At the end of the first chapter, in what may be some of his best prose yet, Kunstler offers an observation both moving and striking:
If it happens that the human race doesn't make it [through the Long Emergency], then the fact that we were here once will not be altered, that once upon a time we peopled this astonishing blue planet, and wondered intelligently at everything about it and the other things who lived here with us on it, and that we celebrated the beauty of it in music and art, architecture, literature, and dance, and that there were times when we approached something godlike in our abilities and aspirations. We emerged out of a depthless mystery, and back into mystery we returned, and in the end the mystery is all there is.
Marvelous. It puts all of the (much needed but often misguided) talk about sustainability into perspective: Just what is it we're trying to sustain, and how long do we think we'll get away with it?
So, then I turned to Rousseau, and found a very similar thought on a topic only slightly narrower: the inevitable decline of civil society. This is from the chapter on "The Death of the Body Politic" (Book III, chapter 11, for those to whom it matters):
Such is the natural and inevitable tendency of the best constituted Governments. If Sparta and Rome perished, what State can hope to last forever? If we want to form a lasting establishment, let us therefore not dream of making it eternal. To succeed one must not attempt the impossible, nor flatter oneself that the work of men can be endowed with a solidity human things do not allow for.
Even the most sustainable civilization will pass away sooner or later . . . possibly sooner.