Yesterday it cost me a whopping $40 to fill up the tank of my 2003 Buick Century. But as much as I griped about the $3.60 per gallon price I paid, I found some solace today when I noticed that the price per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline at the same Amoco station was now up to $3.65 per gallon. Super unleaded gasoline here on Long Island is on the cusp of $4.00 per gallon, which should happen any day now, and regular unleaded will likely cross that line soon afterwards. In a News 12 report on gasoline prices on Long Island, gas station owners fret that they do not have enough fours to put up on their price signs.
While gasoline prices have increased noticeably over the last several years, and have long since exceeded the $2.00 per gallon plateau, for the most part I was not affected by it. My wife and I pretty much drive local, to the train station, the supermarket, the mall, and so forth. But now the price per gallon has risen to a point that even if one fills their tank up just twice per month, it still takes a chunk out of the family budget. And if my wallet is taking a hit now, I can only imagine how drivers with SUVs and minivans are suffering.
Because those of us who live in suburban areas depend on our cars, we don't really have much choice but to put up with it. As this blurb from the Department of Energy web site acknowledges, our options are rather limited:
Consumers have very little power as individuals but, if enough consumers give the same “market signal,” they can impact prices. First, when consumers buy gasoline at service stations in their areas with the lowest price, they take market share away from higher-priced stations; these stations may then eventually reduce their prices to be more competitive. The second way consumers impact the market is by reducing gasoline consumption. If enough people reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles, gasoline demand would decline and prices would be dampened.
I am doing what I can to reduce my own gasoline consumption. I am fortunate enough in that my local supermarket is within walking distance, and I have a hand cart that can hold a decent amount of groceries in it. This morning, rather than drive the several miles to my daughter's doctor's office to pick up a copy of her vaccination record for her kindergarten enrollment, I rode my bicycle there. Tomorrow morning, I plan to ride my bicycle the several miles into Hicksville to return some videos to BlockBuster.
But in spite of my best efforts, I don't think that I can stretch a full tank of gas for much more than two weeks. And no matter how conscientious I try to be, circumstances can arise to thwart my intentions. For example, a couple of nights ago my mom called complaining that she was itching violently, probably as a result of an allergic reaction, and asked me to pick up some Benadryl for her. It was after nine o'clock on a school night, and my wife was at work, so I had to drive my children to my mom's place before driving to Walgreens in Hicksville to pick up the Benadryl. And I realize that as idealistic as I try to be about reducing my fuel consumption to such a degree, it will have absolutely no impact whatsoever. It might make a minor difference if everybody could do the same thing. But I recognize that for a lot of people in this country, it is not easy to do. People who live in rural areas can't be expected to ride bicycles five or ten miles each way when they run errands into town. Neither can persons with physical disabilities that make it impossible to exert themselves in such ways.
So, the sad fact of the matter is that there is not a hell of a lot we can do about the rise in the price of gasoline. And then there is the sober realization that it will get much worse. From the web site Life After the Oil Crash comes these dire prognostications:
Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope. The peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up.
In practical and considerably oversimplified terms, this means that if 2005 was the year of global Peak Oil, worldwide oil production in the year 2030 will be the same as it was in 1980. However, the world’s population in 2030 will be both much larger (approximately twice) and much more industrialized (oil-dependent) than it was in 1980. Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin.
The issue is not one of "running out" so much as it is not having enough to keep our economy running. In this regard, the ramifications of Peak Oil for our civilization are similar to the ramifications of dehydration for the human body. The human body is 70 percent water. The body of a 200 pound man thus holds 140 pounds of water. Because water is so crucial to everything the human body does, the man doesn't need to lose all 140 pounds of water weight before collapsing due to dehydration. A loss of as little as 10-15 pounds of water may be enough to kill him.
In a similar sense, an oil based economy such as ours doesn't need to deplete its entire reserve of oil before it begins to collapse. A shortfall between demand and supply as little as 10 to 15 percent is enough to wholly shatter an oil-dependent economy and reduce its citizenry to poverty.
I am a generally optimistic person, but we could be in for some rough times ahead folks.