Kurt Vonnegut’s Oily Crystal Ball


He’s dead now, but the legendary comic novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been predicting today’s ever-escalating oil prices for a long, long time.

“I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.”
– K.V, 1994.

Kurt Who?
From Player Piano in 1952, a dystopian novel where human workers have been largely replaced by machines, through to a collection of post-humously published works in 2008 ( Armageddon in Retrospect ), the somehow simultaneously cynical and warm-hearted worldview of Kurt Vonnegut has been spilling onto the page of novels, film scripts, tv scripts, articles and essays. He’s funny too. And has an asteroid named after him ( 25399 Vonnegut – thanks wikipedia ). There’s probably a 2nd year arts student buying one of his books in a second-hand store right now. So he had it going on, wild leaps that were science fiction in scope, an ability to point out the absurdity of human endeavours, and as it turned out, he had a thing against oil.

Oil currently accounts for about 43% of the world’s total fuel consumption, and 95% of global energy used for transportation. Oil and gas are feedstocks for plastics, paints, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, electronic components, tyres and much more. For every one joule of food consumed in the United States, around 10 joules of fossil fuel energy have been used to produce it. ( energybulletin.net )

Back in the Day
Part of what made Kurt Vonnegut unique his experiences in World War II. As later documented in the semiautobiographical ‘Slaughterhouse Five‘ ( novel and then a film), he had been captured by Nazis as a 21 year old and sent to Dresden, where the Allies dropped enough powerful new bombs to reduce the fireballed city to lava-hot rubble, and killing all of the mostly civilian population of 135,000. Incredibly, Vonnegut and 6 other prisoners were in a meatpacking storage cell during the raid, and emerged upstairs to a destroyed town. That’ll make an impression.

This was the year Kurt had finished Breakfast of Champions, another book later to become a film, which explored the relationship between an insane car dealer and a pulp science fiction writer – whose plots for various stories were outlined throughout the book. 1973 was also the peak of the seventies oil crisis, and so it’s not entirely surprising that one of these sci-fi plots involved a dying planet called Lingo whose inhabitants resembled american automobiles. The planet is visited, and the idea of the automobile was brought to earth by aliens who “did not know that human beings could be as easily felled by a single idea as by cholera or the bubonic plague. There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on Earth.”

“So what is the principle exactly underpinning your 5 cent a litre cut? If it’s to ease the pain to the tune of about $2.50 a week, what do you do when the price of petrol goes up to $2 a litre and then $2.50 a litre. Do you continue to ease the pain by coming up with another 5 cents a litre cut and another 5 cent a litre cut? Is that really smart policy when you look at the total global picture of what’s happening with oil as a diminishing commodity in a world where oil is contributing to greenhouse problems?”
-Kerry O Brien, on the 7.30 Report slowly grilling the Opposition Climate Change Spokesman, Greg Hunt.

“Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it? Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.”

– K.V, ‘Addicted To Oil And Violence‘.

So It Goes.

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