Saturday, May 31, 2008

A few predictions about where gas is taking us

With gas at nearly $4 a gallon in most parts of the country and topping $5 in some states, I'd like to make a few predictions about the next few years.

1. Big Oil is going to be as popular as President Bush. There's going to be some serious pushback against oil companies for making record profits while the rest of are forking over $60 or more to fill up our gas tanks. Right now it's just congressional hearings. I'll be surprised if we don't see some sort of regulatory controls put in place, and soon, to rein in the energy speculators who are driving oil costs up so high, so quickly.

That's soon as is in "under the next presidential administration." Bush is solidly in the Republican camp that holds that government regulation of corporations and business is fundamentally bad for America. Whoever our next president is, we're likely to see a different policy take root, one that allows greater regulation of commodities such as oil, such as we had before the Reagan administration began dismantling regulation.

2. People are going to drive a lot less. Forget canceled or scaled-down vacations, basic day-to-day travel is going to take a hit. We're seeing some of that already, as commuter trains are becoming more popular in areas where they exist, as more businesses encourage carpooling, and so on.

Speaking for myself, I've made a tremendous effort to combine trips, even if it means delaying getting something for a few days. I've gone without milk for three days rather than make a trip to the supermarket before I take Rachel to gymnastics on Thursday, right next to the supermarket. We also walk a lot more. I walk Evangeline to school every day now, and back from school when I can, and I expect on Sunday that we will walk to church as well.

We're likely to see changes in the way people attend church or other houses of worship, for that matter. People who have been driving 20 minutes or more to attend worship services somewhere else probably are going to stop. Many of them will just stop going, and others who don't stop going will at least look for a place closer to home.

That will hold true for other things as well. I imagine that we're going to see a rise in the number of people who live near where they work. They'll either get new jobs, or they'll move. A 40- or 60-minute commute by car just isn't going to be feasible anymore.

3. Cars are going to change as well. Remember how upset Detroit was at the thought of tough new mileage standards that were still weaker than anything else in the world?

We're going to see how fast Detroit can design more efficient cars. Cars made in America are going to be smaller and lighter, and they're going to get a heck of a lot better than 24 mpg. Two-seaters like the Fortwo will become more standard for singles, married couples without children, and commuters; and even family cars will change. We're going to see a lot fewer sport utility vehicles and no Hummers, and a lot more hybrids.

New York and Los Angeles already are running some experiments with fuel-cell cars. If any politicians out there are smart and have an eye to the future, they're going to make it a priority to buy those cars for city and state-owned fleets.

That will drive down the price of the cars, for starters, but it also will lay the foundation for a distribution infrastructure for hydrogen fuel, making widespread use more feasible.

4. People are going to continue to buy less. Who can afford to spend $40 taking a family of four out to eat at a restaurant when you can feed that same family for less than $8 with a homemade meal?

And with food and fuel costing so much more, and with fuel driving up the cost of everything it's used to transport, who's got the money for frivolous purchases? Expect less expensive Christmases and birthdays, more hand-me-down clothing, and more of an effort to salvage things we once would have thrown away without a second thought.

5. People with yards are going to realize that there are better things to grow on their land than grass. If you pay $2 for a pound of tomatoes, but can buy an entire tomato plant for that same $2 at a nursery, where are you going to spend your money?

You may buy tomatoes until yours are ripe enough to eat, but we're going to see a lot more people having a go at gardening. I've already saved a bundle on the lettuce we grow in our garden, and I hope to save more on beans, tomatoes, yellow squash and zucchini. Maybe even some spices and some cucumbers. We'll have to see.

Just about everyone can grow some sort of vegetable. Even apartment-dwellers typically have a porch where they could put a tomato plant in a ten-gallon pot, or a windowbox where they can grow lettuce cheaply. A smart politician, or at least one with a sense of leadership, is going to make "liberty gardens" into a matter of patriotism, as FDR did with victory gardens during World War II.

It wouldn't take much effort to turn vacant lots into community gardens, to keep people from going hungry, nor would it take much sacrifice for corporations with huge and useless lawns to convert some of that space over to community agriculture, saving themselves the cost of maintaining their lawns and banking themselves some serious goodwill in the public eye.

1 comment:

Tim Noble said...

What you describe is exactly what has already happened in the UK. 15 years ago I drove around 50,000 on business and about 20 for pleasure. Last year I drove 650 miles, sold my Porsche because...hey what's the by train most of the time! Petrol is around $9 Dollars a gallon here!