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In a recent column discussing the inane transportation bill proposed by the House, Isaiah J. Poole noted this charming piece of legislative integrity—admittedly, no doubt used by both parties since forever: “A more bipartisan Senate bill, which is not nearly as ambitious as the White House would prefer but nonetheless has its blessing, was being hung up over Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s demand for an amendment denying aid to Egypt over the government’s detention of some America citizens and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt’s amendment that would permit employers to deny coverage for health services that run counter to the employer’s ‘religious beliefs and moral convictions.’”

The relevance of these two stunts to transportation funding will—no doubt—be revealed to all of us at the appropriate time. Our tax dollars hard at work….

When does it start to get better?

As I noted in two prior posts about this legislation (here and here), the philosophy/ideology behind the bill’s intent to eliminate assured financing (insufficient though it is) for mass transit in favor of more money for roads is what’s most troubling. I keep hoping that at some point, some legislator from the GOP will have the balls to accept reality and propose legislation that will actually mean something long-term and for our collective well-being.

I’ve admitted before and will say again, I pretend no expertise in transportation legislation or its funding. I come to these discussions with concerns about the strategies employed in light of what I believe is an even more serious and long-lasting problem for all of us: inadequate energy resources to provide us all with business-as-usual lifestyles—current economic conditions aside. The failure to incorporate public transportation on a much broader scale than Congress seems capable of understanding creates a serious deficiency in our ability to adapt in the future to a society with less energy resources at our disposal—if continued growth is a goal.

Typical arguments include the following:

[T]ransit has firmly secured its place in the federal budget and has acquired a large and vocal constituency in Congress which can be counted upon to defend its interests….
Restoring the Highway Trust Fund to its original mission of being a source of funds solely for the federal-aid highway program would accomplish several things. First, the program would no longer need to rely on speculative royalties from future oil and gas leases, as currently proposed in the House bill. Second, the Trust Fund would not need to be periodically propped up with contributions from the General Fund. Third, the principle of the highway program paid for with user fees would be maintained. Lastly, the House bill would return the federal-aid highway program to its original roots. It would restore the program’s lost sense of purpose and focus Trust Fund resources on what they always were meant to do—preserve and renew the nation’s prized asset, its interstate highway system. [1]

A few comments are in order.

As to the first point about transit’s defenders in Congress, a wonderful sound bite which means absolutely nothing in this Congress with its Tea Party-dominated inability to think, plan, or legislate beyond next week. “Defend” transit all you want, but if no one is paying any attention, it loses some of its vigor and impact.

“[T]he program would no longer need to rely on speculative royalties…” It never had to! That’s like retirement planning via the lottery. It’s an idiotic proposal to begin with, duly lambasted by many with far more understanding than I possess, and merits exactly no discussion or consideration.

As for eliminating the “need to be periodically propped up with contributions from the General Fund,” the House could actually … you know, legislate intelligently and put together a plan, even if, GASP! it contained ideas from the left. What a concept!

“[T]he principle of the highway program [being] paid for with user fees would be maintained.” Really? “Principle” sounds good; reality tells a different story.

Long before this legislation was drafted, Tanya Snyder discussed the Republican Party’s expected antics when Congress would eventually get around to … you know … do what we pay them to do—legislate!

You’ve heard it a thousand times from the highway lobby: Roads pay for themselves through ‘user fees’ — a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls — whereas transit is a drain on the taxpayer. They use this argument to push for new roads, instead of transit, as fiscally prudent investments.
The myth of the self-financed road meets its match today in the form of a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group: Do Roads Pay For Themselves? (link) The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ All told, the authors calculate that road construction has sucked $600 billion out of America’s public purse since the dawn of the interstate system. [2]

Quoting Dan Smith of U.S. PIRG, Ms. Snyder noted that: “Road advocates use these myths about the gas tax being this user fee and that highways pay for themselves to get preferential treatment, and to get a larger chunk of the dedicated fund.”

Paying a toll is a user fee; paying the gas tax when you fill your tank is not a user fee. Not very complicated, but you’ll find almost no one on the Right who dares explain that simple fact. As the above-referenced report makes clear, highways do not pay for themselves—period! Great talking point offered to the uninformed, but not true … if that kind of stuff matters—which, for some of us, it does.

And Mr. Orski’s final point, that this legislation will “restore the program’s lost sense of purpose and focus Trust Fund resources on what they always were meant to do— preserve and renew the nation’s prized asset, its interstate highway system.” Hate to break the news to those on the Right so desperate to return to Mayberry RFD, but this is 2012. Times have changed.

More changes are in the offing, and the GOP’s determination to keep us locked into a fossil-fuel dependent transportation system at the expense of our future well-being may not be such a good thing, great sound bites notwithstanding. And as Ms. Snyder made clear in the article I cited above, the gas tax/Highway Trust Fund—created during the Hoover Administration—was not intended solely for highways. Only during the 17 year period during which the interstate state was being built were federal gas tax revenues directed exclusively to roads. “Since 1973, the gas tax has been used for a variety of transportation programs and has even been used, on occasion, to pay down the deficit.” Facts….

And of course, no GOP-inspired legislation these days can be marketed without a snarky, irrelevant, and misleading statement or two, Right?

The new infrastructure bill no longer obligates states to spend highway funding on non-highway activities, such as museums or landscaping. But spending for mass transit appears to continue, even though there are better uses for the funds. States now spend 20 percent of their Highway Trust Fund allocation on mass transit, yet only two percent of passenger miles are used by mass transit.…
Just as users of roads should pay all of their costs, such as construction and maintenance, so should users of mass transit. If individual states want to subsidize mass transit, they should do it out of their own revenues. With Uncle Sam broke, the Federal government should not be subsidizing expensive mass transit systems. [3]

Just wondering how much of the funding states are obligated to use on “museums or landscaping?” All of it? Half? A third? Ten percent? Five? Perhaps less? A wild guess on my part, but I’m betting that “museums or landscaping” aren’t a primary focus, but we wouldn’t want to clue in the uninformed about that, now would we? And the lame “passenger mile” standard used by the Right is addressed nicely by Eric Jaffe here as well as in the report cited above, but I’ll admit it is a popular sound bite: “20 percent … for two percent” usage sure does sound unfair! But why add context if that ruins the point?

“Uncle Sam” is not “broke”, but it is another Page One sound bite from the Right’s playbook,  which does induce an appropriate measure of fear in the electorate. Nice strategy, huh? [Kinda like “Cheerful” Newt Gingrich’s uplifting comment in Debate # 4367 held in Arizona two weeks ago: “But everybody needs to understand — and by the way, we live in an age when we have to genuinely worry about nuclear weapons going off in our own cities. So everybody who serves in the fire department, in the police department, not just the first responders, but our National Guard, whoever is going to respond, all of us are more at risk today, men and women, boys and girls, than at any time in the history of this country.”]

Writing on the “we’re broke” theme, commenting on Speaker of the House John Boehner’s identical comment last year, E. J. Dionne offered this:

Bloomberg News looked at Boehner’s statement and declared simply: ‘It’s wrong.’ As Bloomberg’s David J. Lynch wrote: ‘The U.S. today is able to borrow at historically low interest rates, paying 0.68 percent on a two-year note that it had to offer at 5.1 percent before the financial crisis began in 2007. Financial products that pay off if Uncle Sam defaults aren’t attracting unusual investor demand. And tax revenue as a percentage of the economy is at a 60-year low, meaning if the government needs to raise cash and can summon the political will, it could do so.’
Precisely. A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

And this*:

America’s Tea Party has a simple fiscal message: The United States is broke. This is factually incorrect—U.S. government securities remain one of the safest investments in the world—but the claim serves the purpose of dramatizing the federal budget and creating a great deal of hysteria around America’s current debt levels. This then produces the fervent belief that government spending must be cut radically—and now. [4]

So I’ll ask the same question raised in the first post discussing this legislation: “How much money, time, effort, and resources can we be expected to waste by devoting all of those assets to highways and roadways used by gasoline-chugging vehicles … highways and roadways and vehicles whose usage and very existence will be challenged in decades to come when the availability of affordable, efficient, and plentiful fossil fuels is no longer routinely assured to the masses?”

Or this, from last week’s related post: “[W]hat transportation options will be available to us if we continue to allow shortsighted, narrow-minded ideologies dictate how we plan and prepare for our collective future?

* as his Wikipedia bio notes, Simon Johnson, author of the quote, “is the ‘Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management[1] and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.[2] He has held a wide variety of academic and policy-related positions, including Professor of Economics at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.[3] From March 2007 through the end of August 2008, he was Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund” so really … what would he know about American being “broke”?

Sources:

[1] http://transportation.nationaljournal.com/2012/02/now-were-getting-political.php; Now We’re Getting Political by Fawn Johnson – 02.06.12; Response from Ken Orski: In Defense of the House Highway Bill
[2] http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/01/04/actually-highway-builders-roads-don%E2%80%99t-pay-for-themselves/; Actually, Highway Builders, Roads Don’t Pay For Themselves by Tanya Snyder – 01.04.11
[3] Now We’re Getting Political by Fawn Johnson – 02.06.12; Response from Diana Furchtgott-Roth: How to Improve the Highway Bill
[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/business/project_syndicate/2011/08/the_tea_partys_circular_logic.html; The Tea Party’s Circular Logic – Its revolt undermines the private sector more than it reins in “big government” by Simon Johnson – 08.16.11

Here we go again. Every time gasoline prices spike, no matter the reason, Republican leaders and talk radio’s libertarian elite reach for the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) latest talking points and crank up the ‘drill, baby, drill’ rhetoric….
The GOP’s real energy crisis is one of focus. Republican leaders are focusing their energy on keeping America overly dependent on a resource that is far more plentiful outside our own borders. They largely dismiss the strategy of reducing demand and seem content to have us suck our own limited oil reserves dry as quickly as possible. It is a phony solution that they think will play well politically.
Peddling geologic ignorance may score some points with voters who don’t know any better, but it won’t bring the promised relief at the pump. [1]

That quote is almost a year old, but carries no less weight today.

With the GOP now both apoplectic at (1), what our Kenyan-Colonialist-Muslim-Socialist-Martian-Taxaholic-America-hating President (did I mention he’s not a white guy?) is doing to gasoline prices (all by himself, no less, and undoubtedly for non-patriotic, anti-religious purposes … possibly involving contraception and spending of some sort) and (2), relishing the opportunity to blame him for these rising prices (in their economic-fact-free world), I thought it might be useful to trot out an old post of mine, also from a year ago.

Not surprising, the gas prices issue is also giving rise to the same nonsense as was featured in 2011. No need to update with new quotes; they all come from the same Book of Nonsense.

With Newt Gingrich blessing us with revelations obtained from his most recent beyond-Earth’s-atmosphere trip to Planet Delusional Obnoxious Neanderthal that he and he alone will bring the price of gasoline back down to $2.50 per gallon in his Administration (unless some stuff involving reality happens and he … uh, can’t), perhaps we ought to try a different tack and see what facts suggest, just for comparison.

You know what they are, Right? Declining supply; increasing demand; increasing exploration, production, and refining costs; inferior quality substitutes; geopolitical considerations … ring any bells? (Not even Cheerful Newt, with the keen powers only a genuine, incredibly well-paid historian possesses, can prevent any of this.)

So with only a few editorial tweaks, let’s re-visit: “Apparently, Clueless IS A Strategy.”

[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

We’re blindly focused on searching for answers within our old paradigm of energy and it’s a vision that really needs to shift. [1]

I began a multi-part series entitled Clueless Is Not A Strategy (first post here) whose primary purpose was to argue that in the face of growing oil production challenges, we need to start having serious, adult conversations about what we’ll all soon be facing (yes, even those who deny the reality of Peak Oil). Remaining ignorant of the facts about oil production, oil supply, and increasing demand; or relying on ignorant or at best disingenuous arguments which urge us not to worry and be happy about our energy resources (if only we can stop our nefarious President with his socialist policies from implementing evil, job-killing regulations … have I covered most of the Buzz-Words of the Day?), is, I proposed, not our best approach.

It would appear, (unfortunately), that some of our fearless “leaders” haven’t gotten the strategy memo—or they are still working from the wrong one. Clueless reigns supreme in some corners of Congress—yet another display of the remarkable ability of some to completely ignore facts and simultaneously plan as far ahead as early next week.

Where is the president’s plan for rising gas prices? – Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

Now is the time to be asking what we can do to increase domestic energy production, not proposing ways to squeeze American families even more,’ –  Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

‘My message today simply is the higher gas prices are simply a product of this administration’s goal [to enact a cap-and-trade plan to curb emissions of greenhouse gases].’ – Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) *

‘Since this administration has taken over, they have done everything to block energy development in this country,’ – Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)

Seriously? Must be part of the Socialist-Alien-Kenyan-Muslim-Not Exceptional-Completely-Ruin-The Country-Just-For-The-Hell-Of-It strategy Obama obviously began pursuing nefariously with his nefarious parents since shortly after his birth on a still-undetermined planet somewhere in our solar system.

Imagine that: an opposition party assailing the President because he (with his magical superpowers over all of commerce and industry) simply has not ordered prices to drop. If only he would stop pursuing regulations that raise gas prices just for the hell of it. What is Obama waiting for? (And while I have his attention, still waiting on lowering college tuition costs for our two daughters….)

Just how clueless are they, and how much of their nonsense will we permit to guide policy in the weeks ahead? They still don’t get it….We have leaders (including Democrats) still making the same pointless pronouncements about “weaning ourselves off of/ending our foreign oil dependency” while they now consider opening up our Strategic Petroleum Reserve because gas prices are high … and still doing absolutely nothing about the underlying causes. (And sorry, Ms. Palin and your loyal followers, “drill, baby, drill” is still as dumb and useless a policy as it was two years ago. See this for more information.)

To his credit, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, said that the petroleum reserve should be left untouched absent a severe disruption in supply or other emergency. Hard to believe I know, but higher prices at the pump should not qualify as an “emergency.” (Jim DiPeso offered a terrific summary of the reasons against opening up the Reserve.)

As I noted in another post (echoing the realities explained by others much more knowledgeable than me): “For all the talk of the ‘massive’ amounts of oil offshore and in Alaska and the ‘obvious’ need for us to just ‘drill, baby, drill’, we’re several decades away from full production in those regions, and the amounts anticipated will wind up meeting far less than even 5% of our needs. None of it will come cheaply. Drilling in the Arctic is a wee bit more challenging than punching a hole in the ground in Texas, and one does not require an engineering degree to understand that. The ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd never gets around to spelling any of that out for us. Magical thinking is nice, as is a denial of pesky truths, but on the planet we occupy, it’s a fairly useless exercise.”

Oil is produced and consumed in particular places, but there’s a single worldwide price of oil that’s determined by global supply and global demand. It’s not possible for one country to unilaterally alter the price its own citizens pay at the pump by altering the quantity of oil it produces. A new well in the United States has exactly the same impact on global prices as a new well in Norway or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia and thus the exactly the same impact on the price American consumers pay.
And yet turn it into a political story and suddenly all this knowledge drops away. [3]

Gas prices are higher, and that’s not going to change much in the weeks and months and years to come absent recessions—and it’s best if we not actually plan on falling into another one of those. It may tick off a significant segment of the population and those leaders who seem to think that we are just entitled to lower gas prices because we’re … you know … special, but here’s the message: Grow up and get used to it! We’re better than that, and we need to demonstrate it now. Our future well-being demands no less than recognition of facts and reality. Ideology is nice and serves its own purposes, but it ought to have a much more limited role going forward.

We have a problem with oil production now—not just here in the United States—and it is not going to get better. Demand is increasing, and the amount of oil now being produced will not keep up with that increasing demand. Unfortunately for those who don’t like hearing that kind of news, we Americans do not live in protective bubble. Billions of other people in less-developed nations are eagerly and diligently working to elevate the quality of their lives, and they all need energy to make that happen … the same energy sources we use. More demand for shrinking supply = less for everyone, even we exceptional Americans. Higher prices are part of the ride. Reality.

It is not rocket science. It is not another in a long line of delusional nefarious, Muslim-supporting, job-killing, regulation-creating, socialist conspiracies, despite the best efforts of some self-serving, narrow-minded politicians and media personnel looking to score points with a select group of citizens who also don’t seem to get it. They’re better than that, too.

Higher prices are one noteworthy consequence of a finite resource that can no longer be extracted in amounts, in time, in the right conditions, at optimum quality, and at prices sufficient to meet ever-increasing demand. Facts. Yes, Middle East turmoil has something to do with those price hikes right now—perhaps most of it. But above and beyond this particular geopolitical constraint, we’re now entering a stage on the historical time line of fossil fuel production where supply will not meet demand. Period. It is just that simple. That basic economic problem carries with it a host of consequences and outcomes.

As demand grows in the next decade, we will not have the oil production capacity we will need to meet demand. Supply will then have to ration demand, and prices will skyrocket – with the likely outcome of bringing the world’s economy to its knees. – John B. Hess, chairman and chief executive of the Hess Corporation [4]

Republican House Speaker John Boehner offered his energy insights:

‘As gas prices go up, so does the cost of everyday life,’ [he] told reporters as he unveiled a campaign dubbed the ‘America Energy Initiative’ to increase supplies and roll back regulations.
‘It costs more to drive to work, to buy groceries, or just to get the kids to school. And at a time when our economy already isn’t creating enough jobs, rising gas prices hurt the very people we need to lead us out of our economic crisis: Small businesses,’ he said.

Coming from leadership whose insane and shortsighted budget-cutting proposals are derided by not just Democratic economists but also independents, Wall Street analysts, and John McCain’s own Presidential campaign economic advisor (among others, here) as doing nothing but costing hundreds of thousands of more jobs while pushing us closer to another recession, the Speaker’s concerns about creating jobs rings a tad hollow (although nice job on getting another buzz-phrase: small business, into the comments!). But should we be surprised? It’s all about the sound bites and not the unpleasant truths….We deserve better.

Not to be outdone, Senator McConnell was quoted as saying that we will all be dependent on fossil fuels for “decades to come.” If I were to tell you that your ears will bleed for decades to come, is that the beginning and end of my conversation with you? Might there be at least one moment when you pondered a couple of things in response? “Is this a good thing? Why is that? Would it make sense to change the behaviors or factors causing my ears to bleed?” Just wondering….

Another unpleasant and sure-to-tick-off some truth is that we—you and me—share blame as well.

The success, to date, of fossil fuels being able to meet energy demand any time required has led to a feeling of society wide unrealistic entitlement. This translates into a belief that whatever we want we can always have whenever we want it. This of course is leading to problems as it patently can no longer be maintained. [5]

We will need to be better and wiser than that. We are, so let’s prove it.

There’s no disputing that higher gas prices put a strain on most budgets, both personal and business. That in turn sets all kinds of financial dominoes into motion, with few of them leading to pleasant results. But unless and until we can individually and collectively wrap our minds around the fact that this is just the beginning stages of an entirely new way of living, transporting, producing, and consuming, we’ll continue to look for the same band-aid solutions that will only defer more pain until a bit later on, making the problems all the more difficult to contend with. That’s not much of a strategy. At some point, we need to find our courage and our wisdom so that we make new choices, have new plans and policies, and deal with a future that will be unlike the past in more ways than any of us probably realize.

And an aspect of courage easily overlooked or simply ignored is that regardless of one’s political philosophy, when leadership pursues policies clearly at odds with our long-term interests—even though the policy is entirely consistent with the ideology—something has to give. Since when is shooting ourselves in the foot a noble principle? We all pay a price when we meekly accept an absence of integrity and honesty in political discourse or policy-making itself.

This is not doom-and-gloom for next week or next month, but the process of stagnating if not outright declining oil production has begun. It will unfold over a considerable period of time, and in that regard we’ll have at least some opportunities to “adjust.” But that cannot be our salvation nor can it be the guiding principle for what we need to do as individuals, in our communities, and through our government.

“No plans = unnecessary chaos.” – Chris Martenson

We have both the opportunity and the capabilities to create a recognizable future for ourselves. Failing to take advantage leaves us at the mercy of a fossil fuel tidal wave that will in time change the landscape beyond anything we can envision now. I’d like to believe none of us thinks that that is our best strategy.

More to come….

* See the terrific Steve Benen discussion of the bizarre “reasoning” behind this comment.

[NOTE: I’ll be traveling the rest of this week. Please look for the 3rd and final installment in my series: Peak Oil Denial: Alive, Well, Still Not Helping next Monday.]

Sources:

[1] http://peakoil.com/consumption/the-energy-prophet/; The energy prophet – Peter Tertzakian’s conversation with Derek Brower, October 28, 2010 (original article at http://www.petroleum-economist.com/default.asp?page=14&PubID=46&ISS=25702&SID=727276
[2] http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110310/pl_afp/mideastunrestuseconomypoliticsoil; US Republicans assail Obama as gas prices rise – March 10, 2011
[3] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/03/oil-a-commodity-traded-on-a-global-marketplace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+matthewyglesias+%28Matthew+Yglesias%29; Oil: A Commodity Traded On A Global Marketplace – March 11, 2011
[4] http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/a-dark-warning-on-global-oil-demand/#more-94428; A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand By Clifford Krauss – March 8, 2011
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair – November 25, 2010

The conservative approach of starving the nation’s transportation system is bound to prevent it from being an effective engine for economic growth and could potentially lead to the loss of more than a half-million jobs. (How’s that for a bill that calls itself an ‘infrastructure jobs act’?) But to add to the insult, conservatives are turning the legislation into a virtual pharmacy of poison pills. [1]

More and more, I’m tempted to set aside considerations about Peak Oil and wonder when we reach Peak Ignorant, Narrow-Minded, and Shortsighted—hoping it arrives this week!

The (we can only hope) soon-to-be-buried transportation bill winding its way through Congress shows all the wisdom, planning, and foresight of your typical three-year-old [“I don’t care about later; I want only what I want and I want it now … and you can’t play, either”!] We have a legion of the Clueless and the Dumb legislating on behalf of the (mostly innocent) Uninformed … and all for the benefit of the Few. American exceptionalism on display? Yikes!

As have many others (most much more knowledgeable about transportation policy than me), I recently offered commentary on the hideous bill sponsored by the GOP in its “leaders’” latest demonstration that recognition of reality and the needed long-term planning for said reality is for them defined as about a week, give or take, because facts and reality don’t count for much if they conflict with their narrow-minded ideology of Bad, Bad Federal Government 24/7.

Eliminating the federal transit tax benefit for public transportation users [2] was one of several credits benefiting the mostly middle and lower class lopped off the books in the payroll tax negotiations, demonstrating that transportation policy is not the only arena where it’s possible to kick citizens when they’re down. I keep wondering when the great majority recognizes that most of the legislation coming from the GOP nowadays screws them royally! But as long as the wealthy are catered to, I guess we shouldn’t complain, isn’t that right, Right?

For all practical purposes, the GOP’s transportation bill* eliminates funding for anything other than highways and roads. Eliminating the Mass Transit Account from the federal Highway Trust Fund, as the GOP proposes, eliminates the established source of funds for public transportation. Just like that….In the GOP’s future-less world, funds long-committed to an intelligent vision for the future will have to fight for scraps in a Congress being run mostly by the delusional and short-sighted. Terrific!

* [As I write this before the weekend, rumors are circulating that this provision may be dropped due to strong opposition, including some from members of the GOP as well. Last night one report indicated it had been dropped. The question remains: why would such a provision have been entertained to begin with? What does that suggest about their priorities and the long-term interests of this nation?]

More congestion! More pollution! Screw urban dwellers! More oil and gas sales! Let the poor walk! We dance to the Tea Party tune, and since they don’t understand much, we don’t care! (Actually, that’s a great title for the legislation; wonder why they didn’t give the bill that name? Kinda long, so perhaps that’s the reason….)

The Tea Party is superb at disguising cultural battles as the pursuit of responsible thrift. And mass transit exists at the vortex of many of their No. 1 ideological targets. It’s brilliant, when you think about it.
Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor. [3]

(Neil Pierce also wrote a very nice column in the wake of this ridiculous legislation, expounding on the Tea Party’s nonsense—and influence over—transportation and related policy, even in the face of considerable bipartisan opposition. Worth the read. The Agenda 21 paranoia-driven, fear-based cluelessness he writes about would be comical if it wasn’t so genuinely disturbing.)

As PeakOilMatters has been discussing since its inception, as have many others with even more knowledge than me, at some point in time much sooner than most of us realize, and long, long before we are even remotely prepared, the effects of declining fossil fuel availability are going to extend into every facet of our lives—personal, commercial, professional, and social.

Given how much our entire transportation system is dependent on those fossil fuels to function, when availability and quality are in decline as costs increase, severe disruptions not just in industrial transportation but in our own every-day travels are inevitable. If the gas you use all the time isn’t as plentiful, as “good”, as available, or as inexpensive as you’ve been accustomed to, change is going to happen. And for all the reasons and FACTS Peak Oil proponents share, that’s the reality we’re heading towards. When? Who knows? The date doesn’t matter.

It will be a process that begins quietly and barely noticed at first [already has], and will likely continue for an extended period of time. But all the while that snowball will be gathering momentum as the decline continues. Then, the “potential might possible’s” and half-truths about shale oil and tar sands which the deniers toss out to cloud the issue about fossil fuel production and supply will stop mattering at all.

And when all of this is still gathering strength and affecting pretty much everything we do (absent a lot of planning and adaptation well in advance), what transportation options will be available to us if we continue to allow shortsighted, narrow-minded ideologies dictate how we plan and prepare for our collective future? No option is pain-free, easy, or inexpensive. But cutting off the viable options which may ease much of the burden in blind fealty instead to a system of (non) governance which will do nothing but cause untold and avoidable harm to tens of millions of us is … idiotic! Our leaders may not be better than that, but we are, and we need to step up.

Crisis, or opportunity?

I’m planning to be back with some final thoughts on the transportation matter in an upcoming post, laying out some of the more popular arguments against federal funding of mass transit and why most of it is indeed shortsighted; but for now, I’ll leave you with an additional comment first from Isaiah J. Poole’s column referenced above, and then a final one from the Neil Pierce column also linked to above. Food for thought….

Through this transportation bill, conservatives are pushing the transmission into reverse on everything from environmental policy to workers rights to women’s health. Their efforts would cost the nation’s jobs, make the movement of goods and services less efficient, convert what should be public resources into private profit centers, and keep us mired deep in the 20th century when our global economic competitors are pressing toward the future.

[W]e need courageous leaders — national, state and local — to assert that the United States does need a world-class transportation system, combining road and rail and air, and based on sane low-carbon energy alternatives, not overwhelming but rather serving accessible, livable, walkable communities. And that we’re willing to pay for it.
Ideology aside, what’s wrong with that?

What kind of a future do we want?

Sources:

[1] http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2012020714/conservatives-transportation-throw-america-reverse; Conservatives On Transportation: Throw America Into Reverse by Isaiah J. Poole – 02.14.12
[2] http://transportationnation.org/2012/02/18/transit-tax-break-buried-in-partisan-debate/; Transit Tax Break Buried in Partisan Debate by Janet Babin – 02.18.12
[3] http://www.salon.com/2012/02/13/the_tea_partys_war_on_mass_transit/; The Tea Party’s war on mass transit by Will Doig – 02.13.12

The official mourning period is now over, and I’m once again able to discuss the Super Bowl in somewhat dispassionate terms (%^&$*$ Eli Manning! Sorry….)

What if there was no Super Bowl game?

In a January article entitled “Super Bowl 2012: Indianapolis Invites Visitors for Weeklong Celebration” by Mark Johanson, city officials were said to be expecting 150,000 visitors during Super Bowl weekend (nearly 70,000 of whom would attend the game itself). Another source suggested the number was more likely in excess of a million….

In Diana Lind’s piece (“The Economic Mixed Bag That is the Super Bowl“), she reported that while the National Football League claims that the host city for the Super Bowl receives revenues totaling anywhere from $300 to $500 million, Indianapolis was expecting less than half of that lofty amount ($150 million was the stated estimate, and the calculations for that were questioned as being too optimistic and inaccurate as well, as Lind noted).

Having been lucky enough to attend a Super Bowl several years ago (much happier memory—the Patriots won that one!), I can personally attest to the fact that it is indeed quite the spectacle.    The Colts home city appears to have left no stone unturned in its efforts to present itself in the best possible light while offering fans and visitors the full scope of Super Bowl pageantry.

The Johanson piece quoted a Convention & Visitors Association official as promising a complete transformation of the downtown area, filled with “food carts, vendors, three stages, warming stations, food and beverage” with the intent of re-making that part of Indianapolis into an Olympic Village. And for those not satisfied with that (?), Johanson reported that there would also be “interactive games, concert stages, bars and restaurants, and a so-called ‘Tailgate Town,’” together with “four zip lines” enabling users to “fly over the Super Bowl Village.” Not to be outdone, the “NFL Experience” located at the Convention Center serves as the sport’s interactive theme park with all the bells and whistles one might expect: “participatory games, displays, entertainment attractions, kid’s football clinics, free autograph sessions, and the largest football memorabilia show ever staged.”

I am not nearly versed enough in the intricacies of planning such an event, but it stands to reason that a lot of time, effort, equipment, personnel, machinery, and transportation is needed to turn an American city into the center of the pro football universe (and for that matter, the entertainment one as well, given that the game itself drew more than 117 million viewers—a new television-viewing record, topping the 2011 Super Bowl audience.)

Granted, the Super Bowl is not your average sporting event (not with secondary market ticket prices starting in excess of $2000 per, and “a field-level luxury suite with a capacity of 35 people can be yours for $650,000!” as noted in a Huffington Post article by Andrew Brandt). The “normal” ticket-purchasing fan is not the typical attendee at the Super Bowl, and the marketing aspects attending the event are far from routine, given that it is the biggest event of the year for most advertisers.

Brandt’s article went on to report that NBC received more than $250 million just from TV advertising, and (citing other sources, including this one) that “5 million people are projected to buy new televisions in preparation for the game, and fans are expected to spend $11 billion on Super Bowl-related purchases (including the consumption of 1.25 billion chicken wings).” That’s a lot of grocery stores, caterers, restaurants, sporting goods stores, electronics stores, party-favor suppliers, etc., etc., reaping tangential benefits. (Wikipedia reports it’s the second-largest day for food consumption in America; Thanksgiving is first.) Brandt also pointed out that the city’s 6000-plus hotel rooms were all sold out (at inflated rates, no doubt), leaving many visitors obliged to stay at facilities nearly an hour away (also at exorbitantly higher rates.)

That’s a lot of traveling (personal and commercial), together with a lot of supplying and delivering. (Johnson’s article reported that “Over 1,000 private planes are expected on the ground during the weekend ushering in countless celebrities.”)

John Russell and Jon Murray wrote a separate article at the indystar.com website that one national restaurant chain in particular drew more than 1200 people to its facility in Indianapolis over Super Bowl weekend, more than double its usual amount. Obviously merchants and retailers expect/hope to reap secondary benefits from consumers who leave with favorable impressions of the service or product and might thus frequent those same commercial establishments in other locations. Certainly the host city itself likewise expects/hopes to attract additional tourists and convention business from the favorable reviews.

However, the Russell/Murray piece also noted that when all relevant revenues (more than $7 million, including several million dollars from the NFL along with hotel and restaurant taxes, etc.) and expenses (labor, insurance, utilities, personnel, security, etc.) are tabulated, the city may be looking at shortfalls of anywhere from $450,000 to nearly $900,000. Not pocket change in this economy….

So I’ll ask again, what if there was no Super Bowl game?

Nearly two years ago, I wrote my first piece about the impact of declining oil/gas supply (i.e. Peak Oil) as it relates to sports and sports travel. In that post, I offered these observations:

How do teams (high school, college, the pros) deal with travel issues and schedules when gas is much too expensive to enable teams to transport their players even short distances, or when air travel is severely curtailed and wildly expensive because not enough jet fuel is being processed to meet demand (and airports are shuttered because air travel has diminished markedly), or when the fans cannot afford to put the gasoline in their vehicles that in the past allowed them to attend the games without a second thought?
What happens when half, or a third, or one-tenth the number of fans can afford to attend games because budgeting all that money to drive to an in- or out-of-state stadium no longer makes financial sense? Pure supply and demand: when demand continues and supply is reduced, prices go up. Decisions are then made about where to allocate funds. Does a trip across the state to attend a Red Sox game make more sense than paying for your children’s basic needs for the next few months?
Where will the revenue to pay players come from when the majority of fans are no longer traveling to see the games either because limited gas supplies are now being allocated or it’s simply become too expensive for “frivolous” trips? How do owners continue to fund their vast operations (office staff, marketing, scouting staffs, minor leagues, utility services for the stadiums and training facilities, and on and on it goes)? What happens to the vendors and other suppliers when the majority of fans just stop attending … permanently?

What happens when the mind-boggling efforts in planning, preparing, transporting, supplying, delivering, etc., etc. needed to stage this incredible event by countless thousands of individuals and merchants and organizations and government officials are simply no longer feasible because every single entity up and down the supply and service chain is faced with the reality of insufficient availability of “affordable”, quality, energy supply to make this extravaganza happen?

How many economic dominoes tumble as a result? How many businesses lose out? How many employees?

I’m not anticipating that the NFL will cease production of the Super Bowl anytime in the near future, but the reality of Peak Oil will affect this event and this organization just as it will every other commercial enterprise. It will take an incredible amount of planning and thought to figure out an appropriate Plan B just for this one event … how much more planning and thought will be needed for everything else?

Although it is likely that the President and his Secretary of Energy understand that a decline in world oil production is not far away, it is simply not a topic to be raised prior to an election as the political risk is simply too great. Someday, likely within the next decade, the US and the rest of world’s governments will have to acknowledge there is a problem here, and unless alternative sources of energy can be developed and brought     into general use quickly, major changes in economic activities and lifestyles are going to take place. [1]

So that’s sufficient reason to be allowing moronic decisions to serve as current policy instead? Do any of our “leaders” in Congress understand the concept of “long-term planning”? Foresight? How about just plain ‘ol basic “planning” … the kind that runs beyond Election Day? Are they all clueless … and self-serving beyond all bounds of basic decency?

The latest demonstration of short-sighted, narrow-minded “leadership” comes courtesy of the House Ways and Means Committee. Last week, the Committee’s majority, in their infinite wisdom, proposed a much-needed transportation bill which managed to all but eliminate currently-legislated funding for public transit, among other egregious, ignorant and decidedly ideological proposals having very little to do with national best interests.

This awesome display of brazen hypocrisy (and a giant “screw you” to millions of not-wealthy citizens who use and/or rely on public transit) calls for that funding to now take a number and wait in line for crumbs from the general fund—the same general fund which supplies the needed revenue for all other government spending. Now, the billions collected from the (wildly insufficient) gas tax will be directed exclusively to road programs, rather than allocating a percentage of those revenues to transit as has been customary and routine for decades.

But the good news is that the House wants $40 billion in spending cuts to offset this “transfer” of funding to the general fund. Another giant “screw the future” message….

With a House like this, what advances can American transportation policy make?
Actions by members of the U.S. House over the past week suggest that Republican opposition to the funding of alternative transportation has developed into an all-out ideological battle. Though their efforts are unlikely to advance much past the doors of their chamber, the policy recklessness they have displayed speaks truly poorly of the future of the nation’s mobility systems. [2]

Wouldn’t it be easier for them to just announce that they genuinely don’t give a shit about 99% of Americans? Think of how much time and energy they’d save by making it obvious to even the densest of right-wing, (non-wealthy only, of course) supporters that what’s in their best interests really does not matter any more than it does for those who support the Democrats.

Dan Smith of USPIRG put it like this:
The House Ways and Means Bill stops just short of defunding America’s public transit system. Instead it says that the real money with a funding source will all go to highways, while the tooth fairy will pay for transit. For Big Oil and the highway lobby, this is a dream, but it’s a nightmare for America’s transportation future. [3]

Here in Eastern Massachusetts, the state’s Department of Transportation recently rolled out a grim set of proposals designed to counter severe budget shortfalls. All indications are that an increase in the state’s gas tax as a viable source for funding is a dead issue before it’s even raised in the legislature, so cutbacks in Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority [MBTA] services—  coupled with fare hikes affecting commuter rail, bus, ferry, and subway riders—are Plan B. Parking fees at various transit stations would also be raised.

Under one scenario, fares overall would increase by 43 percent, while under the other, they would increase by 35 percent.
Under both scenarios, MBTA ferries would be eliminated, commuter rail weekend service would be eliminated and nighttime service would end at 10 p.m., and weekend service on [specified transit lines] would be eliminated.
But in the second scenario, a larger number of bus routes would be cut, generating savings that would enable the smaller fare increase. [4]

The MBTA also provides commuter rail service to the Massachusetts North Shore community where our summer home is located. We try to spend as many weekends there as we can during the late spring through mid-autumn period. But under what I labeled as the MBTA’s Plan B as noted above, elimination of weekend rail service there is also on the table.

… [O]fficials said there is no way to quantify exactly how many weekend visitors who come by commuter rail would stay away if they had to drive instead.
But during the summer, Rockport and Manchester fill with out-of-towners, many of whom take the commuter rail in order to save money or to avoid the difficultly of finding parking space. [5]

(That same article also notes this distressing fact: “According to the MBTA, 12 percent of commuter rail passengers would be affected by the cuts, and 6.7 million fewer people would ride the commuter rail each year than do currently.” That’s not an insignificant number of people obliged to now use autos instead….)

I’ll admit that to date this is not an issue affecting me personally. We drive to our summer home, as I’ve noted in other posts such as this one. I did, however, make use of public transportation on one notable occasion back in 2010, as I recounted (here):

As I noted way back when in my introduction to this blog, we are very fortunate. We own an exquisite (at least to us), spacious summer home a hundred yards or so from the Atlantic Ocean. We vacation here and enjoy every blessed minute of it! In normal driving conditions, it takes us fifty minutes or so to go door-to-door from our suburban Boston home to the ‘beach house’, which is where I am as I write this. What a treat for us!
Summer vacation usually means grabbing as much time as we can here—work and young adult schedules permitting. That means frequent travel along the Route 128/Interstate 95 corridor … most times with more than one vehicle; most times more than once or twice a week.
As a strong proponent of Peak Oil, I have decidedly mixed feelings about this, as I have mentioned before….I love this lifestyle, and I approach my task of disseminating information about our soon-to-be-curtailed availability of fossil fuel supply with more than my fair share of selfish trepidation. We do not yet own hybrid vehicles, and so we spend more than our fair share of time filling the gas tanks of my wife’s German import and my Japanese SUV in order to make many trips to and from our summer home from Memorial Day through mid-October. I balance that guilt with the acknowledgment (rationalization?) that I work from home, and that my wife’s office is about 6000 feet from our home, so we actually spend no more on gas than most other families.
Once gas prices begin their inevitable climb up, whether that’s later this year, next year, or a couple more years down the road, and with a simultaneous curtailment in how much fossil fuel will remain available to us to meet all of demands and expectations and needs, my rationalizations may not matter much.
With that in mind yesterday, for the first time in the 6 summers that we’ve owned this home, I used public transportation to make most of the journey from home to here at the beach house. My daughter drove me a couple of miles to a commuter rail stop which took me into Boston’s North Station, where I then—some fifteen minutes after my
arrival—boarded a different rail line to take me to the North Shore. I then hailed a cab to take me the three miles or so from the train station to our summer place. (I’ve already informed my wife that I will soon take public transportation door to door, just to see what that’s like. That will add two bus trips and a decent amount of walking at the beginning and end of my trip, along with two separate subway rides. I’m expecting at     least an additional hour of travel each way, but no more than a few more dollars in fares.)
The one way trip yesterday cost me about $20.00, and took me two hours and ten minutes door to door. Compare that to less than $10.00 of gas and less than 60 minutes of travel time when I drive. More expensive certainly, and clearly more time-consuming, but all in all it was a pleasant enough experience, and surprisingly scenic in several places along the way. It was nice to be able to read and engage in some computer work while traveling … not an option when I’m barreling along at 65 miles per hour on Route 128.

So when we all begin experiencing first-hand and on a regular basis the myriad consequences of reduced availability of the fossil fuel resources we’ve long taken for granted, how quickly can our local communities, regional administrations, states, and federal authorities reinstate and create new transportations modes? Has that thought occurred to any of our brilliant Congressional officials who now feel emboldened to all but eliminate these options right now because they are intellectually incapable of thinking beyond November, and morally opposed to anything that might smack of decency and national interest (except, of course, the national interests on the wealthy)?

How much money, time, effort, and resources can we be expected to waste by devoting all of those assets to highways and roadways used by gasoline-chugging vehicles … highways and roadways and vehicles whose usage and very existence will be challenged in decades to come when the availability of affordable, efficient, and plentiful fossil fuels is no longer routinely assured to the masses?

… A]s the consumer of a quarter of the world’s oil supply, we can have a significant effect on the world oil market by making sure that our economy can adjust quickly and easily to changes in the oil price….
Increased investment in alternative modes of transport, such as mass transit (both buses and rail), bike lanes, bike and car sharing, and walking improvements to allow many more workers the option of getting to their jobs without the use of a personal car.
Improvements in our nation’s rail system to allow more freight to be shifted from truck to rail.
Encouraging the electrification of transport (including the alternative transport options mentioned above) to provide transport options which are not dependent on oil.
In short, we need to make the market for transportation services more efficient by encouraging new entrants (mass transit, bikes, trains) and competition with the incumbent car/internal combustion engine infrastructure. [6]

Wouldn’t it be nice to have voted into office leaders who think about these fact-based possibilities on our behalf (even if these contrary-to-their-ideology issues are not 100%, absolutely guaranteed to occur in every moment and circumstance?)

Why should this be wishful thinking?

Sources:

[1] http://www.fcnp.com/commentary/national/11048-the-peak-oil-crisis-election-2012.html; The Peak Oil Crisis: Election 2012 by Tom Whipple – 02.01.12
[2] http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2012/02/06/time-to-fight/; Time to Fight by Yonah Freemark – 02.06.12
[3] http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/02/02/house-gop-takes-transit-funding-hostage/; House GOP Moves to Decimate Dedicated Transit Funding by Ben Goldman – 02.02.12

[4] http://www.boston.com/Boston/metrodesk/2012/01/state-unveils-two-mbta-fare-increase-service-cut-scenarios/DoUG26YM6frTKPtULQkOUK/index.html; MBTA fares could rise as much as 43 percent; ferry, bus, commuter rail cuts also eyed by Martin Finucane – 01.03.12

[5] http://www.gloucestertimes.com/local/x1666061106/MBTA-service-cuts-seen-hurting-Cape-Ann; MBTA service cuts seen hurting Cape Ann by Stephanie Bergman – 01.05.12

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomkonrad/2012/01/26/the-end-of-elastic-oil/; The End of Elastic Oil by Tom Konrad – 01.26.12

Although here in the Boston area we couldn’t offer definitive proof that it’s winter (a few single digit wind chill days aside)—given that after a surprise few inches of snow here on Halloween weekend, our next accumulation of snow (all of two inches or so) didn’t occur until mid-January …  with just a couple of trivial “storms” since then along with some very nice, mild temperatures such as yesterday’s near-60 degrees—‘tis the season for winter getaways.

Family and business obligations serve as our excuses for upcoming travel. The first trip is to DC, but at the end of February we’ll spend 5 days in Orlando.

That prospect, like most other plans these days, got me thinking about what happens a few years down the road when travel requirements might still be part of at least some portion of the population—business or pleasure.

Both of our trips entail a seven or eight mile drive to and from Boston’s Logan Airport (not a big deal if you avoid the rush-hour-parking-lot-on-the-highway experience) and then round trip (nonstop) flights to both of our destinations. A rental car awaits us on our DC trip, corporate transportation in Orlando.

We figure the fares total about $1500.00 for my wife and I. It’s possible that two of our children will join us on the DC trip, so there’s the potential for added costs.

The nice thing is that we have a number of flight options available at the moment. Both trips afford us multiple nonstop options to and from our destinations, along with a number of other options via connecting flights.

The airline industry, battered though it may be, nonetheless generates tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. That means a lot of employees, suppliers, suppliers’ employees, airports, airport employees and countless others up and down the supply and service chain depend on daily flights to feed their families and pay their bills. Warmer winter weather down South is usually sufficient incentive all by itself!

As will be the case for us, air travel usually includes hotel stays and some other transportation needs. Travel is indeed a big business. Aside from the airline and airline-related personnel and suppliers mentioned above, restaurants and retailers likewise depend on airline-delivered tourists and business travelers to help pad their bottom lines.

One issue that seems fairly obvious to me is that since no one has yet figured out how to fly planes on anything other than jet fuel—at least commercially and on a mass scale—what happens when refineries decrease the supplies of jet fuel because Peak Oil necessitates basic changes in the allocation and supply of crude oil and its by-products? [Tom Whipple wrote a piece on that very subject just last week.]

Supply and demand operates in the airline industry just as it does most other places in our increasingly global economy. So when demand remains as is, but supplies are harder to come by or much more expensive, what happens then?

How much business planning has even been considered to date, let alone implemented to any degree?

When we start brushing up against the limits of oil production (and I believe we already have) and are left scrounging around for less than ideal substitutes as the years go by, what happens to all of the winter tourist travels to warmer locales? What’s our Plan B?

What gets prioritized and why? Which business industries will insist upon travel priorities and actually get what they need? Who will be making those determinations? How will they and their travel planners deal with fewer flights, fewer hotels, fewer transportation, and fewer dining options?

What happens to business conferences [see my 2011 post on that topic here]. What adaptations and transitions will be required of and from businesses from the small local to the mega-giant internationals when travel and transportation needs are restricted? How quickly does all this planning fall into place if we’re not already starting now?

What happens when even more smaller airports shut down when diminished supply cuts into current demand?

And given the incredible shortsightedness our Congressional leaders routinely display, what transportation alternatives will be in place that won’t prove to be infinitely more inconvenient at best?

What happens when your children now living on an opposite coast are no longer afforded the same reasonable and reasonably-priced options to visit you? Now, booking flights is as simple a process as logging on and ordering up a flight. What happens when there aren’t as many flights, or the remaining ones aren’t as affordable, or conveniently located and scheduled because jet fuel prices have shot the through as a result of basic supply and demand constraints? My oldest friend’s daughter (my godchild) now lives in Colorado. How often will she be able to visit with her siblings and parents here on the East Coast when that travel shoe drops?

Of course, we could just come to a conclusion that jet fuel must remain a refinery priority, and the countless other industries relying on their piece of the refined oil product pie will have to take a number and wait their turn? Volunteers? Doubtful.

And what of all the related transportation services dependent on all these flights: rental cars, limos, taxis, hotels, restaurants, airport gift shops and the like? What happens to them, and their employees, and their suppliers? What kind of plans have been discussed in the boardrooms?

How many employees in each of those industries, each individual business establishment, and each spouse or partner or child dependent on each one of those countless employees might be adversely impacted when those businesses start to feel the serious pinch of declining energy supplies? We’ve already gotten a good taste of how our economy gets hammered by poor business environments … what happens when a failure to plan for alternatives leaves with us poor business and economic environments as the norm?

And what of the ripple effect?

What happens when this air travel decline is extended to hotels and rental cars and all the rest; when rental cars are either much more costly and/or there are less of them to begin with? What happens when the preferred hotels have downsized because business and tourist travel has declined?

Nothing escapes the reach of declining fossil fuel availability, and there is nothing on the horizon which suggests that any substitutes currently in place are anywhere near as plentiful, affordable, or energy efficient as good ‘ol crude oil.

The resource agenda for business leaders
To thrive in an era of higher and more volatile resource prices, companies will need to pay greater attention to resource-related issues in their business strategies. The goal must be to improve a company’s understanding of how resources will affect profits, produce new opportunities for growth and disruptive innovation, create new risks, generate competitive asymmetries, and change the regulatory context. [1]

It won’t happen all at once. Slow leaks are the more likely scenarios played out across countless industries. But if we’re not thinking about these possibilities now, or getting better ideas about what changes will be sure to occur and what options might be available to us as this years-long process unfolds, we’re not giving ourselves much of a chance.

I believe the top three challenges to making progress on solutions are: 1) a lack of public and policy maker knowledge on these issues, and strong resistance to understanding and believing that such a profound threat to everything that many of us hold so dear–our big houses, automobile-centered lifestyles, frequent air travel, access to consumer goods from around the world– is close at hand; 2) very strong vested interests that will oppose changes in their industries and how they do business; and 3) our amazing lack of preparation for what we are facing, after investing in a built environment, food production system, transportation system, and overall economy that is so heavily reliant on cheap and plentiful oil. [2]

Thinking about and planning for these likelihoods before they become monumental problems might not be a bad idea….

Sources:

[1] https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/ghost.aspx?ID=/Energy_Resources_Materials/Strategy_Analysis/Mobilizing_for_a_resource_revolution_2908; Mobilizing for a resource revolution by Richard Dobbs, Jeremy Oppenheim, and Fraser Thompson – January 2012
[2] http://countercurrents.org/cardoni230110.htm; Dealing With Peak Oil by Salvatore Cardoni & Dr. Brian Schwartz – 01.23.10

[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.]

~~~

I am now the very proud father of a college graduate (a wonderful young woman who completed her four-year curriculum in only three years—impressive!—and has now returned to the Boston area). I could not be more delighted or happier for her!

Last week, I flew to New Orleans to attend her graduation, and stayed there for five nights (had to help pack the van in which she and her friend were traveling back home). My wife, her son and a friend of his flew down separately, and stayed in New Orleans for three nights.

No great surprise, but my daughter was not the only graduate. While I do not have the exact statistics, I believe the overwhelming majority of the approximately 2300 graduates came from someplace other than the immediate New Orleans area. That’s lot of graduates now driving/flying someplace else, and a lot of family members who attended the graduation after having flown in/driven from some other location. In what may be a stunning revelation, this is not the only year a graduation was held at Tulane University … shocking I know!

Even more shocking, this happened several times recently not just in New Orleans. Rumors abound that graduations were also held in Boston, New York, and possibly someplace in California, with more expected soon.

Putting aside the affordability of college for many if our economic path does not change soon, how are families going to deal with the impact of Peak Oil on just the most basic travel options for significant family events such as this?

What kind of choices will families and students be forced to make in the years to come when travel expenses to and from colleges become prohibitively expensive for many if not most of them? The college visits most engage in during senior year of high school has become an industry unto itself, and travel expenses for that aspect of college planning are not insignificant. Our trip to New Orleans was the only college visit we made via airplane, but there was also no small amount of driving involved as my daughter and I checked out a number of colleges here in the New England area.

When gas was $2 and change it was a barely noticeable expense. But at the current $4.29 per gallon (which was $3.99 six weeks ago), families are going to start taking note. Restaurants and hotels and assorted other merchants and service providers who derive no small amount of revenue from these travels by countless hundreds of thousands of prospective college students and their families will suffer in the process.

I’ve been to New Orleans nearly a dozen times in the three years that my daughter attended Tulane. My wife has joined me on three of those trips, and my daughter traveled home on multiple occasions as well.

Each of those trips required some combination of air fare and hotels and rental cars and cab fare and parking fees and gas expenditures and/or use of our own vehicles getting to and from airports….We’re fortunate in that our other daughter attends school in New York City, making Amtrak an enjoyable option, but how many families can or will be able to rely on mass transit for these types of travels? The complete failure of too many of our leaders to recognize the need for more investment in mass transit will prove a damning regret in years to come.

My daughter attended Tulane in part because it was one of the few that offered the major she sought (and a substantial scholarship to boot). What if traveling that far had not been an option? Or if it had been, what kind of dynamics would have been involved if she had moved down there, and we didn’t see each other for nearly 3 years because travel expenses had become prohibitively expensive for us (not that it wasn’t a drain on my finances to begin with)?

What kind of lifestyle changes would this young college student have had to make, knowing that she was essentially on her own for three or four years without the intangibles of family contact? (As it is, a week after she moved to New Orleans for the first time, hurricane warnings forced an evacuation of all area colleges, and she was on a plane back home about 8 days after she and I had said good-bye!) What happens in these or similar conditions when plane fare is out of the question for most? Buying airline tickets last minute is not exactly an inexpensive proposition! And what kind of options have to be put into place when vehicular travel is not feasible, and there is no mass transit available?

“Our friend of past online debates, Randall O’Toole, is a champion of both the auto-based transportation system and mobility in general. His argument is essential that there is a correlation between mobility and prosperity, that the more mobile a society is, the more at liberty people are to follow endeavors that enhance life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Greater mobility increases job opportunities, shopping selection, service competitiveness, school choices and even the gene pool people have a chance to select from when seeking a mate. There is no question that, in a broad sense, he is correct.” [1]

Greater mobility has been a wonderful option for many years for countless millions of us. What happens in the years to come when it’s not?

Sources:

[1] http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/4/4/mobilitys-diminishing-returns.html; Mobility’s Diminishing Returns by Charles Marohn – April 4, 2011

[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.]

~~~

Not too long ago, I had the good fortune of attending an outstanding concert performance by a blues/rock guitarist whose music I recently “discovered.”

The musician (Joe Bonamassa*) played in central Massachusetts, and I attended the performance with my brother, who lives at the western end of the state. While his trip was a bit shorter to the concert location, it was close to a 100 mile round trip for me from the Boston area. Several thousand other fans made the trip in to Worcester, no doubt almost all of them by private vehicle.

As for Bonamassa, I think it’s safe to assume he and his band/entourage either made the trip by bus or plane (in which case additional vehicle travel would have been necessary to wherever he was staying in the area). My recollection is that his next performance was somewhere in Pennsylvania several nights later, after having traveled to Massachusetts from his previous performance—out-of-state. I also understand that he travels almost year-round, and is in or en route to Europe now for an extended tour (after having made a stopover to play a few dates in Canada first)—all before returning to the States later in the year (including a performance in Boston, which I’ll be attending).

Why all of this in a blog about Peak Oil?

Take a look at the paragraph above once more. Mr. Bonamassa, and thousands of performers just like him, travel a lot. They don’t do so by themselves, either. Staff, road crews, family members, and assorted other necessary personnel no doubt accompany these musicians most if not all the time. Their equipment, instruments, stages, lighting, props, and assorted what-nots also have to get from one place to another. Given the amount of equipment this one musician and his three band members used while on stage, it’s probably safe to assume that they, like most of their peers, require something a wee bit larger than a cargo van to haul everything around.

Unless they are all now traveling by train (are any of them doing so?), that is a lot of fuel consumption for a lot of people and equipment for a lot of days. And unless Mr. Bonamassa et al are traveling by luxury liner across the Atlantic, I’m guessing there’s a lot of air fare being paid to an airline, and a lot more fuel consumption….

So when fuel prices have climbed above $4.00—which I now pay—(or $7? $10?) what happens to Joe Bonamassa and the thousands of other musicians who likewise tour the world; or actors who perform on stages worldwide; or comedians; or photographers and painters and sculptors who display their artistry in locales spanning the globe? Or what happens when they are advised that the locale where they are performing won’t have fuel for them to travel to their next stop until … next Friday? Or not at all because it has already been allocated to others? Or it just isn’t available for them under any circumstances because what they do is not “essential travel” in that area under who-knows-what kinds of restrictions may be the order of the day somewhere in the not-too-distant future?

What about their fans? Social activities like this offer intangibles which contribute to our and our communities’ well-being. What happens when most performances simply cannot continue? A little piece of what has made life enjoyable for millions may have to change its nature in ways we cannot envision right now—especially if no one is even thinking about it yet.

With some planning and a willingness to commit a lot more than the ninety-minute or so round trip in my SUV, I’m fairly certain I could have gotten from my home to the concert location with perhaps less than a mile’s worth of walking to and from. I could have walked from my home down the hill (which would of course have meant a very late night walk back up that monster) to an MBTA bus, and then on to an MBTA subway train to South Station in Boston, where I would have had several travel options (Amtrak, commuter rail, or bus) to make the approximate fifty-mile trip to Worcester, MA. None of it free, of course, and none of it a direct door-to-door adventure. I believe the City of Worcester offers bus service at least in the downtown area, and so I’m comfortable with the thought that I could have gotten very close to the concert’s Main Street location via local bus out there. Just a guess, but that would have to be close to a 5 hour round trip … minimum.

If I had to do that in order to see this performer, would I have done so? Probably not. CD’s and DVDs work just fine for me, also. Can’t think of any other performer I’d go to such lengths to see, come to think of it.

CD’s and DVD’s are not the same of course. Obviously I would have lost out on the chance to spend some time with my younger brother, as well as enjoying the intangibles of attending a live performance with several thousand other fans similarly enjoying the performance.

What if 90% of the performer’s audience members had to make the same decisions about how much they wanted to spend for gas and/or figure out some convoluted means of getting to the concert hall via sporadic and to-date insufficient levels of mass transit? What if, as I suspect, a substantial majority of them did not have readily-available public transportation options? Then what?

The dominoes start to tumble quickly. No fans = no revenue for the artist = no performance = no revenue for the entourage traveling with him = no revenue to the host city and the theater/concert hall/art center = no revenue for the restaurants and bars and hotels and retail stores who rely on the additional traffic into their community = no work for the many employees =….

Not a pretty picture.

Perhaps some plans might be a good idea? And while we’re at it, perhaps we might get some of our wise leadership to consider that now might be an excellent time to give just a bit more thought to the need for a lot more public transportation (a subject I’ll have a lot more to say about in the weeks to come). I don’t see anyone slapping together efficient alternative transportation options in just a few weeks … or months … or years. That calls for some long-term planning….

Ken Orski writes about transportation matters, and I’ll readily admit he is far more knowledgeable about those issues than I will ever be. Offering legitimate and well-reasoned arguments against the Obama Administration’s pursuit of a national high-speed rail program, Mr. Orski offered this:

“The President’s proposal came at a most inopportune time, when the nation is recovering from a serious recession and desperately trying to reduce the federal budget deficit and a mountain of debt. In time, however, the recession will end, the economy will start growing again, and the deficit will hopefully come under control. At that distant moment in time, perhaps toward the end of this decade, the nation might be able to resume its tradition of ‘bold endeavors’ — launching ambitious programs of public infrastructure renewal.
“That could be an appropriate time to revive the idea of a high-speed rail network, at least in the densely populated Northeast Corridor where road and air traffic congestion will soon be reaching levels that threaten its continued growth and productivity. For now, however, prudence, good sense and the common welfare dictate that we, as a nation, learn to live within our means.” [1]

For all his expertise and the wisdom offered as to why high-speed rail as Obama has set forth makes little sense (I don’t disagree entirely), the “vision”, or more accurately, the lack thereof, is precisely what we cannot afford. What problem-free, simple, inexpensive, unanimously-agreed upon set of criteria will determine when the proper “distant moment in time” is upon us? Can we thus safely assume that there will be no intervening issues of any significance that might postpone that “distant moment in time” until a better “distant moment in time” (assuming, of course, that there will then be no intervening issues of any significance that might postpone that following “distant moment in time” until an even better and later “distant moment in time”)?

Hard to imagine, but someone might—just might—come up with his or her own laundry list of why that eventual “distant moment in time” ought to be postponed for just a bit longer … you know, until there’s a much better “distant moment in time.” At what point do our experts and leaders figure out that we actually ought to be thinking beyond next week?

It’s all fine and well to decry wasteful spending, but keep in mind that short-sighted and narrow-minded ideologies and policies carry long term consequences, too.

Now might be a good time to get the ball rolling instead. Of course, if the future doesn’t matter, then I’m fine with how things are right now. You?

A lot of us (performers, too) may find ourselves elated by our demonstration of wisdom way back when in good ‘ole 2011 in having decided that Now was the right time after all….

* Anyone interested in blues/rock music should check out Bonamassa, who by all indications has already garnered a great reputation as one of that genre’s best musicians … he is an outstanding guitarist! (No better endorsement than Eric Clapton having joined him on stage….)

[NOTE TO MY READERS: I leave tomorrow morning for a trip to New Orleans once again. This time, I’m traveling—along with my wife, her son and a friend of his—to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation later in the week. This will be my only post of the week, and I don’t expect to post again until later next week after my return on the 16th, following several days of catching up thereafter. Thanks]

Sources:

[1] http://www.newgeography.com/content/002163-the-end-line-ambitious-high-speed-rail-program-hits-buffer-fiscal-reality?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Newgeography+%28Newgeography.com+-+Economic%2C+demographic%2C+and+political+commentary+about+places%29; The End of the Line: Ambitious High-speed Rail Program Hits the Buffer of Fiscal Reality by Ken Orski – 04/01/2011

[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.]

~~~

A few weeks ago, I came across an article about several California small businesses which were being adversely affected by rising gasoline prices. As the story noted, small businesses are responsible for creating more than two-thirds of all jobs in this country. Any price hikes in gasoline are sure to affect almost all of them in one way or another … and that’s probably not a good thing.

One business featured in the story was a San Francisco-area carpet cleaning service. One of the owners expressed her growing concerns about the steady increase in those prices, since the significant added expenses were interfering with expansion plans she’d been hoping to implement this spring in light of a slight surge in demand for her services.

Businesses will suffer from increased costs for transportation as do individuals and families. When any of those consumers see price spikes in what they view as “necessities” (and are presumably not operating with an unlimited budget), some other piece of their budgetary pie is going to be sacrificed as a result. For you and me, a full tank of gas this week which winds up costing an extra couple of dollars over last week’s total may not seem like such a big deal over the course of a year … some weeks the prices will be higher, other weeks perhaps not. (In all likelihood, we’re past the point where we ought to be expecting substantial and/or regular decreases in pricing, unless of course we’re all fortunate enough to fall into another recession….)

So let’s say that after twelve months of semi-regular price increases, maybe we’re now spending $200 more than we did last year for the same amount of fuel for our vehicle. (The U.S. Department of Energy, however, is now estimating that these recent price hikes will cost the average family $700.00 per year. Not an insubstantial amount for those living paycheck to paycheck—if that.) More than one vehicle in the household, and the ding to your wallet is a bit more pronounced. If that were the extent of the impact, then on balance it might be manageable—but that’s an optimistic stretch. Of course, it doesn’t end there.

If our transportation costs are increasing, so too are the transportation costs of most other businesses and service providers. Few will absorb all those increases on their own out of the goodness of their hearts, and so that means prices across the board are inching up, too. (One obvious example important to everyone is the price of groceries. Most foods and beverages are shipped, and that means a lot of companies handling the deliveries are seeing their expenses increase. It doesn’t end there, either. The dominoes tumble quickly up and down the supply chain.)

But for a business like that carpet-cleaning service with its eight trucks and equipment which are all powered by fossil fuels, it’s not just a few extra dollars each week. The owner indicated that her gas expenses had increased a not-at-all insignificant 32% in January of 2011 over her costs a year earlier. With even higher prices in February, that math was not likely going to make her feel any better when it came time to looking over the monthly budget for her business. None of her options were encouraging: don’t hire new employees, pass on the costs to her customers, or refrain from purchasing new replacement vehicles.

Those choices have consequences. If she doesn’t hire new workers (and let’s not even consider the negatives to those who may have been counting on employment there), expanding her business will be more challenging. If she doesn’t expand her business and thus attract more revenue, and fixed expenses are increasing, the bad math results are easy to compute. At some point, the ongoing prices increases will force her to make other painful decisions. If prices level off, she can be sure that in the not-too-distant future, the availability of gas sourced from a steadily-declining supply base will have the same effect. Perhaps she doesn’t reach that point for a year or two or five, but the interim period will not be pleasant.

If she passes on the costs to her customers, there will come a time when at least some of them will have to decline her services, because they and their businesses or employers will be dealing with the same set of problems, and soon enough they’ll be making some sacrifices as well. And if her customer base shrinks, it’s not rocket science to see how that affects her, her family, and what she is able to spend her business revenue and net income on. Guess what happens to those businesses she frequents either for supplies to maintain her own company, or those establishments she relies on for personal reasons (clothing stores, hairdressers, etc., etc.)?

Of course, this series of cascading problems is not unique to an economy in the throes of gas price increases. It’s what happens in any recession, and it’s also what happens when a particular industry or two suffers shortages or price hikes for one reason or another. Most of the time, however, some semblance of fiscal equilibrium is reached in due course, and “business as usual” is once again the norm.

But with Peak Oil, the return to business as usual should not be counted on. At some point, price increases because of declining supply and ever-increasing demand (let’s keep in mind that there are a few billion people on this planet quite eager to experience their own version of prosperity just like all of us “wealthy” Americans have been enjoying for several decades) are going to hit a wall, or ceiling, or both. Most of us are simply not going to be able to afford ever-increasing prices, and it’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around all the changes and consequences which that eventuality is going to lead us to. (Plans, anyone?)

It’s just as realistic to expect that at some point, regardless of then-current prices, we may all be dealing with restrictions on availability of one kind or another, so affordability may prove irrelevant. You may be able to afford the $7.69 per gallon price that your sister or neighbor or son cannot, but if your city’s gas stations have reduced their supplies by X percent, what you can or will agree to pay won’t matter as much.

The third option our carpet-cleaning business owner may be contemplating as her fuel expenses eat up more of her budget is to simply not replace her equipment and/or the vehicles she relies on to travel to her customers. They won’t be bringing their hardwood floors or wall-to-walls to her office, so what happens when more and more repairs to her vehicles are needed? Safe to assume that those vehicles and machines are not equipped with protective bubbles which prevent wear and tear over time, so at what point do those types of repair expenditures become prohibitively expensive? What then? No good options, it would seem. Plans?

Do you see any significant differences in the types of problems your own home or business delivery service company might find itself dealing with now or soon enough? If you don’t own such a business, what about the home services you rely on? Appliance repair? Landscapers? Your own carpet-/floor-cleaning needs?

What are you going to cut back on when those providers are passing along their higher fuel prices on to you? Are you okay with those changes? Inclined to start mowing your own acre-plus yard because the landscaper will be charging 2 or 3 times what they did a couple of years back? Easy enough to take your malfunctioning refrigerator to your local or perhaps-no-longer local repairman? The list is limited only by one’s imagination.

We’re all guilty of taking a great many things for granted in our daily living. Talking about a carpet-cleaning service is one of only scores of similar services we don’t give much thought to in utilizing their services regularly. Peak Oil is going to change that.

Plans, anyone?

[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.]

~~~

I recently had the good fortune to visit my daughter at the university she attends in New Orleans. Scheduled many months ago, the trip was designed to coincide with the spectacular Mardi Gras festival which serves as a grand and delightful marker for a city too often associated instead with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Although the weather was not as cooperative as we would have liked during the four days of my trip (tornado warnings on the night of Mardi Gras dampened at least my enthusiasm to wander around the French Quarter), I nonetheless caught my fair share of beads during one of the amazing parades that wind their way down St. Charles Avenue, while taking in many other sights and sounds of the celebrations.

It’s an incredible event, wildly entertaining and just plain wilder than one can imagine. Reports indicated that it drew upwards of a million revelers to this unique city—the most since Katrina struck in 2005.

Being as involved with the subject of Peak Oil as I am these days, I soon enough found myself wondering what happens to this spectacle once we are fully engulfed by the effects of ever-declining oil production.

Last summer, I took an initial look at air travel. Among others, I posed the following question: “What decisions are the various transportation industries—freight and aviation in particular—going to be faced with when the worldwide supply of oil cannot ever match demand again? Who decides which of those two will have priority? It’s unlikely that only one industry will have all of its demand met, so that means both industries will suffer reductions in what is available to them. Then what?”

What does happen a few short years down the road when we have nowhere near the same amounts of fossil fuels at our disposal (and/or at prices even remotely affordable) to travel to New Orleans, and when those who design and operate the hundreds of floats and tractors and emergency vehicles that are part and parcel of the Mardi Gras festivities are now at the mercy of fuel prices that have doubled? Tripled? Quadrupled? Hundreds of gas-sucking vehicles crawling along a 5 or 7 mile parade route run up a serious gas/diesel tab in today’s economy.

Then what indeed? A reasonable several hundred dollar round trip air fare from Boston to New Orleans during this celebration is likely going to be a lot more expensive in years to come, and most likely prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of visitors. Granted, many thousands may still find ways to get there, but you can be certain that if air fares have spiked through the roof in a few years, gas prices for our automobiles won’t be far behind. Are citizens who live even just a few hundred miles away going to want to pay $6.00, $8.00, $11.00 for a gallon of gas to go to a festival? Is something like Mardi Gras going to be any kind of priority for most?

Given the dazzling levels of shortsightedness on display by those who balk at investing in mass transit and/or high-speed rail, what options might be available in a half-dozen or so years from now (not that mass transit will be in place in so short a period of time)? Anyone thinking that we’ll just rev’ up design, production, and construction in a week or two is even more delusional than imaginable. Those are investments (among others) which must begin now.

A determined segment of leaders are hell-bent on cutting funding for alternative energy research and transportation—among many other categories vital to our future well-being—and are doing so contrary to what most polls state that Americans want. What’s going on? If they succeed in their efforts, what then? Can we all just rely on whatever magical technology these officials seem to believe will come flying to the rescue in years ahead? Are there some special alternatives that are going to be envisioned, designed, produced, and implemented successfully, commercially, and nationally overnight? Is that the plan for those so determined to cut spending so as to preserve tax benefits for the oil companies and multi-millionaires among us? Is that what we’re about?

The Mardi Gras pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the New Orleans economy. Not too difficult to imagine that city more so than most, and its industry leaders, count on that revenue more than just a little. What’s the ripple effect to New Orleans and its businesses when hundreds of millions of dollars are not-so-suddenly reduced by half, or more, simply because most attendees can no longer (or choose to no longer) afford the travel and lodging costs? What city services will be placed on the chopping block? How many more will suffer?

What of the restaurants and hotels that likewise depend on Mardi Gras? It was almost impossible to find lodging in the few months leading up to Mardi Gras unless you were willing to pay some seriously jacked-up prices and travel a long way into New Orleans each day. Many, many fewer patrons represent a tremendous hit to the bottom lines of those in the lodging and food service industries.

Many if not most of those retailers depend on tractor-trailers to deliver or transport supplies. Can you say diesel fuel price hikes? It’s hard to imagine that either the transportation industry or the lodging and restaurant industries are each going to absorb on their own the increased fuel prices (another domino effect which comes into play when supply no longer satisfies demand). As freight delivery charges increase and are passed on to end-users such as hotels and restaurants, and food costs themselves increase because the fossil fuels needed to provide fertilizers and a host of other “ingredients” of food production have likewise climbed into new territory (while the quantity of the fossil fuels themselves are on the decline), the unpleasant outcome is fairly obvious.

What happens to the taxi drivers who escort all these new patrons who descend on their city? (Based on my conversations with several of them however, the drivers have decidedly mixed feelings about Mardi Gras, given the logistical nightmares they must deal with every time a parade route or street-cleaning crew cuts off their travel options.)

I usually rent a car when I travel to New Orleans to visit my daughter. She cautioned me against doing so during Mardi Gras. Heeding her advice, I made do with buses, the partially-available street car lines, or a good pair of sneakers to get me around during my stay. I had the choice of taking a cab or the airport shuttle to get me to/from the city. I opted for the latter. The 55-minute or so trip from pick-up on campus to a half-dozen or so hotel stops en route to the airport when I left was by contrast a two and a half hour “adventure” when I first arrived.

Getting dropped off at my daughter’s school was the last of 8 stops the shuttle made in New Orleans after we left the airport. It seemed that almost every street was closed off that Saturday afternoon either by police barricades, an actual parade, or the random hoards of street cleaning crews which materialized seemingly out of thin air on multiple occasions as we wound our way through the city proper. At one point, although we were only four cars from a Canal Street intersection, those crews held up the shuttle van through four consecutive light cycles! That is a lot of wasted fuel….No doubt the very reasonable $40.00 or so round trip shuttle fare is going to also be a lot more expensive in years to come—assuming they (and the taxi drivers) have access to the fuel they need as and when needed. No guarantees….

Hundreds if not thousands of merchants, from street vendors on up to retail stores in and around the French Quarter, also no doubt depend on Mardi Gras revenue to bolster their bottom line. Whatever merchandise they offer is also most likely trucked in from somewhere else. Those suppliers won’t be immune to increased fuel prices and/or limitations on availability, and that means at least one entity somewhere along the supply chain is going to wind up paying, and then passing the costs along.

And the employees of the countless industries who depend on events like the Mardi Gras for a substantial portion of their annual income (keeping in mind that Peak Oil is not limited to impacting just the Mardi Gras festival while other lesser events and conventions escape unscathed)? When all of these increased prices are absorbed and then passed on to the ultimate end-users, more than a substantial percentage of those businesses are not going to be able to endure the increases or supply restrictions or lack of buyers because consumers no longer want to pay the higher prices. And that then means that more than a fair amount of employees and business owners are going to find themselves looking for work elsewhere. A lot of dominoes tumble when people are out of work … no need to elaborate.

“Just do something to lower fuel prices and none of this will be a problem” is a wonderful strategy and solution … if you don’t mind living in some alternate reality. Here on earth, however, these declining oil production consequences all inevitable, logical, and unavoidable—despite heavy doses of political grandstanding.

We can either duck for cover, or start appreciating the tasks at hand and get busy adding our voices and offering productive input into the almost-inconceivably complex planning and implementing Peak Oil will mandate—regardless of political ideology.

It is, as mentioned repeatedly, time to get busy.

More to come….