The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream (2004)

March 31, 2008

This documentary was well-done and very informative.  I had already read about peak oil and resource depletion in several articles in New Scientist, but this film also lets you know how very much we depend on oil, and all the different aspects of life that will be affected by the oil shortage.  I had always thought that it would be easy to just switch to solar power when the oil runs out, but I had no idea that oil was used in pesticides, herbicides, and basically every other aspect of food production.  I also didn’t realize how damaging the oil shortage could be to the economy and to world peace.  This film, made in 2004, has already made some amazing predictions regarding the increasing cost of oil, the decline in GDP, and recession.

I think it went a bit overboard with it’s doomsday predictions, and that will turn a lot of people off.  Yes there is a problem, but there will be a way to fix it.  One thing I liked about An Inconvenient Truth is it made many suggestions at the end of how you can reduce your carbon footprint and personally use less resources.  However, this film only mentioned New Urbanism, which I don’t believe is a real cure.  From what I understand about the “New Urbanism” developments around cities like Madison is, it’s a glorified subdivision with a few more stores nearby.  They’re still made in wasteful builder-homes, away from jobs and entertainment.

To me, a real solution would be a return to true urbanism, but we need to improve a majority of our cities first.  Right now I live in Durham, which is an unattractive city with poor planning.  This city would need to do some major improvements to attract people to live in the city and not need their cars.  However, when I lived off State Street in Madison, we really could have lived without a car.  I used the car maybe once every 2 weeks to go do laundry at my parent’s house and buy some groceries, but it would have been possible to do my laundry at the laundromat and buy all my groceries from the smaller local grocery store.  That was urban living at it’s best, and I enjoyed it a lot.  I walked to work, walked to the drug store, walked to the lake, walked to parks, and at the time I wasn’t even thinking about peak oil or carbon footprints.  I just really liked living that way.

Someday I would like to live in a city like that again, where I can walk everywhere.  I’d like to have a townhouse with no lawn, because grass is just wasteful and too much work.  When I visited the family in Belgium they had an urban townhouse with a full garden in the backyard, and I thought it was perfect.  They made onion jelly from their onions and served it on fresh endives from their garden.  Heck, in the right city you could even raise some chickens and have fresh eggs every day too!

So I guess my not liking the suburban lifestyle and having already read the studies has made me more accepting of the movie.  But I suppose for someone who likes suburbia, who likes driving their SUV, this movie could feel very threatening.  I wonder if it will really change any minds, or just further divide people into their respective camps.



  1. 1. The suggestions made at the end of An Incovenient Truth were all about buying more stuff to fight global warming. You can’t fight overconsumption by consuming more. And the solutions in the film were limited to suburbia; that was the subject of the film after all.

    2. New urbanism, as it is currently being created by most builders, is a watered-down version of true urbanism. Most buyers are not ready to fully embrace a community based on smaller homes, walking and mixed use. But it will happen.

    Thanks for watching.

  2. The tips at the end of An Inconvenient Truth are listed here: http://www.jacksonlatka.com/blog/?p=70 and most of them are not about purchasing things. Turning down your thermostat in the winter and up in the summer, walking or biking, using mass transit, recycling, are all good tips that will actually save you money too. I do think it’s important when presenting people with a problem, answer the question for them, “What can I do?”.

  3. Documentaries like this always seem to miss two important details:

    1. Humanity will innovate. Yes we are dependent on oil now. Yes it will run out. No we will not fall into the dark ages when that happens. People are much more innovative, creative and fault-tolerant than most scientist believe. It is the same with any crisis we’ll find a way through.
    2. India/China. It honestly doesn’t matter at all what we do here in the states. We could all increase our consumption 100x and have little to no impact vs the unbelievable impact that a fully industrialized India or China will have. It’s pretty much a waste of effort to deal with the 300 million in the US, we aren’t going to matter in 10 years.

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