Monday, May 21, 2007

On the topic of Peak Oil...

Gasoline prices here are now just shy of the all time high-water mark set two years ago during the post-Katrina shortage. But that time it was only a passing crisis, with actual shortages and empty pumps, and prices that fell again in only a matter of days. Now it's just another ordinary price hike.

What we need to really get movement on the energy issues, though, is gas at $10/gallon. Best thing that could happen to us in the long-term, regardless of the short-term pain.

That would be the end of the era of ABA area life lists over 800 species, though.


At 5:17 AM, Blogger John L. Trapp said...

I actually agree with you, Bill! But that's easy for me to say now that I don't have to face a long-distance commute every day. I wonder how much petroleum has been burned by birders chasing down rarities and in persuit of big day and big year counts. Maybe you could do one of your "back-of-the-envelope" calculations, Bill.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Don't sound so shocked, John, you and I agree on most things other than a few aspects of that big woodpecker fiasco!

When the double-digit-gasoline days arrive, telecommuting and public transportation will have to ramp up by an order of magnitude over where they now stand. And they will do that, too; it's guaranteed. The balance will have shifted, and the other options (trying to cram people back into cities, paying $500/month for gas to commute, etc.) won't be as attractive. No unpopular government mandates will be needed, the people will start clamoring for it. Case in point: My wife now commutes to Nashville every day for her job with the State. She drives the first 23 miles, then takes a commute van the rest of the way. Many, many State employees face long commutes like this, as most ot the regional offices have been closed or scaled down and jobs consolidated to Nashville. 95% of the work she does requires only a workstation hooked to the State network, and a telephone. At present the State makes no provision whatsoever for her to telecommute. Simple and effective solution: open a small State annex office in every County Seat, with computer network, telephone lines, and office space, and most rural State employees will be able to to their jobs with only maybe one trip a week to Nashville. Solutions like this will happen all over the place, and surprisingly fast, once gas gets expensive enough. The glass tower office building downtown where everything happens will soon be a relict of bygone days.

As for birding and gas consuption, a good rough estimate is to look at what fraction of your total travel and commute expense is spent on birding. To a rough approximation, dollars and fossil fuels are correlated. But in the end, we're going to burn it all, no matter what. It's only a question of how fast, and even then only modest adjustments.

So get your final Big Years done, folks; they'll be out of the price range of the average middle-class birder soon enough!

At 12:02 AM, Blogger John Michael Greer said...

Much of the business that now gets transacted in state capitols used to be done, in fact, in county seats or even more diverse settings, so your suggestion's far from unlikely.

The good side of peak oil for birders, though, is that fewer pesticides, bulldozers, and vast monocrop corporate farms -- all of which depend on oil -- mean more birds, and climate change means birds of unexpected species showing up on your doorstep. You may just get some rarities anyway.

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- hopeful thoughts.

Unfortunately we also still have this ongoing mass-extinction event to get through. It'll pass after the oil boom ends, but not immediately. Hubbert's oil blip may look like:


But the environmental impact smudge will look more like:


(i.e. longer lasting, slower to fade). In our lifetimes we'll only see decline, not yet recovery, I fear.

But in the long run it will probably be a better world for the species that make it through the decline. Whatever havoc pre-industrial societies wrought in the environment, it didn't result in the sort of global mass extinction we are witnessing now in the fossil fuel age. Cyberthrush (I know you read me), I think your future fears are too bleak. If we can get these critters through another century or two, I think they do have hope of long-term survival, and evolution will immediately begin the process of filling the voids left by the sad losses. It's been happening for 4.5 billion years, after all.

And in the meantme, we birders can fulfill our "proper destiny" (that's a joke, don't jump on me for it) by helping track how everyone is doing and contributing in whatever ways we can to the efforts to shepherd as many survivors through to the other side as possible.

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup. I think that fuel taxes should be raised dramatically. The law of supply and demand would have a huge impact. People would build smaller homes. They'd drive smaller and more fuel efficient cars. They'd travel less. They'd live much closer to work. They'd carpool more. More people would take public transportation and as usage increased the infrastructure would be improved further boosting the incentive to use it. More people would walk or bicycle to work. The higher taxes on fuel could be used to largely offset other taxes.


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