Environment, Space, Place

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2009

Michael Wenisch
Pages 73-100

Peak Oil, Energy Limits, and Resulting Alterations in the Built Space of the United States

Over and above the probable peaking of worldwide oil production as a current reality, the arrival of hard limits on all energy resources is very much nearer in the future than many people realize. The public discourse on Peak Oil and the associated arrival of hard limits on energy availability has attracted more than its share of brilliant and creative minds. In addition to scientific and technical analysts, this group includes a fair number of generalists who have engaged in broader forms of reflection upon the likely economic, social, political, and cultural effects of Peak Oil and other hard energy limits on the structure of current world civilization. In this paper, I select for examination three such generalists who are both especially talented and widely read by those having an interest in this topic: James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, and Dmitri Orlov. My intention is to survey their central ideas in turn, with a view to forming a reasonably well-developed and concrete notion as to how the impending arrival of hard limits on energy consumption will affect the structure of built space in coming decades. I focus both on the macro-infrastructural level and on what one might term the micro-infrastructural level of the built space within which the denizens of contemporary industrial civilization live their daily lives. The principal focus of the discussion will be on the situation in the United States, though many of the lines of argument presented may be applied much more broadly if suitably adjusted in light of locally prevailing conditions elsewhere.