The Shape of the Future

E M Risse


Riding the Tiger


Many citizens, abetted by the MainStream Media, are clinging to oil and autonomobile dependency to the bitter end. A dismal reality of ever-climbing energy awaits them.


Reading WaPo and other MainStream Media can be a frightening experience. It is even scarier when you find that some of your own Dooryarders believe the Business- As-Usual illusion that there are quick, easy fixes for profound economic, social and physical dysfunctions.


The Context


The Shape of the Future documents the absolute necessity of civilization achieving a sustainable trajectory. Chapter 23, which focuses on sustainability, cautions that citizens cannot hope to leap to a sustainable trajectory directly from current conditions. That is because citizens are so badly informed that they must first reach an interim plateau – functional human settlement patterns – from which to launch the drive to full sustainability.


We ended Part Four of The Shape of the Future – Six Overarching Strategies for Transforming the Human Settlement Pattern – with a discussion of critical policy choices. These include addressing the “The Dilemma of Profit” explored in Chapter 30 Box 5. We further examined this subject and the need for Fundamental Change in the Backgrounder “A New Metric for Citizen Well Being, 10 December 2006. (See End Note One.)


In “The Beltway to Easter Island,” we suggested that the current trajectory of economic, social and physical activity is coming ever closer to what Jared Diamond calls “Collapse.”


In “Good News, Bad Reporting,” we pointed out that if citizens were given a clear picture of current events by MainStream Media they would be better prepared for making the Fundamental Transformations necessary to achieve and sustainable trajectory for society. In “Two Spheres of Fraud,” we noted the current trends in MainStream Media reporting on addressing the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis.  


MainStream Media Marches On


Here are some recent observations on the topic of MainStream Media coverage:


Air travel. On 30 May CNN’s home page featured an AP story on a Travel Industry Association survey: Due to growing frustration with air travel – cost, inconvenience, security delays, etc. – 41 million fights were not taken over the past 12 months. The airline industry impact in “lost opportunity” is pegged at $18.1 billion and the total travel industry impact was $ 740 billion. Someone in advertising apparently saw the story and realized it might threaten CNN’s airline and travel advertising revenue. The story disappeared from the home page soon after we first saw it. The bottom line of the story supports our view in “The End of Flight as We Know It.”


We have previously noted the failure of airline ticket prices to reflect the negative impact of aircraft operation on the upper atmosphere. This is an important issue in the European Union but not here in the US of A where the airline Enterprises and Agencies are trying to bury it. If those impacts were added, ticket prices would be far higher, sky higher.       


A day after the travel demand story, another AP story appeared on some web sites reporting a study by the International Federation of Airline Pilot’s Associations concerning the danger of toxic fumes in airplane cabins.  End Note Two of “The End of Flight as We Knew It” mentions Chronic Air Travel Disease. We have seen no mention of this so far in more widely circulated media.


Gasoline prices. What can be more disingenuous than MainStream Media whining about gasoline prices? Where were they in 1973 when it became obvious to many that if human settlement patterns did not change, Mobility and Access would be dependent upon Autonomobiles and that at some point gasoline would be $10 a gallon?


Instead of running stories about how much high gasoline prices are hurting commuters, MainStream Media should take 5 percent of their ad revenue since 1973 from Automonobiles, scattered urban development and image ads for gas and oil companies , and put it in a fund to help commuters retrain and relocate themselves to become noncommuters.


The stories about how many more shared-vehicle system riders, and how many more bikers there are due to high gas prices puts the lie to the old saw that demand for Vehicle Miles Traveled in Single Occupant Vehicles is "inelastic."


It turns out that talk of “inelasticity” came from those who want to try to ride the tiger a little longer. The strategy was that if many think demand for driving is “inelastic” then ‘leaders’ will not try to raise the cost of inefficient Mobility and Access strategies to cover their cost.


Giving credit where credit is due. It was a refreshing change of pace to see Steven Pearlstein’s 28 May column “The Fading of the Mirage Economy” in WaPo. Pearlstein  provides a clear picture of why it is essential to achieve a "new equilibrium" and, we would add, move on to establish a sustainable trajectory for society. 


Columnist Robert Samuelson’s 28 WaPo op-ed “solution” to global poverty is put in perspective by Herman E. Daly’s short, sharp letter of 30 May also in WaPo. Daly, author of “Beyond Growth” suggests that “in our already full world, further growth in GDP is increasing environmental and social costs ... faster than it increases production benefits, making us poorer, not richer.” His whole letter is worth reading, it is short.

And we cannot forget WaPo running James Howard Kunstler’s “Grand Delusion: Wake Up, American. We’re Driving Toward Disaster.” Kunstler is clearer in this summary of his thinking than he was in the interview that Jim Bacon profiled in his Bacons Rebellion blog post, “So Long, Suburbia?” By the way the comments following that post included a lot of tiger riders – and some good advice. You sort it out, it is not hard.   

Right in the Dooryard 


All the MainStream Media obfuscation and theoretical debate came into sharp focus late last week when we stopped to talk to a Dooryarder who was putting back up a wind damaged shutter. He collects vintage Autonomobiles so one would not expect him to embrace the perspective of THE PROBLEM WITH CARS but we were not prepared for his vehement defense of continued consumption of gasoline and his state of denial concerning the end of cheap energy.


In his view it is all the fault of Congress and other “thems” who are preventing the logical and intelligent exploitation of all conceivable remaining petroleum reserves regardless of cost or danger of extraction. He cited the existence of “Russian and Chinese drilling off the cost of Florida ” in the area “that was put off limits by Congress” as evidence that the US of A economy is being ruined by “them” and not by the consumption of “us.” (See End Note Two.)


In “Good News, Bad Reporting,” we argued that getting unbiased and unfiltered information will prepare citizens to make intelligent decisions. As documented in THE ESTATES MATRIX, and reinforced by the material in “Good New, Bad Reporting” and noted above, that is not what citizens are getting.


The conversation with a Dooryarder who is happy to ride the tiger as long as is possible suggests time is running out. It can be argued that the sooner we have a really big economic “awakening,” not just “the seventh recession since World War II,” the sooner citizens will demand intelligent action. 


Hopefully that will come while the US of A still has the resources to make Fundamental Transformations and preserve the ability to maintain a democracy with a market economy.


-- June 2, 2008




End Notes


(1). The current presidential campaign is saturated with references to “change.” There is no thought of considering Fundamental Change.  In fact the word “change” has been so devalued by the meaningless blather that in TRILO-G we will refer to Fundamental Transformation using the term “transformation” as an indication of the magnitude of importance suggested by the use of the term by David Herlihy in his seminal book, “The Black Death and the Transformation of the West.”


(2). It turns out that Cuba is negotiating with Canadian, Norwegian, Chinese, Russian and Spanish companies to drill in its territorial waters.  And who has maintained an antagonistic stance vis a vis Cuba for short term political ends? Both the Elephant Clan and the Donkey Clan. And what has this to do with the end of cheap energy? Nothing that we can see.


Perhaps a rational policy, not just for Cuba but for the entire Caribbean, would be a good idea. We have ignored, baited and insulted our Global Dooryarders and Clustermates while we court those halfway around the world if they have oil to sell. The US of A has an irrational Middle East policy driven by silly notion that cheap fuel is a good idea worth any sacrifice. This policy has been implemented by what Scott McClellan calls the strategy of Perpetual Campaigning by the Elephant Clan and Donkey Clan. It sounds like the introduction to PROPERTY DYNAMICS written two years ago.














Ed Risse and his wife Linda live inside the "Clear Edge" of the "urban enclave" known as Warrenton, a municipality in the Countryside near the edge of the Washington-Baltimore "New Urban Region."


Mr. Risse, the principal of

SYNERGY/Planning, Inc., can be contacted at


Read his profile here.