Settling into the new ‘hood

Our first move in 18 years is complete. We’ve moved into a shabby rental house in a great neighborhood a couple blocks from campus. We’re moved in, but not settled in — that’ll take a while longer.

The neighborhood was developed in the 1920s and 1930s, so it predates car culture. There are no garages, except a few added after the houses were built. The streets are loaded with — and soon will be littered with — Audis, Volvos, and Beemers.
The houses predate the advent of modern “conveniences,” too. Life without toasters, blenders, microwave ovens, electric razors, hair dryers, curling irons, and electric alarm clocks means there’s one electrical outlet in nearly every room. But none in the bathrooms. And because the house dates to 1938, and hasn’t been cleaned or otherwise maintained since then, several of the outlets don’t work.
This is good preparation for our energy-deficient future.
And, while we’re on that subject, we spent last weekend working on the mud hut and selecting cabinets, counter tops, and tile. The colorist at the tile store — and it disturbed me to know about such a position, and that I conversed with the woman, more or less — kept talking about the beauty of tiles that come “from the Earth.” As if ripping slate, travertine, and limestone out of the ground to put on our walls is a good thing. But the dilemma is to choose between these natural materials and others that are ripped from the Earth: composites composed of oil and rendered “useful” via abundant infusion of fossil fuels.
Some people think, “It’s all good.” I’m more inclined to think, “It’s all bad.” And I’m an optimist.
I was made considerably less optimistic by reading Alan Weisman’s latest book, The World Without Us. This is a good book with a great idea, though I like it less than his earlier work, Gaviotas. Until I read the chapter about nuclear power plants, I thought the world’s species and cultures would be uniformly enriched by the ongoing collapse of American Empire. I thought peak oil might even save our species from extinction at our own hand. Now, though, I’m not so optimistic.
It seems that, in the absence of constant attention, the world’s 411 nuclear power plants pose a grave threat to every terrestrial species. Without somebody at the switch, and diesel-powered generators as backup systems, there is great risk they’ll melt down, triggering planetary nuclear Armageddon. Every terrestrial species faces extinction within a few short years after oil hits a few hundred dollars a barrel.
That’ll ruin my day.

Comments 4

  • Guy
    I have recently read Weismans book. Those toxic
    no go zones fringed with totemic granite plinths pictorially describing the danger that lie beyond is equally disturbing. Not
    withstanding the zillions of nurdles swarming the oceans disrupting the worlds food chain.You should read some Derrick Jensen.
    Western civilisation is the problem not humanity.
    We have lived sustainably
    for 99% of our time on earth as a modern species.
    Jared Diamond suggests the rot started with agriculture. Look forward to your posts. It seems we received the same reading list. I hope your building project is going well.
    warm regards
    Matt, Melbourne

  • We miss you over here in the old ‘hood. It just isn’t the same without you :( Your turntable has a very happy new home with melinda and steven, who were thrilled to have it. We are keeping the records, though, cause there are some awesome ones. Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson?? Some dorky stuff? You must have forgotten how cool you were :)
    Disturbing new news in this post. I think I won’t mention it to monte.

  • Matt in Melbourne — Thanks, as always, for checking in. I’ve read much of Jensen’s work, and Endgame will be required reading for the honors course I’m teaching next fall. Civilization is the problem, and I thought the fall of empire would solve the problem. But the 441 nuclear power plants, set to melt down in the absence of constant human attention, suggests the meltdown of civilization will adversely impact most (all?) of the terrestrial species on the planet. So even the fall of empire has a down side. –Guy

  • It’s nice to know there’s another Dr. Guy in the UA system. You seem to be just as outspoken as the late Dr. Guy Bensusan of NAU, although in a different field.
    I’m drawn to your blog by the op/ed you were able to get published in the online version of the Arizona Republic. As a member of ASPO-USA, I follow peak oil very closely, so I would very much like to know where you got the information for your claim that crude plus condensate production will “Later this year, … fall off the oil-supply cliff, with global supply plummeting below 70 million barrels/day.”
    I should also let you know that I found your op/ed through a link at’s regular DrumBeat feature.
    Karl Sanchez
    Yachats, Oregon