“We are trapped in a very complex civilization that is rapidly losing the sources of energy and numerous other raw materials that built and maintained it….
“If current trends continue, somewhere in the next five years a critical mass of us will realize that new foundations for civilization, and new ways of life must be found and implemented if we are going to survive with a modicum of comfort, economic, and political stability. Until then there will be many false prophets calling for a return to a civilization which is no longer possible.” 
A stubborn insistence that we’re just going to ignore the facts about global warming and the arrival of a peak in worldwide oil production—paying no attention to a rather large body of quite convincing evidence in the process—and instead plow ahead with public investments and plans that will in due course prove to be nothing more than monumental wastes of time (and incredibly short-sighted to boot), ought to be revisited.
We cannot afford to continue to design and then implement plans based only on what seems feasible now, or much worse, because it’s what we’ve always done, or it’s what an uninformed electorate would prefer. The first task, as I’ve mentioned in my recent posts, is that we all need to make a commitment to learning more and understanding the facts. In doing so, we need to find and rely upon the resources where the truth is the only option.
Allowing current business and political leaders to decide what will need to be done based on what has been done before is not the solution. There is no clearer indication of that than the continued resistance to spending money and investing in alternative forms of transportation.
“[N]ewly elected Republicans soon to enter gubernatorial offices have promised to shut down their local federally funded intercity rail corridors that they fear will overwhelm them with future operating expenses. Of course, those complaints are patently absurd when put in context of each state’s respective overall transportation budget. Wisconsin, for instance, spends more than a billion dollars on roadway construction annually and would have been asked to contribute a mere $7.5 million to train operations. Is such a small contribution really such a huge price to pay for a transportation alternative?” 
A worthwhile question that demands a much better response than what we’re seeing.
To be fair, there’s no question that making these kinds of investment decisions and committing even more funds from a limited supply is under no one’s definition an easy, simple or—at first—an obvious solution. There are indeed many legitimate arguments against such a commitment. I’m firmly in the camp that believes high speed rail is a necessity, but I’m just as clear that we need to think through the strategies more than we have to date. High-speed rail aside, I’m more convinced by the day that a great deal more reliance on public transportation will be mandatory.
A fear of deficits and increased public spending are going to have to give way to a longer term vision for the kind of nation we choose to be and the levels of growth and prosperity we at least hope to attain in a world no longer able to rely on fossil fuels. That vision and the corresponding plans of necessity must include a greater commitment to public transit. The choice to devote our limited transportation capital funds on the more familiar roadwork projects makes perfectly good sense in a vacuum where growth is expected to return to “normal” soon enough. The harsh truth is that it will not because it cannot. There will be new definitions of “normal” in the years to come.
I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but we create only more difficulties for ourselves by denying the facts and delaying our efforts to create an industrial economy that no longer depends on fossil fuels. It’s a monumental undertaking to be sure, and is not one we should expect to complete for at least a couple of decades. But oil supplies have reached their peak and it is soon enough all downhill from there, so we’re confronted with the dual challenge of re-creating the way our economy functions while utilizing declining supplies of oil in the process, and simultaneously trying to keep our heads above water under current conditions, dependent on that exact same declining supply. All the creativity and spin in the world cannot make that math come out in our favor. Change is a-comin’.
The bottom line is that for all the arguments favoring more expenditures on road construction at the expense of public transportation, the same end result would be arrived at with far less effort if we simply burn piles of money on the steps of Capitol Hill. Appreciating the challenges and implications of having now arrived at the peak of oil production does lead to the obvious conclusion (political ideologies in opposition notwithstanding) that we are going to have to move away from an automobile-centric society.
In the years to come, we simply will not have enough oil/gasoline to power the number of automobiles we own in this country under similar or growing levels of usage when we add to that astounding number the many millions more new automobiles that will be added to the roadways of other nations. We could meet that demand, of course. We’d simply have to do away with a great many other necessities and products (see my last post for a brief list) dependent on oil, since there won’t be enough fossil fuels to go around to meet all the demand everywhere all the time for everyone. That’s Peak Oil!
As I’ve taken great pains to emphasize, we’re not running out of oil any time soon. But depletion and an inexorable decline in production which no alternative or unconventional resources can make up for means there’s going to be less available for everyone and everything. Those dominoes will continue to tumble until one day, likely several decades into the future, it will no longer be feasible to continue extracting oil or using. Too much effort and too much expense for too little reward is what we face. Start planning now is the smart choice, because once we’ve solicited all the input available—no easy or quick task in itself—we’re going to have a lot of work ahead of us putting those plans into action, with the myriad modifications and adaptations that will surely be needed.
We’ll need to be smarter about the new choices we make, too. Reliance on (or hope that) the electric vehicle is the answer to the transportation aspect of Peak Oil’s impact is all fine and well in the abstract. But as has been pointed out by others (here and here), if we’re just expecting that fancy new electric Mercedes and BMWs and Ford pick-up trucks and Honda SUVs and Chevy Volts will just simply replace the ones we drive now, we’re in for another rude awakening. An enormous conversion of infrastructure will be required, for one thing. And for another (topics for upcoming posts here), if the strategies we design to cope with fossil fuel depletion do not also include plans for where and how we live, we’re just digging another deep hole for ourselves.
As objectionable as this will be to many, “smart growth” and “sustainable living” practices are going to warrant much greater levels of attention than they have to date. If ideological principles cause one to blanche at the thought of our federal government “dictating” how and where people live by controlling urban sprawl, the message is a simple one: Get used to it. This is not about a desire of the government to impose its will or make choices for others. It will instead be another courageous recognition that great changes will and must take place, and that there must be a national mechanism for guiding the choices and actions of local governments and private industry to address those looming realities.
Given that certain segments of the media (and the political and social groups that align themselves with that media’s particular ideology) seem convinced that President Obama does not believe we’re an “exceptional” nation (the convenient omission of facts and context debunking that meme are neatly summed up here and here), here’s our chance to prove him “wrong.” Let’s do so by leading the charge into the 21st century with a new vision about how prosperous and successful nations adjust to the new realities about energy supply and usage. It will take one hell of a village to make this happen in any event.
Why not us?
 http://www.fcnp.com/commentary/national/7980-the-peak-oil-crisis-the-future-of-government.html; The Peak Oil Crisis: The Future of Government By Tom Whipple
 http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/12/01/growing-conservative-strength-puts-transit-improvements-in-doubt/; Growing Conservative Strength Puts Transit Improvements in Doubt by Yonah Freemark