Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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The End of Suburbia DVD (2004)

**End of Suburbia – DVD – The Electric Wallpaper Company (2004)**


There is no subject of which we are more in denial than the impending peak in world oil production, and the fact that there isn’t much of the stuff left. As a society we are completely addicted to this highly versatile material, which fuels our cars, heats our homes, runs our factories, produces plastics and medicines, indeed makes possible our whole 21st century lifestyle. Ask most people about it and you’ll be answered with something to the effect that there’s still loads of the stuff left, that renewables will seamlessly enable us to power the transition, and that it is all typical eco gloom-and-doom and we’ve heard it all before.

‘The End of Suburbia’ blasts away all such misunderstanding and complacency, and lays the reality of our situation bare for all to see. We are now at the peak, and from now on demand will always outstrip supply, our oil dependent lifestyles will radically change and soon. This is the fundamental reality underpinning permaculture, the ‘energy descent’ which David Holmgren so comprehensively addresses in his indispensable ‘Permaculture, principles and pathways beyond sustainability’.

Some might find ‘The End of Suburbia’ shocking, depressing or alarmist. For me, I admired its honesty. In the same way that only your true friend will tell you that your breath smells, or that you have spinach stuck between your teeth, this film takes you to one side and tells it like it really is. It reminded me of the scene from Mike Leigh’s film ‘Secrets and Lies’, where a dysfunctional family in denial about a rake of things, spend an awkward party together until Timothy Spall’s character says ‘look, for heaven’s sake, we can’t go on pretending any more, this is how it is…’. It is one of the most moving pieces of cinema I have ever seen. In the same way, this film strips away the denial and lays bare where we are, and it’s not a comfortable message to hear.

Its subject is American suburbia, described by James Howard Kunstler in the film as ‘the biggest misuse of natural resources in the history of the planet’. Its inhabitants live isolated from each other, in oversized energy inefficient houses, drive miles to work, to shop to take the kids to school, everything is designed around the car (living in rural Ireland, this all starts to sound uncomfortably familiar). While beginning as a humorous take on the suburban dream of the 1950s, it soon cuts to the chase. A series of speakers, including Dr. Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg (author of the similarly essential ‘The Party’s Over’, leave us in no doubt as to the urgency of the situation. We have probably just peaked or are just about to peak in oil production. There is no combination of renewables that will allow us to live as we live now, our food system based on transporting food around the globe will cease to function. Biodiesel is only an option if we cover every acre of land with oil seed rape, leaving no space to grow our food. Within 10 years, scarcity will cause price hikes that will begin to make suburbia come apart at the seams. How will people adapt? The scenario painted is not a pretty one. As one contributor predicts “people will elect madmen who will promise them that they can retain their lifestyles