The long goodbye?

Analysts at Goldman Sachs recently projected that oil will likely reach $200.00 a barrel within the next year. GM announced today that it was closing four SUV manufacturing plants, and rumors are buzzing around that they will also discontinue the civilian-use line of Hummers. Are we on the cusp of real change? What does a $ 200.00 barrel of oil mean to a global society that runs almost exclusively on the stuff?

Our initial reaction might be concern over the price of gasoline. As a Southern Californian I certainly understand this position. Can you imagine $75.00, $80.00, $100.00 fill-ups? Will this mean the swansong for rural America – those people who proudly drive sixty miles to the nearest Wal Mart? With the exception of large agribusiness employees needed to run machinery, it might. (Just think how different the American identity would be without the promise of a pastoral lifestyle.)

Those living urban lives may be reading this post thinking that they are exempt from any direct affects of rising gas prices. But a possible indirect effect may be more people looking for housing in cities that have relatively efficient public transit systems. This would naturally put upward pressure on rent prices. Then of course, there’s the price of heating one’s apartment; the price of education (and all public or private services); and most importantly, the price of food.

Regarding food prices, we Americans are lucky; we have relatively efficient delivery systems, and we benefit from subsidized agriculture. It’s the people in the “developing” world who are (as always) fucked. Food prices’ upward march is currently causing riots and other forms of political and social instability in much of the world. In fact, food prices and related issues is the main topic of a global summit that’s taking place this week in Rome.

When it comes to political instability, another issue to consider is the ramped-up search for oil that will accompany its growing worth. Drilling in places that were uneconomical in the past will likely become commonplace — and political leaders will tell us that this is necessary if we want to protect “ our way of life.” The places that we chase oil will not only endanger wildlife, as in ANWR, but will also cause social upheaval, as in Nigeria. To top it all off, oil money will continue to arm groups of people with extreme dislike of each other.

Regarding global warming, super expensive oil might mean reductions in greenhouse gasses, but it might also mean the opposite. Industries will be tempted to revert to coal power, and the ethanol bamboozle may become even more powerful. And of course, as tensions grow around the world with more nations racing to secure oil, military uses of fuel will increase.

I have to admit a sinister degree of personal entertainment that has come with the rise in oil prices: I’ve found some extreme postmodern fascination in a recent Dodge marketing campaign by which purchasers of new cars are guaranteed $2.99-per-gallon gasoline for the next two years. I find this the perfect American response to a fuel crisis: instead of directly addressing the issue by incentivising more efficient lifestyles, we sell artificially low gas…but only for two years, by which time, the price may be $8.00-$10.00 a gallon. The best part: the campaign is called “Refueling America!” But we’re not refueling America, we’re DE-FUCKING-FUELING it! I love it.

On a more personal note, I will miss the cheap flights that have enabled relationships with people who live on the other side of the country (you know who you are). I’ll also mourn the inevitable death of the U.S. postal service. How about you? What will you miss? What are you afraid of or hopeful about?

In the long term, it will probably be for the best.

29 responses to “The long goodbye?”

  1. In the long term, it will probably be for the best.

    But in the long term, we are all dead.

    I’m having trouble seeing this as a cusp when the reactions seem so similar to what they have been all my life: hope we can limp along a little longer doing the same thing we’ve been doing all along. But I’m not a very skilled social observer, I miss trends all the time. Hopefully this is a time like that and something big is coming along.

  2. trixie says:

    oops… anyway, he wrote a really inspiring “letter to the next president” in last month’s esquire magazine that i have tried to find online but can’t.
    it actually made me feel much more hopeful about the energy crisis.
    does anyone know the article i am talking about???

    scotty, get a piggy bank and start putting change in it. you are NOT ALLOWED to not come visit us east coasters anymore.

  3. trixie says:

    i am a dork. it was vanity fair, and i just found it.

  4. trixie says:

    feel free to enjoy the angelina jolie slide show also on that web page.
    you’re welcome.

  5. Rogan says:

    Cheap gas is America as we know.

    Here is my plan for the impending apocalypse. First I am going to wait until my tiny house in South Central becomes worth ten million dollars (which will be several trillion in future dollars). This will happen because, as S. Godfree points out, places that are near urban centers with good transit systems are going to skyrocket in value. By then the distant suburbs (within 50 miles of the city) will be slums, and I will be able to buy up an entire subdivision in exchange for my little house. Why would I do this? Because underneath those crappy houses is the next California gold rush– rich topsoil with close proximity to the city. We will witness the reemergence of small family-run farms (Poor Wendell Berry won’t be alive to see it), and I am going to play Thomas Jefferson, complete with post-apocalyptic irradiated zombie slaves.

  6. Rogan says:

    A more likely scenario, and one I can sort of get behind, is that we will witness the complete nuclearization of America. Nuclear power will be everywhere, and it will be the key to the hydrogen economy. The laws of thermodynamics dictate that it will always cost more energy to extract hydrogen than can be released by hydrogen. We will be able to harness low-grade forms of energy, wind, solar, and tides, for the extraction of hydrogen, but this will only work up to a point. Nuclear energy will bridge the gap, and it will save the American way of life, clean up our smog, and kill us all.

  7. Thanks for the link, Trixie; that is a good article, at least in the sense that it’s heartening — I don’t have any good sense of how reliable Kennedy’s claims are about solar and wind power generation. I was a little startled to see him say borrowing for fuel “has beggared” our nation rather than “is beggaring” — but startled in a good way.

    irradiated zombie slaves

    Awesome. Werner Herzog will direct.

  8. Dave says:

    Check out Kunstler for thoughts about what much more expensive oil will do to the American way of life. Oil is the main ingredient in all plastics, of course. Think of everything we use plastics for. Natural gas is the main raw material for making the fertilizer that underlies our industrial agriculture, and natural gas supplies have been tracking petroleum supplies pretty closely.

    As for nuclear/solar/wind/hydrogen/etc., it turns out that petroleum products are a uniquely good way to store and transport energy. If you use, say, nuclear plants to generate liquid hydrogen fuel, you still don’t have any practical way to transport that hydrogen. (Hydrogen has much lower energy density than oil/gas, so putting it into tanker trucks becomes ridiculous. It is also, of course, the smallest atom around, so it tends to seep our of any pipeline system at a much higher rate than, say, natural gas.)

    If the Peak Oil people are right, the world is going to change in ways we can’t even imagine, and mostly for the worse.

  9. lane says:

    i love trixie bumbling about trying to find things and sending off notes amid this very serious discussion.

    We’re all screwed. Start composting and checking the quality of your soil. Americans are going to REALLY get a taste of their “promise of a pastoral lifestyle.”

    The upside is that we’ll be able to grow bananas here in Brooklyn very soon.

    And also, God I’m lucky to have been young with a VW Jetta with a kick ass stereo while gas was 98 cents a gallon.

  10. lane says:

    Rogan ends his comments on very funny notes.

  11. Rogan says:

    9. I believe the technical problems of creating a hydrogen delivery infrastructure are SOLVABLE with current technology, but it is hard for me to imagine a hydrogen economy that wouldn’t itself rely on some other form of high-grade energy, ergo the nuclear option. If the only thing that stands between the present and a future of clean hydrogen cars is the development of a pipe that doesn’t leak too much hydrogen, then we are almost there. The real difficult pill for many of us to swallow will be the requirement of nuclear power plants in every town and city. How are the US fissile material reserves?

  12. Godfree says:

    But in the long term, we are all dead.

    That’s sort of what I meant by, “it’ll all be for the best.”

    I’ve been thinking lately about how we’re all tied by carbon (all life-forms being carbon-based). And how when CO2 is released into the atmosphere it causes a natural apocalyptic reaction. And how carbon is released naturally through the decomposition of dead plants and animals or through the simple act of breathing. (And I’m not stoned but) It’s almost as if there’s a natural doomsday mechanism built into our existence, if we over extend ourselves. (I mean besides the obvious sun’s expansion and asteroid collisions.)

    Anyway, given my recent thoughts about carbon, I’ve been re-thinking my death plans. It used to seem so obvious that cremation was the moral way to go (you know, taking up less space bla, bla), but when we are incinerated, our carbon is released into the atmosphere, and we contribute to global warming. Being carbon-based is a moral minefield I tell ya.

  13. Godfree says:

    …and Trixy, I’m sure the Swells and I would go deep into debt in order to enjoy the annual ham hock and mummer extravaganza.

  14. Jeremy says:

    I have to admit that I get a perverse sense of glee, especially living in a land of SUVs here in SoCal, when gas prices rise, because of the impact it has on those SUV-owning folk. And I’ve always (well, for a while now) felt that gas prices in this country need to more accurately reflect the impact that using so much of it has (on the environment, on the global economy, etc.).

    Plus, compared to the rest of the world, gasoline here is still really cheap.

  15. Dave says:

    And how carbon is released naturally through the decomposition of dead plants and animals or through the simple act of breathing. (And I’m not stoned but) It’s almost as if there’s a natural doomsday mechanism built into our existence, if we over extend ourselves.

    Bullshit. There’s a carbon cycle that tends to keep things at nice levels, and we’ve been fucking with it, but we could stop fucking with it if we could decide, collectively, to change the way we live. If you want to get stoned and talk about ice ages, the death of the sun, the heat death of the universe, all is flux, that’s fine. But as a policy matter, it is possible to fix these problems. It’s just really, really hard.

  16. Godfree says:

    Yeah Dave, I get all of that (as I assumed you’d know given our past converstions…and the post up above). I’ve just been thinking a lot about carbon as an atom…and maybe smoking too much pot. I’m sorry, but I will continue to ponder things in ways that may displease you and others.

  17. Dave says:

    Say whatever you want as long as you share your stash.

  18. rm says:

    schadenfreude is one of my fondest emotions too but not everyone drives a giant freakin’ minivan just because they look so damn cool, ok?

  19. Jeremy Zitter says:

    sigh. alright, alright. point taken, rm. however, you had your SUV well before the triplets came along.

  20. All this talk of trans-continental flights and of Southern Cal. reminds me, my cousin is getting married in San Diego next month and I will be there for about a week. Anyone interested in meeting up? I understand they have very nice beaches out there; probably also coffee shops, bars, and zoos.

  21. Rogan says:

    19. The most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road is a minivan full of people. I ride a motorcycle. It gets 65mpg per person (I’m the only one on it most of the time). A minivan holding four people (a parent with triplets) might get 100mpg per person (25mpg X 4 people). Add more people, get better mpg per person ratings. So fill up the minivan with kids and gas and feel good about yourself… until you drop off the kids. Then feel shitty about yourself.

  22. trixie says:

    Lane, look! Rogan ended another comment with humor.
    I saw it first

  23. slade smiley says:

    jeremy, (or is it jeremy zitter?) way to call it, my buddy rube did indeed get the suv to look cool…and boy did it work! how do you think a fella scores triplets in the first place? wink, wink, nudge, nudge

    modesto, you’ve been taken in by a chamber of commerce with an outstanding ad budget. san diego may have access to a beach and a zoo, maybe even a bar, but coffee shops?

    rogan, i loved your recalibration of minivan related guilt but it got me to thinking of the moral equivalence of other such transportation models: is the pickup truck with a bed full of day laborers more environmentally responsible than a limo full of hookers? or does it all depend on their total weight and the type of engine in the respective vehicles?

  24. lane says:

    right on trix!

    you nailed that one!

  25. trixie says:


  26. Dave says:

    Here’s your depressing environmental/political tidbit for the day.

  27. Tim says:

    And here’s your depressing/funny comic strip.

  28. Stella says:

    #20 My Dad (known to certain of TGW nation) has some VW (not Jetta but can’t remember what) in the UK and it now costs him 70 GBP to fill up – that’s $140 people!

    But it has always been expensive to buy gas in the UK and it has driven fuel efficiency and enough tax dollars to support a half-decent public healthcare system.

    Thankfully the gas tax holiday seems to have died.