Sunday, April 10, 2005

Gas Prices


Fred Clark's post is a lot more like the one I would have written, if I'd written a post about this, including speculation (not his, quoted from a
book by James Howard Kunstler
) about how cities will have to change:

"Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class."

"The successful regions in the twenty-first century will be the ones surrounded by viable farming hinterlands that can reconstitute locally sustainable economies on an armature of civic cohesion. Small towns and smaller cities have better prospects than the big cities, which will probably have to contract substantially."

For some reason, I find these scenarios a lot more plausible than the world we actually live in. I keep expecting civilization as we know it to end any day now, but maybe it won't be an apocalypse after all... Or can you have a really slow apocalypse?

Anyway, I'm glad we're planning to go to Europe now, because according to this guy, "The commercial aviation industry, already on its knees financially, is likely to vanish."

I really believe this stuff is going to happen. How can it not? More technological miracles will save us? We've already had more than our share of miracles. It can't continue forever. I just wonder how much of the change will be in my lifetime?


John Scalzi has blogged about this topic in much greater depth. This is the kind of post I probably should have written, if I'd felt like I had time. Only my version of it would have had a lot more stuff about how the suburbs as we know them may be doomed, and how that is probably a good thing. And then I might even have speculated the changes the automobile has caused to our social lives -- how many more people we meet, how that's changed dating and marriage and the whole concept of the extended family. I might have talked about how strange Western society is compared to the kind experienced by the vast majority of the world today, and by everyone, historically... And I might have speculated about the value of plastic rising so that the stupid little fake jewels you see on clothes everywhere today could someday be as valuable as the real thing. (Imagine taking a handful of plastic jewels back in time. Only kings and queens would wear them.)

But for a more realistic and informative summary of the subject, you should probably read Scalzi's post.


Boy am I not an expert on this subject. But I can remember a lot of hand-wringing a couple of years ago when they got above $2 a gallon in Seattle. Now the Shell Oil by my house wants $2.59...

I get the impression that, adjusted for inflation, the prices are still nowhere near what they were in the seventies and early eighties. But that was an artificial crisis, oil witheld, not an oil shortage. And they're higher than I can ever remember, and hardly anyone's reacting, the way I remember people reacting in the past.

With all the talk about "peak oil" I have to wonder -- how do we know the prices are going back down this time? I mean eventually, there is going to be less and less, and it's going to get more and more expensive.

It's inevitable, and our society will have to change. Aside from producing fewer SUVs I mean. (Thanks for the link, George.) Our cities will have to change...

What will happen? And is it starting now?



Eric said...

There are two things going on. There's a long slow creep up in the price of petroleum, especialy the premium crudes that make fuel for cars and aircraft. THat's slow and steady and barely noticeable, but it's there. There may be plenty of petroleum deposits left, but it's getting ever more expensive to get to them.

There's also a recogtnition in some of the oil producing states that they need to invest now in what they are going to do after the oil runs down. Just look at the number of IT and media centres in the Emirates and Qatar that are advertising for companies to set up there. That means some oil producers need money NOW. I think that's got more to do with the current high prices than anything else. I don't see any reason why they'll go down significantly any time soon.

The big change I see is a growth in telecommuting. I think that's inevitable. There's an implication to that which I don't think is being tackled. If people spend more time in the suburbs and the small town and less time in the city centres, then the leisure facilities are going to have to move out too. The idea of a suburb that is little more than a dormitory won't work for much longer.

Andrew Gray said...

Napoleon III famously ate with aluminium cutlery - his guests had to make do with silver and gold...

Ashi said...

Well, part of what's happening is that they're investing more in trying to find alternative energy sources and alternative portable fuels. Thus Bush and Germany and Japan (and others) are funding hydrogen storage, electric vehicle, solar, hydro, and wind powered (I don't remember the right term for the wind one :P) energy harnessing technology research.

But other than that I don't foresee any big changes any time soon (e.g., 50 years). Because although the prices of oil will climb and drop gradually, the fact is that we are making more efficient technology, we are already seeing large increases in "green" buildings being built, and I suspect that we'll be seeing less and less of bulky stupid cars and more public transportation (in the from 5 to 30 years). But that really won't change our culture hugely I think. This last part is all speculation, but the rest isn't, it's stuff that comes up all the time in my experience as an environmental chemist.


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