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About the Author

  • City of the Future is authored by Lakis Polycarpou

    I am a freelance writer who is interested in the intersection of urban planning, architecture, technology, food, economics, energy and environmental issues. For the last several years I have been researching and writing about the implications of global peak oil.

    My work on these topics has been published in Energy Bulletin, Next American City, The Believer Magazine and The Washington Post among other places.

    I am also the Vice President of a new small press and Permaculture design company, KP Press Books/KP Permaculture.

    I can be reached at neapolis@earthlink.net or at lakis@kppressbooks.com

« The Political Geography of Peak Oil: State of the Union Address | Main | Bad Faith »

March 08, 2006


Once again, you have written a sharp and insightful post. Nonetheless, at the risk of sounding repetitive myself, I must point out that the changes that will be made necessary by peak oil, even dramatic and traumatic changes, do not inherintly mean a return to a "pre-industrial" state. We will be shocked by the need to compensate for a loss of liquid fuel, but I don't believe we will "revert" to an earlier life or lifestyle. I think we will move on to something new, and whether that is positive or negative depends heavily on our ability to embrace reality now and prepare agressively for the future.

Further, what exactly do you mean by "a reversion to some kind of pre-industrial life?" What are you picturing? Without specifics, there is a temptation to assume you refer to some version of the middle ages. I can't imagine this is so.

Anyway, good post. And thanks for the opportunity to state my case!


It is true that the term “pre-industrial” is problematic in that it takes our common historical understanding of the Industrial Revolution for granted (understanding that may be traced to 18th century thinkers like Hegel, Marx and others). I believe that one of the keys to minimizing catastrophe in the future is to carefully re-examine these ideological presuppositions, because ideology drives decision making and attitudes.

However, one of the problems in explaining peak oil is that many people don’t seem to grasp the immensity and immediacy of our crisis. “Pre-industrial” is shorthand to try to illustrate the severity of our situation.

So, to be clearer: Wikipedia defines “Industrialization” as, in part, the technological transformation associated with large scale energy production. Modern industry is not possible without abundant energy. In recent decades that production has encompassed not only consumer goods, but food production as well. Without our current energy, farming and the creation of consumer goods will necessarily become much more labor-intensive. It will be much harder to maintain infrastructure—the highway system, the electric grid, water supplies, etc. In fact, it would not take a very great energy shortfall for all of those complex systems to fail.

One of the problems with assuming energy alternatives will be available is that all current alternatives are all to some extent dependent on fossil-fuel based industry—to mine, create and ship the materials needed to build wind generators, solar cells and nuclear power plants. True, if we rapidly ramped up production of those alternatives, they might be able to provide enough energy to become self-supporting.

But what if we fail to do that? What will we be left with, if, in 30 years, oil production is a tenth of what it is now and natural gas is unavailable? Imagine homes with no heat, no electricity, and no mass-produced consumer goods; families with no cars or other means of rapid transit and no jobs; and a large proportion of the population forced to return to labor-intensive farming. Sure, some industry might continue, but for a very large number of people, life would feel pretty “pre-industrial”.

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