Once again I find myself drawn to the analysis of John Michael Greer, otherwise known as the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). Here is an excerpt from this week's column.
"What we most need to realize at this juncture is that the way things have been in the world’s industrial societies over the last century or so is in no way normal. It’s precisely equivalent to the new lifestyle adopted by winners of a lottery whose very modest income has suddenly leapt upward by $1 million a year or so. After a few years, the lottery winners might well become accustomed to the privileges and possessions that influx of wealth made possible, and children growing up in such a family might never realize that life could be any other way. The hard fact remains, though, that when the lottery money runs out, it runs out, and if no provision has been made for the future, the transition from a million dollars a year to the much more modest income available from an ordinary job can be very, very rough.Watching commentary today on the CBC news, one analyst was asked,(and I paraphrase), "With these rapidly increasing prices at the pump, have consumers begun to change their choices about where they work and live?" "No, not yet, but I expect to see this coming in the near future."
The huge distortions imposed on the modern industrial nations by the flood of cheap abundant energy that washed over them in the 20th century can be measured readily enough by a simple statistic. In America today, our current energy use works out to around 1000 megajoules per capita, or the rough equivalent of 100 human laborers working 24-hour days for each man, woman, and child in the country. The total direct cost for all this energy came to around $500 billion a year in 2005, the last year"
And that is the challenge, isn't it? Gas prices are increasing much more rapidly than the cycle that people usually choose where they live and work. When a family chooses where to live, they make assumptions about expenses. Since the fifties most families have sought the refuge of the suburbs, where they have determined that they can expect to enjoy more space at less cost. The additional expense of the longer commute was worth it to most people.
This equation, however, is in the process of changing. What we thought were sane and reasonable expectations about an ever secure and modestly priced energy source are now being shown to be a blip in the history of civilization. We are victims of our own success. We have built our expansive, seemingly limitless society by burning through most of the easily obtainable oil. We are now beginning to realize that what is left will be increasingly more expensive to extract.
Sadly, in the process of releasing all this energy so quickly, we have often used this energy to lay waste to our planet. Whether it is climate change, reduction in bio-diversity or resource depletion, it is a terrible legacy we are leaving for future generations. We are also more than doubling the population of the planet within our own lifetimes. This puts exponentially increasing demands on the limited resources we have available.
It is beginning to sink in with the general population that "We aren't in Kansas anymore". For those who have chosen to incorporate a daily hour plus driving commute into their lives, many are starting to consider alternatives. For those contemplating a move, the suburbs may not seem quite as attractive as before. In the words of James Howard Kunstler, who wants to be "...stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up."?