By Robert Orr
With all the hysteria surrounding gas prices in California, with all the fine-tuning techies gathering to enable a car-dependent culture gasping for huge-tuning measures, and with ever bigger whacks at annual income by transportation costs, something’s not working. Perhaps it’s time to step back a second and take stock.
Our last brush with gas price hysteria wasn’t so far back. Rising gas prices slammed the door on the roaring 1990s and rekindled a 1974-style hysteria that sent people stampeding for gas-sipping cars and home insulation products. Though less pronounced, 2012 behaviors revisit the ’90s as prices saunter by the old $4.50 peak.
But the ’90s hoopla poofed away quicker than fumes at the pump as gas prices inexplicably dropped. And though the fortunes of GM and Chrysler certainly went haywire, the fact remains that the popularity of pick-ups and SUVs regained much of the market share they briefly lost to the petrol nippers. Media saturation of swamped rail ticket windows also vaporized back to routine traffic reports. Will this “normal” return once again to calm frayed nerves?
At the very least, the latest whopper indicates gas prices refuse to shake their buckaroo ride, flailing around like a forgotten fire hose left on. But the trend is clear –– steadily upwards, now kissing the $5 dollar mark. The turmoil looks to continue on a rolling boil indefinitely.
In 2009 Chris Steiner captured a kind of wow-factor tone in his well-documented catalogue of drop outs associated with each dollar rise in the price of gas in his book, “$20/Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better.”
Steiner postulates that the rise in the price of gas will make the pursuit of sprawl too expensive, altering human behavior for the better. But the trail to better times will be littered with debris.
Each of Steiner’s chapters is labeled by a dollar amount, such as “Chapter $6.” The dollar amounts account for a laundry list of misfortunes that literally “run out of gas” at each price rise.
Perhaps the most vivid extinctions occur in “Chapter $8: The Skies Will Empty.” In this chapter Steiner documents the end of air travel, as we know it. The weakest airline, US Air, sputters first, followed by next weakest, United, then Delta/Northwest, then American. Only well-managed Continental will survive (note Continental’s recent sweep-up of the best hubs and routes in the industry in its “merger” with United). At $8/gallon Steiner predicts only JetBlue and Southwest will survive to inherit domestic routes, with Continental taking the international routes.
Steiner entreats his readers to enter Davis Monthan AFB in their Goggle address bars and watch the screen “glide” to alarming graveyards stretching for miles with discarded military aircraft; some $300,000,000 taxpayer-paid monsters put down less than 20 years off the assembly line. He lists similar graveyards for commercial aircraft.
Steiner feels that all these losses are actually gains in disguise. He contends they will cause Americans to commence living more sensibly in closer-knit communities where needs are met by local products manufactured by local labor and food grown by local farming.
One such reliable model that no one’s considered, including Steiner, is the horse. Who knows, but consumers may summon the noble nag back to recover some portion of its once central role to human transport. I don’t mean to suggest a sudden stampede of equestrian transportation, but even if just a small number of people mount up, life’s sprawling scale will shrink. Equestrian communities are compact by necessity.
But the issues! What will happen when the very first horse trots downtown on a common errand? What will be the impact on traffic? Parking (hitching)? What about water? Manure?
Of course, the issue is not about horses. It’s about how poorly planned our cities are for anything but cars. Take away the cars and not much is left but seas of asphalt.
But look a little closer, as oil becomes more scarce, and you’ll catch the edges of a richer life seeping up through the asphalt cracks, close-knit communities that in time will promote discourse and human interaction and rekindle that dusty old project, civilization. Let’s speed it along.