INDEX - FUTURE
SUBJECT: PLANNING THE FUTURE
SOURCE: DAVID WARD firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 5 JUNE 2008 - 7:30am HST
Stay home, read, have sex
image above: "Cocoon" by Dr. Lisa Longworth at drlisalongworth.wordpress.com
by Mark Morford on 4 June 2008 in The SanFrancisco Gate
Will insane gas prices finally pummel us into evolving? How bad will it get?
It should be a truly fascinating — albeit possibly enormously grim — thing to watch, one of the more dramatic and revolutionary market-driven shifts in modern history, upheaving everything we've become so accustomed to and changing behaviors and attitudes and alliances and political agendas and ass-girths and no I'm not talking about the "Lost" finale or the new 3G iPhone or how Brangelina's twins are a sure sign of the Second Coming.
It's the massive, painful spike in gas and oil prices, that most wonderful/frightening harbinger of doom/change/turmoil known to modern society that is fast turning into a calamitous global hurricane, ready to wreak havoc on just about every aspect of modern life, and that includes food and transport and sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll and just about everything else that makes America, America.
What, too dramatic? Not by much. The initial signs are all in place. The price of a barrel of oil is soaring, production levels are peaking, the world economy is shuddering in the face of a permanent production slowdown, even the most staid economists and prognosticators are blinking hard and saying holy hell, we really have no idea how this will all shake out.
You can already feel the initial clenching. As a nation, they say we're already driving about 4 percent less than we did last year, which translates into 11 billion miles per month, which, for gluttonous and wanton Americans, is technically considered "a lot." SUV sales are tanking fast and trading in your old gas hog is increasingly difficult as rampant feelings of comeuppance and I-told-you-so smugness from small car/scooter/bike owners spread across the land like a viral Weezer video.
But that's just the beginning. It appears that the dour, much-maligned peak oil sages from a few years back were at least partially correct, and the let's-drill-everywhere weasels from the war-for-oil Republican Party were, quite naturally, wrong. There are simply no indicators that gas will drop back to the $2 range anytime soon, there is very little "elasticity" left in the global petroleum market, and China and India are dipping larger and larger ladles into a smaller and smaller pot, all pointing to a very good chance that the United States will see seven or eight bucks a gallon just in time for the final SUV manufacturing plant to switch over to making Segways and sun visors.
Big deal? Hell yes it is. No other crucial, universal market commodity has seen a 200-400 percent price spike in such a short period. It means a much broader, more dangerous upheaval in global energy, given how that damnable petroleum is everywhere, from food production to manufacturing, shipping to construction.
It will be heaven, it will be hell. President Obama will likely hesitate not at all to instigate a massive hybrid/plug-in/alterative fuel initiative, challenging inventors and Big Auto alike to finally get their asses in gear and knock it off with the internal combustion BS that hasn't changed in any fundamental way in, oh, about 150 years.
Carpooling will soar. People will walk, bike, scooter, take the bus, work shorter weeks, stroll and amble and hum a merry tune, reacquaint themselves with the neighborhood, telecommute, vacation locally, have more phone sex. They will shop locally to avoid skyrocketing shipping prices, buy less plastic, recycle. The era of cheap oil that enabled hideous urban sprawl will now quite possibly flip over and begin to enable the exact reverse ... whatever that is.
Alternative energy sources? All the rage. From hemp to algae to ass fat to pig manure to dead cats, the question will soon be, what won't we consider as a new source to power up the Can-Am Spyder to get us to the dance on time? Ingenuity will flourish. Ingenuity will confound. Ingenuity will annoy the hell out of millions of die-hard car lovers who just want to drive the Audi to Whole Foods without having to sell a kidney. Oh well.
A full tank of gas will become a true luxury item. Stepping hard on the accelerator will seem like a crazy indulgence. Lengthy road trips will be a more decadent joy, the equivalent to a case of wine or a shiny new watch or that other wildly expensive liquid that now runs about 10 bucks a gallon, known as "bottled water."
San Francisco? We're lucky. We're already a walking city, compact and navigable and even I can easily stroll from my flat in Alamo Square all the way downtown in about a half hour, with only three or four slightly nervous glances over my shoulder as I pass through the housing projects and only recoiling for about 10 solid minutes as I endure a particularly hellish, grungy five-block strip of the Market Street corridor. Mmm, walking. It's refreshing and depressing.
But many places won't have it quite so good. Vast tracts of urban sprawl from Atlanta to Los Angeles to Mexico City will likely suffer badly from such an abrupt shift.
Plenty of horrors loom. Merciless oil companies will likely push harder to develop brutal, environmentally rapacious methods of extracting oil from alternative sources like tar sand and small puppies and oily teenagers, ruthless techniques that were formerly prohibitively expensive, but now more economically feasible. Far from reversing or even slowing their environmental impact, they could simply amplify it a hundredfold in a ruthless drive to maintain gluttonous profits.
It will be wonderful, it will be terrible. Like the models used to predict global warming, I'm betting that the fiscal models some economists have been using to predict the global energy uproar are proving to be a bit inadequate, given how the economy is now one big interconnected interrelated interdependent organism and therefore when you strip one of the major gears, well, it's anybody's guess what happens next.
Personally, I think the predictions of global petroleum-related cataclysm are exaggerated and excessive. But so are predictions that all will be fine and we will feel no pain because someone really smart will come along to solve it all for us, and the worst that will come of it is that we have to trade in our Lexuses and Town & Countries for solar-powered, emissions-free scooters made of hemp and old shoes and used silicone harvested from recycled porn stars. We should be so lucky.
In a perverse way, I love this place, this place where all predictions fail, this place where no one knows exactly what the hell will happen. Will an oil crunch force major nations of the world to work together in unprecedented, selfless ways for the betterment of all humanity? Or will it push insular, angry, fearful nations to kill each other over dwindling resources (aka: "the Bush Method")? Or will it be a wacky, volatile mix of both? Let's go for one last long, leisurely drive, and talk about it.
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Island Breath: Apocolypse Now 10/25/07
Island Breath: Exxon Mobile Final Solution 9/7/07
Island Breath: American Dream Dies 8/30/07
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Island Breath: Part 3 - Kauai 2020 to 2050