the future”, and are in for a rude awakening as our comfortable way of life, depending as it does on cheap oil, is all but replaced by a slower, darker, quieter, less energy-intensive existence.

 

In August, Hurricane Katrina arrived. It is sobering to see much of Kunstler’s vision for the future now being realized along the Gulf Coast: social and economic collapse (for months, at least) and, in hindsight, a lack of preparedness by those responsible for maintaining the security and health of citizens in New Orleans and nearby communities. Sleepwalking, indeed.

 

A shortage of cheap oil was not the cause of the Gulf Coast emergency, but is proving to be a consequence of it. Prices at the pump have increased, and fears of an oil shortage may actually cause an actual shortage, as concerned motorists stockpile fuel just in case. The point is that oil is a central character in this story.

 

To shift gears for a moment, our family recently went camping near Port Elgin, on the shore of Lake Huron. We traveled through farm country, including towns that support the farming industry, such as Shelburne and Flesherton. As I drove through these towns, I was mindful of Kunstler’s belief that the best places to live, once the stark effects of “the long emergency” take hold, will be small towns near to farmland. Living locally will be the key to success, and proximity to food will be paramount. With these criteria, I assessed each town that we passed through. In my informal, unscientific study, I judged the town of Markdale, southeast of Owen Sound, to be the community most likely to succeed in “the long emergency”.

 

Why? First, the town centre, with its standard issue red brick three-story buildings from the 1920’s, looked to be quite vibrant; independent merchants engaged in commerce at a very local level. Second, Markdale is surrounded by farmland, not subdivisions. One can live in town, and easily go on foot or by bike to a farmer’s stall for fresh produce. Third, Markdale has a hospital.

 

Is Markdale truly a model community that will withstand the effects of an oil shortage? I cannot be sure. However, as we assess GPO policy resolutions, and ponder what will be in the best interests of the people of Ontario, it may be worthwhile to see how well our resolutions stand up to the applicable worst-case scenario that we can realistically foresee. The Long Emergency is one such scenario (my review of the book is at amazon.com). No doubt the residents of the Gulf Coast would have been better off if the powers that be had paid heed to certain authorities who, back in the mid-1990s, predicted a hurricane-related calamity for New Orleans.

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Copyright © 2005 Bruce Rhodes. All rights reserved.