Friday, July 04, 2008

"Eventually" Has Arrived

We've heard this stuff for years. Cheap Oil will "eventually" run out. Our deficits will "eventually" need to be dealt with. Foreigners will "eventually" get tired of buying our debt. Global warming will "eventually" cause real problems...

The US has been stumbling blindly into an absolutely epic train wreck the last few years. Hear that *thwack* sound just lately? That's the brown matter finally hitting the in-room air-mover. Gasoline is now over 4 dollars a gallon (in some places, well over). "Eventually" is now here. There are a number of urgent, and very expensive, things that are needed right away if the United States is to survive as a first-tier country in the world. A few of the more urgent items on the agenda:

1. We urgently need passenger rail service to be massively expanded. In an ideal world with non-cowardly Democrats in congress, a big Rail bill would pass right now, over Bush's veto - It would be better not to wait until Obama takes office. The ever-upward trend in fuel prices means air travel is about to become both much rarer and far more expensive; air travel as a mass consumer activity is in deep, deep trouble. This means that we will need electric high-speed rail between major Metro centers, and pronto, or pretty soon no one except for the very rich going to be able to get around the country in anything resembling an efficient way.

2. Suburbs, especially more-distant suburbs, are probably going to be effectively abandoned on a large scale shortly (30-mile commutes with $10+ per gallon gas? $12 per gallon? If you make six figures, maybe: If you're the vast, vast majority of us that don't make six figures - Um, no. And all those "creatively" financed McMansions currently being repo'ed and sold at a loss will add to and accelerate this process) All those ex-suburban folks are going to need an affordable place to live that's closer to where they work; and they will need massively expanded public transit (street cars and light rail) to take them to work. Many smaller cities will be too broke (in part due to the cratering housing market) to finance even a substantial fraction of this: they are going to need Federal help. Taxes need to go up. Substantially. Especially the top marginal rates.

3. Interstate trucking is currently reeling, and its precarious situation going to get much, much worse. Interstate trucking relies on now-unobtainable cheap diesel fuel to work as it has up until now. It is hard to overstate the extent to which contemporary commerce depends on trucks to deliver supplies - everything from food delivery to your local supermarket, to the loads of cheap lead-laced crap imported from China and delivered to Walmart from the ports of entry comes on trucks: we need to find alternatives. Moving food and other goods shorter distances (i.e., using local sources rather than China and South America) is going to become mandatory when trucking collapses.

This diary just scratches the surface, but I'm not despairing. Americans have, in the past, come together to face problems at least as daunting as the ones we're facing now. That said, our survival will depend on the bullshit ceasing, and people facing the situation squarely and realistically.

Finally, a good general link, for further reading on peak oil:

The Oil Drum

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