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Behold: Buc-ees grandest-ever gas-station plus attached mini-mall outside Sevierville, Tennessee — the largest gas-station in the world! Bear in mind the old evolutionary axiom: organisms reach their most extravagant form just before they go extinct. What’s on-board for extinction is Happy Motoring. First, the matrix of global petroleum industries is destabilizing, largely because the energy-return-on-energy-invested EROEI has reached the red zone. In the 1950s, you could get 100 barrels of oil for every barrel-equivalent of oil invested in lifting it out of the ground. Today the ratio average worldwide is around 15-to-1. That is breaking the business model for running industrial societies, including oil production. The available oil left is either in forbidding geographical areas (deep undersea or the arctic), or it’s sequestered in impervious rock (“tight” shale) oil, or it’s less than good quality (sour and sulfurous), or too light (shale oil again), lacking crucial distillates such as kerosene and heating oil. In short: too expensive and falling quality.

Okay, if that’s too wonky for you, consider that Happy Motoring is also failing on the vehicle side of the story. For one thing, cars and trucks cost too much for a foundering middle-class. Second, because the middle-class is foundering, fewer people are credit worthy. And the whole Happy Motoring system depends on buying cars on installment loans. That formula is on its way out now. The dealers must make impossible loans (eight years of payments for a used car) just to move the merch off the lot, and that’s pretty much the end of the line for creative financing.

Finally, Happy Motoring  had to be perfectly democratic — car ownership had to be possible from the lowliest hamburger-flipper to billionaires. As it becomes progressively less democratic (only available to the well-off), it will become increasingly resented, perhaps violently so. Think: vandalism.

We’ll leave aside the architectural or urbanist issues that are the usual criteria here, because the relationship between the highway and the gas station simply obliterates them.

Thanks to Normal Hill for the nomination!


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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

21 Responses to “July 2023”

  1. kidseyedoc July 5, 2023 at 12:09 pm #

    This ugly monstrosity is set in a bucolic setting. At some point in the future the beautiful forested hills will remain and once again reign supreme. The Happy Motoring gas station will have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

  2. canuk July 5, 2023 at 12:22 pm #

    I’m in the resource business and I don’t like to correct Mr. Kuntsler as he is much more talented and smarter than I [which isn’t saying much, editor] but ‘fossil fuels’ do not come from fossils, they come from the center of the earth ; they are abiotic and the earth creates these carbon fuels constantly.

    Actually, John Rockefeller funded the archeologists who came up with the ‘fossil fuels’ theory of oil for the purpose of the market thinking fossil fuels are rare and finite thereby increasing his wealth. Tangentially, Rockefeller is the founder of seed oils (1910 they started-cottonseed oil, palm oil all the ones that kill us)

    However, though the Earth will never run out of oil the oil will be deeper and more expensive unless some new science can reduce the costs or find cheaper alternative energies.

    The thing is , oil is incredibly cheap in comparison to the alternatives at this time.

    • Deb July 5, 2023 at 12:53 pm #

      Good to know thank you.

    • Lyndy33 July 5, 2023 at 6:21 pm #

      That leaves open the old arguments about abiotic oil or fossil oil. Or both?

    • wokethis July 6, 2023 at 10:40 am #

      Bingo canuk. I’ve been aware of abiotic oil for decades. The fossil fuel scam is hilarious but sadly people are just too dumb to apply any rational reasoning or thought to it. Safe and effective. Trust the science…

    • taijitu July 6, 2023 at 1:08 pm #

      ChatGPT comes up with the following:

      “Abiotic oil” refers to a controversial hypothesis that suggests the existence of oil or hydrocarbon deposits in the Earth’s crust that are not formed from the decayed remains of ancient plant and animal matter, as is commonly believed in the traditional theory of oil formation. Instead, it proposes that oil can be generated through non-biological or inorganic processes deep within the Earth’s mantle.

      According to the abiotic oil hypothesis, hydrocarbons are formed through various chemical reactions involving inorganic materials such as carbon, hydrogen, and other elements at high pressures and temperatures found in the Earth’s deep geological layers. This theory suggests that oil reservoirs can replenish over time, challenging the notion that oil is a finite resource.

      However, it’s important to note that the abiotic oil hypothesis remains highly controversial within the scientific community, and the majority of geologists and petroleum experts support the traditional theory of oil formation, known as the biogenic theory. The biogenic theory holds that oil primarily originates from the decomposition of organic matter, such as ancient marine organisms, over millions of years.

      Scientific evidence and studies overwhelmingly support the biogenic theory, which is widely accepted and forms the foundation of modern petroleum geology. Oil exploration and extraction practices are based on this understanding, targeting areas where geological conditions and organic-rich sedimentary rocks are conducive to the formation and accumulation of conventional oil deposits.

      While the concept of abiotic oil continues to be debated and explored by a minority of scientists, it is not widely accepted as a significant source of oil in conventional petroleum reservoirs.”

      • izzy July 6, 2023 at 3:29 pm #

        “oil primarily originates from”, “not widely accepted as a significant source of oil”
        ChatGPT is already notorious for false information and fabricated stories, and the above quotes sound a lot like weasel-words designed to leave an out if needed later. Certainly not an unequivocal denunciation of the theory. I don’t pretend to know the absolute truth about this, but an automated explanation from that source is hardly authoritative.
        No offense intended

    • DrTomSchmidt July 17, 2023 at 11:56 am #

      Um, coal is a fossil fuel. I’ve seen examples of coal with my own eyes with plant leaves embedded within it. It’s not impossible those were faked, but come on.

  3. tom clark July 5, 2023 at 11:21 pm #

    Arguments about abiotic vs. fossil oil aside, I want to know where Buckee’s EV charging stations are? Hey, while you’re charging up, you can grab some true wholesome downhome entertainment at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, just a stone’s throw away.

  4. Greg July 6, 2023 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi Canuk,
    Three questions: 1) Would abiotic oil have a different concentration of carbon-13 isotopes than would oil from organic life like planktons; and 2) Does abiotic oil replenish oil fields that have been depleted and 3) if so, at what rate?

  5. tucsonspur July 6, 2023 at 9:18 pm #

    And yet again,

    Dinocars are still guzzling
    From the Black Lagoons
    Gulping them down ’till
    The last teaspoon

    Drinking dead life
    Formed eons ago
    Full Triceratruck tanks
    Making the merchandise flow

    Lagoon to gas tank
    And refined in between
    Dead life being transmuted
    For the thirsty machines

    Black gold in abundance
    With flow that’s incessant
    Happy motoring so wondrous
    But all so evanescent

    So be warned though
    That your mortal coil
    Will soon shuffle off
    With Black Lagoon oil.

    • tucsonspur July 7, 2023 at 3:07 pm #

      Insert above after flow:

      Up in the sky
      The pteroplanes fly by
      Dead life giving lift
      To pteroplanes so swift

  6. zenfugue July 7, 2023 at 1:07 pm #

    Jim,
    Beholding such a sight begs for some stats! Did your research disclose the number of gas pumps? Square footage of the ‘mall’?

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  7. holdfastspike July 7, 2023 at 7:31 pm #

    i might be the only person who likes this end time of motoring. right now i’m deciding between a 470hp jaguar xj and a 420hp maserati granturismo both are used and in excellent shape for just under 30 grand. as the great money transfer of generation to generation begins with me being on the receiving end after never putting in a hard days work in my life i live large on the fat of the boomer land. i love this age and time, may it all collapse with my death.

  8. Philip Corner July 18, 2023 at 7:33 am #

    On the outskirts of Sevierville, Tennessee is a half-size replica of the Titanic which is a tourist trap masquerading as a museum. I guess you can go and revel in 1500 people dying, fun for all the family. I dread to think if someone will eventually come up with an action-packed, family friendly World Trade Center experience. Relive the event with our floor collapse simulator!

    The Titanic is kind of an apt metaphor though: unsinkable till she wasn’t, then gone in hours. And how cursed is that ship? As you published this page she claimed another 5 lives.

    • BackRowHeckler July 19, 2023 at 6:26 am #

      Smokey Mountain Knife Works is also in Sevierville, Tenn.

      Jim, what about the “EV Revolution?” Ford, GM, Rivian, Lucid etc. manufacturing electric vehicles nobody asked for & nobody can afford (Lucid ‘Air’, $175,000. Chevy Silverado $108,000. Ford F-150 $95,000, GM Hummer, $135,000 & weighs 10,000 lbs. fully loaded) These vehicles are rusting away on dealership lots as I type this, unsold. The upshot of this misallocation of resources will the massive bankruptcy & the end of Ford & GM.

  9. Ishabaka July 24, 2023 at 9:06 am #

    Imagine this 3x. If the Green Revolution has its way and everyone switches to electric cars that will become a necessity, as even with a fast charger, it takes approximatedly 3x the time to charge an electric vehicle as to gas up an internal combustion vehicle.

  10. Jo-G July 28, 2023 at 12:10 pm #

    It lacks solar panels.

  11. Yuri Sowryteski July 28, 2023 at 1:37 pm #

    I nominate North Central High School Indianapolis Indiana and the adjoining Middle School for the next Eyesore of the Month.

    “Conformity is our highest ideal” —- should be it’s motto.

  12. Greg Knepp July 28, 2023 at 5:37 pm #

    Also known as the Supernova effect: the gigantic St. Peter’s basilica constructed at enormous expense while Catholicism was entering its long descent, the 75-foot Easter Island statue – twice the size of any previous such sculpture – even as the society was disintegrating into chaos and cannibalism, the ridiculously tall Philadelphia city hall while industrial farmers in the south and nascent manufacturers up north were already busy formulating the corporate-controlled state, the ghastly anachronism that is Dubai…the list goes on.

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