Monday, April 23, 2012

Showing my students "End of Suburbia" again tonight

I've been doing this for three years now, as I documented in two entries on my LiveJournal back in November 2009. This just happened to be the month I started participating in Nablopomo, so you're seeing the beginnings of my efforts in that project.

In both entries, I recorded the notable student reactions after each showing. The first night, one of them asked, "Should the US really go bankrupt fighting a war they can't win?" Of course the answer was no, but I also told them that never stopped any other empire in history. The second evening, the most memorable reactions were "I never understood how anyone was going to make hydrogen work for running cars" and "What a shame Americans are so spoiled. The end of oil is going to take away their toys and they'll all cry." The second student wasn't born here, as you could probably tell.

Since then, the reactions generally fall into a pattern. As I wrote in a comment to a recent post at Kunstler's blog:
I show that film to my students every semester, and it never fails to get a strong reaction out of them. The environmentalists think "it's worse than we thought," the conservatives get pissed off at Jim, and everyone else just goes "oh, shit."
When I showed the film this past summer, some of my students got one of the points reinforced in a rather concrete way.
Finally, this heat wave and the associated health problems and power outages have become another teachable moment for me. I showed my students "The End of Suburbia" this week and one of the events described in that movie was the 2003 blackout that happened during a heat wave. The late Russell Simmons mentioned that the power grid was most vulnerable between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM on hot days because all three sets of customers, residential, commercial, and industrial, were online at the same time. According to one of my students, the power went out in Ferndale at 5:00 PM on Wednesday. He had watched "The End of Suburbia" the day before and he recalled what Simmons said. Well, that's one way to learn a lesson--the hard way!
I wonder what reactions I'll get from my students tonight?

Over the fold is the worksheet I've been using for the past three years. See how many of my questions about the movie you can answer.

ETA: For my students who are finding this entry using the more difficult to answer questions as search strings (and, yes, I can see you), I have not posted the answers here, nor will I.  I'll do so in a future entry.  Right now, the best you can do is to read Sustainability through the looking glass with Jeff Wattrick of Wonkette.  It has a guide to entries in this blog that contain the answers to some of the questions, along with the question numbers, plus some answers hidden in plain sight right above the fold/jump.  If you want to know which questions the answers go to, here's a hint: asterisks are your friend.  Also, don't be surprised if some of the answers to a couple of your questions are directly in front of you as you read this entry.

In this lab session, you will watch the 2004 Canadian documentary The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream, which concerns peak oil and its implications for the suburban lifestyle and was written and directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Gregory Greene. The film is hosted by Canadian broadcaster Barrie Zwicker and features discussions with James Howard Kunstler, Peter Calthorpe, Michael Klare, Richard Heinberg, Matthew Simmons, Michael C. Ruppert, Julian Darley, Colin Campbell, Kenneth Deffeyes, Ali Samsam Bakhtiari and Steve Andrews. As you watch the movie, answer the following questions. Your answers will be graded next week.

1. What advantages did suburban life promise, especially compared to the industrial city?

2. How does James Howard Kunstler characterize suburbia as an allocation of resources?

3. What effect did the need for housing after World War II have on the development of the suburbs?

4. How did suburbia change the American Dream?

5. What effect did the rise of suburbia have on cities?

6. How did the auto companies contribute to the demise of streetcars and the rise of cars and roads as the primary transportation system?

7. What is the relationship among cheap energy (including oil), automobiles, and suburbia?

8. Summarize the size, causes, and effects of the blackout of August 2003; include how peak usage contributed to the crisis.

9. What are the issues involved with the various modes of generating electricity, concentrating on the problems with natural gas?

10. Explain how oil depletion affects the rate of oil production (Peak Oil) and the quality of the oil produced.

11. Who originally described Peak Oil? When? What was his prediction for Peak Oil in the U.S.

12. What effects would Peak Oil have on the U.S. economy? Do these predictions sound familiar today?

13. How much of Canada’s natural gas production is exported to the United States?

14. How did fossil fuels contribute to the first Green Revolution?

15. What effect will Peak Oil have on agriculture?

16. How many fossil fuel calories are used to produce one calorie of food?

17. What effect does Kunstler think Peak Oil will have on transportation and commerce?

18. How do the people interviewed think the American people will react to energy shortages? Include the political effects.

19. How does Kunstler justify his choice of words in describing his view of the situation?

20. How do the people interviewed think the media have contributed to the situation?

21. How has reliance on oil affected U.S. foreign policy since the 1970s?

22. What effect has our foreign policy had on our government expenditures and our internal politics?

23. Are any of the people interviewed optimistic about the prospects for alternative energy, especially hydrogen? Why or why not?

24. What are the objections to using ethanol for fuel?

25. What are the contributions of New Urbanism to the possible challenges of Peak Oil?

26. What are the prospects for suburbia after Peak Oil?

27. What effect will Peak Oil have on people’s livelihoods?

28. How do the interviewees see the future—global, national, or local?

29. What was your favorite part of the movie?

30. What was your least favorite part?

I promise to post the answers after the semester is over, which will be next week. Yes, my students read this blog. Why do you ask?

For tonight's song, I present the lovely Kriscan singing (actually rapping) her peak oil song.

What did you think I was going to post, Running on Empty?


  1. Where can I find the posted answers??

    1. I see you found my blog. Welcome.

      First, Sustainability through the looking glass with Jeff Wattrick of Wonkette has links to where I've posted the answers in this blog as of a year ago. They're in the second and fifth paragraphs. Since then, I've posted answers to questions in WNWO talks blackout and WNWO examines the shrinking middle class. Follow the links and use your information technology skills to find the information you seek!

    2. I decided to make it easier for you and other students searching for answers. Here's the latest guide to entries with answers: Guide to entries that contain answers to 'The End of Suburbia'. Hope that helps!