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March 17, 2008
Cheap Gas is Gone Forever; Can We Adjust to Reality?
We’re starting what’s become an annual conversation about the price of
gas a bit early this year.
Seems like every summer, there’s lots of talk of how the price of
gasoline has set new records, and a new set of circumstances that’s
plain fact that we apparently haven’t quite grasped yet is that the days
of cheap gasoline are over.
it’s something people might acknowledge if you really put it to them,
but not in a way that suggests that anyone thinks it means anything more
than paying more at the pump when getting from Point A to Point B.
last week, it was reported that the price of gasoline might hit $4 in
Hawaii shortly, a first this year. In years past, records weren’t set
until the summer travel season starting on Memorial Day weekend.
price of gas is, of course, somewhat relative. Last week’s record
average price when adjusted for inflation still comes in second to a
week in 1981.
Twenty-six years ago, however, was before the rise of a car for each
side of the driveway in front of a home built in the suburbs and
half-an-hour away from the workplace.
American life today is structured on a foundation of cheap
transportation fuel. From where we live, to how food is put on the
table, even to how retailers keep their shelves stocked, everything was
built on the fantasy that fuel would remain permanently cheap. We did
this while exporting the American Dream and ignoring the first rule of
supply and demand – when demand is greater, the price will go up.
Today, we tend to think of it as an unqualified good thing that
individuals living in China and India want to live like we do. What we
forgot is that this meant also sharing some of the finite resources
previously made available mostly to just us.
Increased demand includes internal pressures – people living in
oil-producing countries who want to use what they’ve got before selling
it to others.
problem is that the issue is no longer just a matter of going out and
getting more oil. Most studies say that we’ve either passed the point of
peak oil production or will pass it in a few years. What will come
after, if we wish to remain on the course we’re currently on, is going
to greater lengths to feed the oil monkey.
Naturally, we get no direction from the campaign trail, where the only
bad news we’re allowed to hear is either about the other guy’s
personality flaws or stuff that we already know. Candidates don’t tell
us what is likely to go wrong in the next decade because no one’s going
to vote for a chronic buzz kill.
do hear a lot of things that boil down to techno fantasies, about how
new technology will enable us to get around with engines powered by
groovy vibes. None of this will be helpful over the next decade as
getting around just simply becomes more expensive, and any new
technology works its way into general use.
Until that time, feel free to speculate about what this might mean to
the American lifestyle, based as it is on easy and cheap transportation.
We’ll look back on a period where we knew what was coming, but refused
to do anything about it because it was inconvenient.
course, there is an alternative. While speculating how life might change
as gas stays expensive, there’s an opportunity to make adjustments and
investments that will help preserve as much of our standard of living as
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