Just the other day there was a headline in The National Post, Canada’s most right wing newspaper, that read “G8 conference in danger of being hijacked.” Now, they weren’t talking of someone taking the flight to Cuba, but of what they considered important themes being ignored in favour of Aid to Africa.
What they considered more important was an overall decrease in the amount people were spending, personal savings, and the escalating price of oil. While unable to speak to the issues of monetary reluctance on the part of most people, I would like to offer the following solution to the world’s “Oil Crisis”
All good things must come to an end and even those things which were never that great to begin with will finish eventually. This looks like its the beginning of the end for oil as a source of power in our world.
The amazing thing is the shock people in North America are feeling as the price of pumping fuel into their steel boxes on wheels rises on a weekly if not daily basis. We have lived so long in our artificial cocoon of cheap gas that having to face the reality of paying the true value of fuel is hard to bear (I remember traveling in Germany in 1980 and seeing the pump prices at 75 cents a litre)
But what is truly scary is the fact that our governments seem to be trying to placate these fears with promises of more bounty buried throughout the earth. Instead of speaking the unfaltering truth that we are nearing the end of the usefulness of petroleum as fuel, and that as the inevitable happens prices will continue to spiral upward, they are full steam ahead in the exploitation of more and more environmentally delicate oil exploration projects.
The Alaska wildlife refuge and offshore drilling off both coasts of Canada are just three projects that will risk more then they can ever deliver. The costs involved in the development will continue to outweigh the increase in availability so prices will never come down again (when have you ever known a price increase to be significantly rolled back?)
Through greed and short-sightedness, our society has become oil dependent (George Bush calls the Alaska wildlife refuge exploitation “protecting America’s oil requirements” when it should be called “protecting my family and friend’s wallets”) Transportation, heating our homes, the manufacturing base, plastics, and who knows what else are all dependent on a ready supply of oil. We are about to have to go through a period of radical change over the next few decades, with no plan in place for a future without oil.
I would like to offer a simple solution that will not only reduce our dependence on oil, but would have the added benefit of allowing every nation on the face of the earth to meet its Kyoto accord gas emission reduction goals, and then some. Ban private ownership of fuel based cars.
Metropolitan Centres already have public transport infrastructure in place, and the auto manufacturers can be retooled to produce more mass transit vehicles. Outlying communities can have publicly owned fleets of cars that are available for use on a needs only basis; business commuters on short hops can access these same types of vehicles. To prevent waste, businesses can schedule people’s travel to coincide with others to facilitate car pooling.
Think of the other side benefits: a reduction in noise pollution with less cars on the road, less auto related deaths (both human and wildlife), people will actually be brought into contact with each other instead of being isolated in their own private boxes, and we can rid ourselves of a lot of the ugly concrete that desecrates our landscapes by scrapping a lot of now useless super highways.
Imagine being able to hear the sounds of nature, not traffic. Smelling fresh air not carbon dioxide and seeing the sky, not a brown smudge, in late August.
This would buy us the time needed to make the transition over to new power sources. Whether it’s figuring out a cleaner and cheaper way to produce electricity, or coming up with viable alternatives, by reducing our dependence on oil we alleviate the necessity for finding more.
Think of the other repercussions: no longer would our governments have to kowtow to other countries to ensure a steady supply of oil. The United States would finally be free to go after terrorists of Saudi Arabian extraction without the worry of offending anyone (not mentioning the name of Bin Laden anywhere). Foreign policy would no longer be influenced by whether a country has oil reserves or not, but by whether we agree with their means of government.
Once the demand decreases significantly, the economic stranglehold that countries have over others will vanish. Oil prices will plummet so actual manufacturing costs will decrease, resulting in less expensive products. With people’s money not tied up in car payments, vehicle maintenance, and insurance their ready cash supply will increase.
The combination of the those two elements would encourage sufficient spending to give our economies enough of a shot in the arm to offset any sags caused by the oil industry’s losses. With our manufacturing base booming, more jobs would be created, thus increasing the numbers of people who can participate in the economy. The tax base will be increased, and the government will be able to pay down the deficit without resorting to any more cuts to programs (this should appeal to trickle down theorists because it’s just another application of the same principle).
The only companies that may be hurt are those who have made their monies off the backs of people’s sweat anyway. The insurance companies won’t be raking in huge profits from high auto rates anymore. The oil companies won’t be destroying huge tracts of pristine wilderness in their futile quests to keep up with the insatiable demand they’ve created.
Of course it will never happen. Too many people can’t even picture what it would be like not to own a car. Too many years of propaganda of how your status depends on what you drive cannot be easily overcome. Too many years of having the convenience of being able to go wherever you desire whenever you want. None of that is easy to surrender.
But the problem is there might come a time when there will be no choice in the matter. Either the oil supplies will finally run out or our oxygen will. Probably the former but it makes no difference as the result will be the same. The question we have to ask ourselves is this. Do we want to have control over our choices and decide how to live our lives or have it come down to the decision being forced on us?
By not taking pre-emptive action, the disaster that everyone fears will happen when the oil runs out is predestined. If we at least prepare for the eventuality, we may not suffer as much. If we actually bite the bullet in advance and take steps now to offset the damage, think of how far ahead we will be.
It is said that some Native Americans would only make major decisions after considering their effects on seven generations down the line. This type of thoughtfulness has much to recommend itself in these turbulent times. If we are going to survive our future we have to prepare for it now.