Running on Empty

It is the Southern California of some decades hence. Beneath a sky heavy with the lingering toxins of generations past, Irvine has fallen to ruin. The suburbs have become weedy slums, and streets once bustling with SUVs are now ominously quiet. Food is also in short supply, and desperate people are doing desperate things to feed their families. Is this the plot of some new, postapocalyptic thriller? Don't we freaking wish. No, this is the far-too-likely future that all of us face. Apocalypse could just be coming to your neighborhood sooner than you think, and it won't take World War III to make it happen.

With a minimum of lefty hysterics, the new documentary The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream explains how America is about to go all Mad Max on us. The simple truth is we are literally running out of gas.

It isn't news to most of us that oil is a non-renewable resource. We all remember those scratchy movies they showed us in elementary school in which cheerful cartoon dinosaurs explain the basics of fossil fuels. Many of us are even vaguely aware that fossil fuels are supposed to run out sometime in our lifetimes, but we've always assumed the government will cook up some sort of viable alternative fuel before things get really dire. Well, we would do well to remember that the government was supposed to have brought peace to the Middle East by now.

The End of Suburbia explains how hydrogen and ethanol, the two energy sources currently being widely touted as potential replacements for oil, simply won't be able to keep up with the power demands of the world's ever-increasing population; in fact, it takes more energy to create hydrogen than you'll ever get from the stuff. Don't believe W's hype: there is really nothing in the works that will keep the world's engines humming as loudly as oil has, and it's unlikely we'll come up with anything that will sustain us in the lifestyle to which we've grown accustomed. There will be a time of skyrocketing oil costs, increasingly bloody wars over resources and worldwide economic collapse, and eventually all the oil will dry up and the industrial age will grind to a halt. But hey, at least we won't have to worry about those long commutes anymore, huh?

Directed by Toronto filmmaker Gregory Greene, who leads a post-screening discussion locally, The End of Suburbiaisn't quite as glum as it perhaps sounds. The film has a certain dark wit, and we're not left to think humanity's doom is simply inevitable. We may be on the road to disaster, but at least we're still in the driver's seat. A few sensible ideas for how we can possibly save our selves from our gristly fate are presented. These ideas do involve a lot of hard choices, sacrifice and self-control—things we Americans seem to get worse at all the time—but there's still room for optimism. Perhaps these dire circumstances will force us into that communal utopia the hippies were always babbling about, a new age of healthy, responsible living and consciousness expansion and lots of groovy loose sex. . . .

Hmm. If you need me, I'll be out in my garage, revving my car's engine for a few hours. Just doing my part to burn off the last of that dinosaur sludge and get this goddamn Age of Aquarius started already.

The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream was directed by Gregory Greene. It screens at Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church, 1259 Victoria St., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-4652;; Wed., 7:30 p.m. Free.

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