Howard Kunstler wrote a piece for the Washington Post about our energy dependence: Wake Up, America. We're Driving Toward Disaster. He makes several good points in the piece.
We need to stop depending on internal combustion engines. Note that I started to say "relying on oil," but ethanol is not part of the long-term solution I am hoping for. We need to figure out how to change our culture and the nature of the energy that makes it run. Commuting in cars from exurbs is just crazy on several levels. But it's not just about cars. We also need to figure out how to use less energy overall and how to power our homes and our businesses with renewable energy. Putting gas in your tank is the obvious way to see how you consume energy, but every time you buy a loaf of bread or a bunch of grapes or a bottle of water, you are also consuming oil in the form of the energy it took to get those items to the store. Buying a Prius probably feels like a pretty green thing to do, but when you use it to commute 30 miles each way, then stop off at Safeway to buy Chilean grapes and Californian peaches, maybe your carbon footprint could still use some work.
Let me admit: I am a hypocrite who is not part of the solution. I don't walk to work. I buy food that gets to me on big trucks from far away places. I have a shameful carbon footprint. All I can say in my defense is that I have a very short commute (which would be bike-able if my office had a shower) and I try to buy local food. I am not better than anyone, but I recognize the ways I am being bad.
My point is that as a society, we need to figure out how to live locally in the near term and chart a longer term path to renewable energy sources that scale. Maybe the silver lining for the high gas prices will be to put real effort toward significant conservation strategies and finding ways to make renewable energy work. When gas is $10/gallon and those costs are rippling through everything we buy, it could be a real wakeup call.
I first drafted this post a week ago. This evening, a friend sent me a link to an article from Newsweek by Rana Foroohar entitled The Coming Energy Wars. I don't want to re-hash the entire article, but the subtitle is pretty telling: Oil prices could hit $200 a barrel in the next few months. How the spike changes everything.
Living locally isn't easy or cheap, but with rising fuel prices, the economics could shift enough that change will happen. When businesses and consumers see that it makes financial sense to go local, we could see some incremental change to our country's way of life.
Soundtrack: Dave Brubeck (Time Out), Miles Davis (Milestones), John Coltrane (A Love Supreme)