[NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing series (which started here) through the next few months whose purpose is to provide tangible examples of what our future might be like in a world where we will no longer have available to us the quality and quantity of fossil fuel energy sources as we have long been accustomed to possessing and using. Some examples will describe significant impacts beyond the most obvious one: less but more expensive gas to power our vehicles.
Other posts will describe routine aspects of daily living that will likely change when producers of goods and services no longer have inexpensive and adequate supplies of the fossil fuel resources they need. I’m certain that the questions I raise will in turn raise other concerns as well. It is only by acknowledging the consequences affecting each of us that we can begin an intelligent national process of planning and implementing new methods of providing the goods and services we’ll need or desire.]
My parents live approximately one hundred miles from me. A drive to their home is at most only ninety minutes, given that each of us lives fairly close to highways that quickly take us to opposite ends of the cross-state Massachusetts Turnpike.
If I didn’t own or have access to a car and had to rely on public transportation, I could—thankfully—still get from door to door.
Of course, getting there might be just a bit more costly (but only a bit) than if I toss in 10 or 12 gallons of gas into my SUV and pay the $7.00 or so in tolls. MBTA bus, MBTA subway, and Amtrak rail or Peter Pan bus fares will run about the same as near as I can figure, so that’s a wash. The big drawback is the time factor for that round trip.
First up is a pleasant and easy walk down the 1000 foot-plus hill that is our street. Getting up is a whole ‘nother story, however. My house is at the top of that very steep hill, and it’s not a casual stroll for a 15-year-old, let alone someone like me who is … older than that. But that’s a relatively minor trifle, especially since it is the only outdoor walking I need to do until I arrive at a bus stop near my parents’ home. From there, all I have to do is walk approximately 500 feet on two perfectly level roadways before arriving at their front door.
Walking down the hill takes about 5 minutes; at least twice as long going back up (it is a mean hill).
Right around the corner at the bottom of my street is an MBTA bus stop, which takes me directly to either of two MBTA subway stops of my choosing (both the same “Red Line”). From there, I can head directly to South Station in Boston and take either a bus or an Amtrak train to Western Massachusetts. Upon arrival, I could (I believe) still take a local bus line that would drop me off that very short distance away from my parents. If the local bus line is not running, then it’s about a 3 mile walk … and not all downhill, either. I’ll leave that one alone for now.
The local bus ride to either of the two subway stations near my home, with all the intermediate stops along the way and the expected traffic congestion upon arrival at either station, runs about 20 minutes, give or take. Assuming I don’t have too much of a wait for a subway train (generally not much of an issue), I can then get to Boston’s South Station in another 20 – 30 minutes.
In that amount of time, I’m (usually) already two-thirds of the way to my parents’ home if I’m driving, but no matter.
Granted, the cross-state bus or Amtrak train, with all of their intermediate stops, is going to take a while to get me to the other end of the state—certainly longer than my ninety minute door to door drive. But either of those options allows me work or read or rest, something a bit trickier to do when I’m driving. Fair trade-off? Sometimes, perhaps. I guess it just depends on the day, but if I can afford a 7 or 8 hour block of travel time, I can visit my parents entirely via public transportation. Not the most convenient way, to be sure, but the option exists.
I have a sister who lives in Pennsylvania. I can get there in just under 5 hours by car. No idea at all how long it would take me to get even close to her via alternative means of transportation, since she lives some 90 miles outside of Philadelphia and I have no idea at all if getting to within even remotely-walking distance via bus or rail is an option out there. Pretty sure that if it is, I’m budgeting a lot more time to get there than just a 5 hour drive. Given that they reside in a very tony suburban development which surely has no public transit options close by, I’m guessing there’s some walking involved at the tail end of that trip.
I also have two siblings who live in the western Massachusetts area. I think I could get to within a mile or so of my other sister’s home via a somewhat convoluted series of bus routes. I’m guessing that the 15-20 minute drive to her home from my parents is closer to 90 minutes via those multiple bus routes and the ensuing walk. A lot more effort and planning if I had to get there from my home….
My brother lives even further out in the suburbs, and I’m not certain if there is even any regular, local bus service in his very small town. If there is, I’m reasonably confident that it would travel only along his town’s one main thoroughfare, but which nonetheless would put me a very walkable three-quarters of a mile or so from his home. I’m not at all certain, however, that there is any way to get to his town via bus routes from either end of our state. As best I can determine, I could probably get within 3 – 4 miles of his home by other bus routes and transportation alternatives … perhaps.
Just a guess, but I’m probably looking at close to 3 hours via those alternatives in order to visit my brother if I were to leave from my Boston-area home (about an hour’s ride by car). Certainly an hour-plus from my parents’ home, which is otherwise about a 20 minute drive.
This all assumes I’m then within a reasonable walking distance after my last bus stop. I could do 3 miles or so … in the spring, when it’s a pleasant 60 sunny degrees. Not so sure about that in January (this month we’ve had more than 3 feet of snow and single digit temps tossed in for good measure—hardly ideal walking conditions. This morning’s forecast is now calling for nearly 18 more inches of snow in the next 48 hours. Not good). A 90 degree day in July? No hikes for me, thank you very much.
As mentioned in my very first post, we’re fortunate to have an ocean-view summer home along the North Shore of Massachusetts. Even under terrible traffic conditions, it almost never takes us more than an hour to drive there from our home. As I described then, we can also get there without driving: “It takes a bus trip, two subway trips, a commuter rail trip, another bus trip at the tail end, and a several hundred yard walk thereafter for us to get to our beach house via public transportation … about 3 hours start to finish if we schedule it right, and that’s not counting the brutal walk up our very long and very steep hill when we return home.”
I raise all of this for several very simple reasons. For one, I’m quite fortunate to have alternative options to visit at least most of my immediate family. None of those options are especially convenient, some much worse than merely inconvenient. And as for my out-of-state sister, I’m not entirely certain I “can get there from here.” We’re quite close, so that’s bothersome to contemplate.
We’re also fortunate that we have means of getting to the summer home we love—likewise more than a slight inconvenience, but doable.
I’m a very optimistic person. Even with all the information I’ve acquired and try to share with others about Peak Oil, I’m not convinced that the sky is falling in the next few months or even perhaps the next couple of years.
The inexorable decline in oil production we now face (slight upticks or disingenuous-at-best arguments to the contrary notwithstanding) is not going to get better, however. Slowly (I hope!) but surely we’re all going to soon enough be dealing with likely higher and then much higher prices for oil and gas, which will have their expected individual budgetary impacts, forcing most of us to cut back here and there in purchases, or traveling, or both.
While I don’t like to sound any alarms about rationing, I can state with great certainty that I will not be in the least bit surprised if somewhere down the road each and all of us find ourselves having to deal with restrictions in our ability to get gas as and when we need it. (Facts continue to be damned annoying.)
This will certainly alter the nature and frequency of my visits with siblings and parents. My daughter graduates from college this year, and it’s likely she’ll be living back in state, so I’m not too concerned about how I’ll get to see her … yet. My step-daughter attends college in New York City, and we already rely on Amtrak to get us there and back, so that’s not an issue now. My step-son graduates from high school in June and is then off to serve in the military. Big question mark, there.
My wife and I will certainly have to come up with some alternatives for getting supplies to and from our summer home. There’s a grocery store less than a mile away, and the downtown area is a good two or three miles away at least, but not impossible to get to on foot if we have to. Carrying anything back to the beach house is a different matter. I stopped being twenty years old several decades ago. Muscles and conditioning aren’t what they used to be.
There is also local bus service. Obviously we’d have to plan local trips around the daily bus schedule, which runs not nearly as often as I’d like. I doubt that my complaints will make much of a difference. Of course, I’m also optimistically assuming that bus travel will still be affordable in the not-too-distant future, and/or that rising diesel prices (or lack of availability) won’t force services to end entirely.
In that case, I can probably disregard at least some of the family travel options I’ve mentioned above. I’ve barely figured out Plan B. No clue yet about my Plan C.
So the declining oil production and availability is clearly going to have some distinct personal consequences, forcing some changes in lifestyle that I would definitely prefer avoiding. I’m convinced, however, that these small sets of inconveniences and changes will not be restricted to just me and my family.
How are these declines going to affect you? (Make no mistake, they will.)
Might be a good time for all of us to start thinking and planning. While we’re at it, might be a good idea to be asking our local, regional, state, and federal governments to do the same. Gonna take a good long while to figure this all out (and a lot more)….
More to come.