[URBANTH-L]FILM REV: Herzog on Greene & Silverthorn, _The End of
acjancius at ysu.edu
Thu Mar 10 19:38:50 EST 2005
The End of Suburbia: Film Review
The documentary predicts that, as less oil is pumped fromthe ground and
prices surge upward, property values of suburban homes will plummet.. The
documentary postulates that the answer to the coming oil shortage resides in
THE END OF SUBURBIA: FILM REVIEW
Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream
By Lawrence Herzog
[The documentary predicts that, as less oil is pumped from the ground and
prices surge upward, property values of suburban homes will plummet.]
One of the films that created the most buzz at November's Global Visions
Film Festival (held November 4-7, 2004 in Edmonton, Alberta) is one that
hits close to home, here in Canada's oil heartland. "The End of Suburbia:
Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream," presents a startling
portrait of a world where oil and natural gas production is decreasing,
prices are increasing and where, without affordable petroleum, the suburbs
are doomed to become "the slums of the future."
Ours is a gluttonous society predicated on cheap, plentiful and dependable
fossil fuels. But analysis of world oil reserves (particularly those in the
Middle East) raises the specter that production has peaked and, in the years
ahead, supply will decline. Some predict the drop will be precipitous and
could well plunge the world into chaos. We don't have a "Plan B" to replace
the lost oil production, the documentary notes.
Made by Toronto filmmakers Gregory Greene and Barry Silverthorn, "The End of
Suburbia" challenges the notions that the oil won't run out and we can
continue to drive our SUVs and live in far-flung neighborhoods without
SUBURBAN WAY OF LIFE EMBEDDED IN OUR CONSCIOUSNESS
The documentary lays out its arguments provocatively, noting that since
World War II, North Americans have invested much of their newfound wealth in
suburbia, with its abundant promise of wide open space, affordability,
family life and upward mobility. As the population of suburban sprawl has
exploded in the past 50 years, so too the suburban way of life has become
embedded in the North American consciousness.
The idea for the film came to Silverthorn in 2002 as he pondered the cause
and effect around the September 11 attacks. "I realized that all the major
stories of the time were really symptoms of peak oil. Some experts believe
we've reached the peak and yet the demand for oil continues to increase,
driven by the suburban way of life. Well, the additional supply just isn't
there to be extracted affordably and so that way of life will soon become
economically and ecologically impossible to maintain. The world is headed
for a major crisis."
The point is made well in the film by such participants as author and
contemporary culture critic James Howard Kunstler, who calls the project of
suburbia "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the
world." He submits that America "has squandered its wealth in a living
arrangement that has no future."
WE'RE SLAVES TO PETROLEUM
Our North American dependence on petroleum makes us utterly slave to it. We
heat our homes with fossil fuels, we eat food grown and transported with the
assistance of fossil fuels, we watch televisions and use computers powered
with electricity generated by fossil fuels.
Worldwide, there are now 600 million internal combustion engine vehicles on
the roads, and a third of them are operating in the United States. Americans
who live in suburbs typically drive 50 to 100 miles round trip each day to
get to work, to shop and to play.
North Americans use a highly disproportionate amount of the world's
resources. The United States contains just 4 percent of the world's
population, but gobbles up 25 percent of its oil. It doesn't take a genius
to figure out that such massive use of non-renewable resources is just not
Canadian cities like Edmonton, formerly a walkable place with a vibrant
downtown and compact, self-contained neighborhoods, have been consumed by
urban sprawl grown in the backs of cheap oil. As pump prices increase,
citizens are reluctant to give up on the dream. The American consumption of
oil continues to spiral upward, even though the American production of oil
peaked in the early 1970s and increasingly the country is reliant on
BLOODY WARS TO CONTROL REMAINING OIL RESERVES
The leaders of the western world, George W. Bush and his ilk, are prepared
to fight bloody wars for control of the remaining reserves to prop up and
maintain the suburban lifestyle. We need only look at the current war in
Iraq for evidence of that; fully 60 percent of the world's known reserves
are clustered around the Persian Gulf.
"It's in everybody's interest to maintain the façade that this way of life
is normal. and we should continue buying and consuming like there is no
tomorrow." Says author Richard Heinberg. The issue of energy resource
depletion has been largely ignored by the mainstream media because, as he
puts it, "there's no upside for them. If they decide to tell the people of
North America that in fact we are running out of the very resources that
fuel economic growth, does that make anybody's stock price go up, except for
a few tiny niche companies that make solar panels and wind turbines?"
Finding other solutions won't be easy because we've yet to find an energy
source as efficient as oil. Hydrogen and ethanol, touted as potential
replacements for oil, take more energy to create than they deliver.
Hydrogen, after all, isn't even a form of energy, but a form of energy
storage, created with electricity and water. The electricity has to be
generated using some form of energy-typically fossil fuels.
"SLUMS OF THE FUTURE"
As less oil is pumped from the ground and prices surge ever upward, driven
by the forces of supply and demand, the documentary predicts the property
values of suburban homes will plummet. There will be a great scramble to
flee what Kunstler calls "the slums of the future."
The documentary postulates that the answer to the coming oil shortage and
the imminent collapse of industrial civilization, at least partly, resides
in "new urbanism." It is the re-establishment of the sorts of elements that
comprised great cities in the days before the internal combustion engine.
Local retail clusters, walkable neighborhoods, work and living spaces in
closer proximity and local energy generation are all ingredients for
sustainable urban living for the age after fossil fuels.
The Canadian film has been making the rounds on the festival circuit and has
already sold nearly 5,000 copies on DVD and video. Nearly 10 percent of the
sales have gone to California, where urban sprawl, air pollution from the
state's millions of vehicles and a fragile electrical energy grid are hot
The success and popularity of recent documentaries (like "Fahrenheit 9/11")
have opened the door a little wider for alternative media, producer
Silverthorn says. "People are not getting what they need from the corporate
media, which sadly lacks balance and challenge and we've been delighted at
the response to our film."
For more information and to order copies of the documentary, visit
http://www.endofsuburbia.com/. If you'd like to offer your thoughts, please
drop me an email at lawrenceherzog at hotmail.com. For information on reprints
of previously published articles, check out my Web site at
Author: Lawrence Herzog
Posted: Sunday February 13, 2005 04:33 AM
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