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April 04, 2010

"Peak Oil and our Future"

You think things are bad now? Just wait.

We could be inches or minutes away from a global economic crisis that will make the current recession look like fun… the day we realize we’re running out of oil.

For decades we’ve lived (and driven) in denial, somehow assuming we have the “right” to cheap gas, and therefore, low-cost transportation. Now it’s time to face reality and consider what will happen when (not if) gas hits $10 a gallon.

The following are my and others’ hypotheses. (Follow the embedded links for recent news coverage that contribute to my theories.) These things haven’t happened… yet:

AIR TRANSPORT: Following the demise of a dozen airlines and the shrinking of the remaining carriers, air fares soar and service is cut. Air travel becomes affordable to few. Airport congestion fades as business trips are replaced with tele-conferencing. Hotels are shuttered as “leisure travel” becomes unaffordable.

HIGHWAYS: Rush-hour in Connecticut on I-95 is a breeze as half of all motorists can no longer afford to drive. But the highways are a mess of potholes as the price of asphalt (made from petroleum) quintuples, making it impossible to maintain the roads because gas tax revenues have dropped with decreased sales. With more people unemployed or working from home or on flex-time, traffic congestion is a thing of the past.

AT HOME: With home heating oil at $12 a gallon, people close off rooms in their McMansions and huddle in the few remaining spaces they can afford to heat, usually with wood stoves, which are also in short supply. Winter’s gloom is augmented by a constant grey haze of wood smoke. Office buildings, by law, can heat to no more than 60 degrees in colder months. Sweaters are the new fashion statement (think Jimmy Carter and cardigans in the 70’s).

MASS TRANSIT: Delivery delays in the long awaited M10 railcars and fears that their manufacturer, General Motors, may declare bankruptcy (again) send rail commutation into a tail-spin. Seats are pulled out of cars to create standing room capacity and Metro-North offers cheaper fares to those who can’t get a seat. As in Tokyo, “pushers” (click here for video) are assigned at Grand Central to squeeze passengers into trains. Few can afford to drive and park at rail stations, so most spaces there are turned over to bike racks. Despite fare increases, ridership soars.

AROUND TOWN: Local street traffic drops as people consolidate their few truly necessary shopping trips. Because food is so dependent on pricey oil (used for fertilizers, packaging and transport), food prices soar. Food imported out of season becomes a rare treat. Few can afford to eat out at now-chilly restaurants dealing with the same food shortages. Wagons and carts, bikes with racks, mopeds and scooters replace the SUV. Kids take the school bus daily instead of being chauffeured by Mom. Suburban housing prices continue to fall as people flock to the walkable cities with good mass transit. Towns taxes rise, encouraging further migration. Schools can’t afford good teachers who must still commute from far away due to lack of local affordable housing.

THE ENVIRONMENT: Oil drilling, begun recently off the East and West coasts, doesn’t help as supplies of crude will not reach refineries for three more years. In a panic, Congress weakens clean air laws to permit increased use of coal in power plants. Air pollution worsens and acid rain decimates much of the Northeast. Increased CO2 emissions hasten global warming. The sea level rises and coastal communities risk greater flooding as more numerous and powerful hurricanes ravage the US.

THE ECONOMY: The recession becomes a Depression as the impact of decreased mobility and soaring energy costs hit home. China decides to stop buying US Treasury notes and the US dollar hits new lows, making imported oil even more expensive.

Will any of these predictions come true? Time will tell. What can we do to prevent this Doomsday scenario? Not much.

So enjoy what’s left of the era of cheap oil. We’ll all have a lot of explaining to do to our grandchildren.

(For more, see www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net and www.oilcrashmovie.com or just Google “peak oil”.)