Tired of paying $3 or more for a gallon of gasoline? Well, your pain has just begun.
For decades, we’ve lived — and driven — in denial, somehow assuming we have the “right” to cheap gasoline, 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, not because of taxes, but because we will use up the planet’s petroleum.
Here are some predictions:
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 teleconferencing. Hotels are shuttered as business travel wanes and “leisure travel” becomes unaffordable.
Rush-hour on Interstate 95 is a breeze as half of all motorists can no longer afford to drive. But the highways are riddled with 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 working from home or on flex-time, traffic congestion is a thing of the past.
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. Office buildings, by law, will be allowed to heat to no more than 60 degrees in colder months. Sweaters become a fashion rage.
Seats are pulled out of railcars to create standing-room capacity and Metro-North offers cheaper fares to those who can’t get a seat. As in Tokyo, “pushers” 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.
Local traffic drops as people consolidate their few truly necessary shopping trips. Because farmers are so dependent on oil (for fertilizers, packaging and transport), food prices skyrocket. Food imported out of season becomes an occasional 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 SUVs. 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. Small town 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.
Oil drilling begins in the Alaskan wilderness, but no supply of oil will reach the lower-48 for three years. Air pollution worsens (thanks in part to the wood burning stoves) 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 U.S.
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.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.