The Oil Drum: New York City

Helping New Yorkers understand, prepare and adapt to the implications of Peak Oil

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Economics, Freedom & Choices

I've been discussing the issue of how society could respond to peak oil if they became aware. Since I believe that the situation could worsen quickly in the next few years, particularly if the rise in energy costs has a domino effect on inflation, consumer purchasing power, unsustainable debt and a crash in the major asset categories (real estate, bonds, stocks), I would prefer a crash program by government to prepare the country for the coming storm. I could see the government tightening regulation on fuel efficiency standards and enforcing a 55 mph speed limit as a start, but I doubt that would go far enough.

So then I mentioned to my friends that I think the government should take a leading role in re-organizing society to become more fuel efficient and rally the country to conserve fuel similar to the campaigns during the world wars, where it became patriotic to conserve rather than waste. This is where they started to object, accusing me of imposing my own vision of social engineering on the general population and of favoring government propaganda.

Their take was that "economics" would sort out much of the adaptation without governmental interference and that curtailing "freedoms" to change behavior was a slippery slope leading to fascism/communism (take your pick of most feared extreme totalitarian regime).

Here is why I disagree with this assessment.

On economics: I would say that the massive investments our government currently invests in highway reconstruction alone have created a society that in many places is completely dependent on the automobile. Add in all the other indirect costs of maintaining this culture of automobiles (tax incentives, pollution, wars, etc) and you basically have a government that has been heavily subsidizing this societal model for decades.

And this model crowds out other viable lifestyles or societal models to the point where many communities have no transportation alternative. Witness all the suburban communities that have no sidewalks, no bike paths, where you have no choice but to get in your car to cross the road outside your front door. As gas prices rise they will find that they have no choice but to pay whatever price is posted at the pump. I think the government can provide more choices to these communities by making more investments in mass transit now.

On government "propaganda": I strongly believe that the government is basically willfully ignoring or actively covering up the peak oil issue. They have suppressed the Hirsch report and covered up the topics addressed in Cheney's Energy taskforce. Following 9/11/01, when the government could have rallied people to the cause of energy conservation and made energy independence a national cause they instead advocated getting back on airplanes, taking vacations and spending money to support the economy.

On freedoms: I basically agree that no one should ever be compelled to do something against their will, but rather appropriate incentives should be applied given the impact of that behavior on others. So for instance freight trucks have a much greater impact on roads than passenger cars and as such should pay a much higher proportion of the cost for road upkeep, whichever way that is collected. Accounting for this cost would potentially create the right incentives for switching a greater portion of freight transportation to rails.

However there are cases where freedoms come directly into conflict. For instance the constant flow of car and truck traffic in NYC inhibit my freedom to ride my bike (or scooter if I owned one) since to do so would risk major injury or death. These freedoms need to be balanced better.

Then there is the public health perspective. We live in an extremely interdependent society with or without cheap oil. Similar to a spreading epidemic, economic depressions have a way of hurting everyone in some way. No man is an island and no matter how much we individually prepare and insulate ourselves from the economic shocks that soaring energy prices will bring, we will all suffer as the economy slides. You may not own or rely on a car, but do you own a co-op? Well, even if your finances remain strong, your neighbors may not. If your neighbors lose their jobs or all their money in stock market crash, then you may end up with a financially bankrupt co-op. And none of us (even those who go down the subsistance agricultural route) will be immune from higher crime rates and other social ills stemming from a severe economic downturn. We are in this together and have no choice about it.

That is why I care about spreading awareness about peak oil and want to convince people to take this seriously. So that together we can take action to alter our lifestyle and create a new society less dependent on oil.


At 4:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tibia money tibia gold tibia item runescape accounts buy runescape accounts runescape money runescape gold runescape gp runescape power leveling runescape powerleveling cheap rs2 powerleveling runescape equipment buy rs equipment runescape runes cheap rs2 runes runescape logs cheap rs2 logs runescape items buy runescape items runescape quest point rs2 quest point cheap runescape questpoint runescape gold runescape items runescape power leveling runescape money runescape gold buy runescape gold buy runescape money runescape items runescape accounts runescape gp runescape accounts runescape money runescape power leveling runescape powerleveling tibia gold dofus kamas buy dofus kamas wow power leveling wow powerleveling runescape questpoint rs2 questpoint Warcraft PowerLeveling Warcraft Power Leveling World of Warcraft PowerLeveling World of Warcraft Power Leveling Hellgate money Hellgate gold buy runescape logs buy rs2 items cheap runescape items Hellgate London gold Guild Wars Gold buy Guild Wars Gold runescape items rs2 accounts cheap rs2 equipments lotro gold buy lotro gold buy runescape money buy runescape gold buy runescape runes lotro gold buy lotro gold runescape money runescape gold cheap rs2 powerleveling eve isk eve online isk buy runescape power leveling rs2 power leveling tibia gold tibia item runescape accounts Fiesta Silver Fiesta Gold SilkRoad Gold buy SilkRoad Gold Scions of Fate Gold Hellgate Palladium Hellgate London Palladium SOF Gold Age Of Conan Gold AOC Gold ArchLord gold tibia money tibia gold runescape accounts runescape gold cheap rs2 powerleveling buy ArchLord gold DDO Plat Dungeons and Dragons Online Plat

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...








Post a Comment

<< Home