Twenty Dollars Per Gallon

The pace has picked up with my day job, so More to Come…the DJB Blog will go on sabbatical while I focus on other priorities.  But before that happens, I want to share with you the work of Chris Steiner, an engineer-turned-journalist who has been writing about society’s relationship to energy.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Chris recently while he was  speaking at the National Main Streets Conference.   A writer for Forbes and The Steiner Post, Chris is the author of a thoughtful book entitled $20 Per Gallon:  How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better.

This 2009 work takes the “inevitable rise” in oil prices over time and imagines how each $2 increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline will change our lives. Perhaps counter-intuitively, he sees the change as largely positive.  The rise is inevitable because oil is a finite resource and demand worldwide is escalating at an unsustainable pace.  For instance if China – which now has 4 cars for every 1,000 people – rises to only half the ownership rate of the US (750 cars/1000 people), it means an additional 400 million cars – or the equivalent of two United States’ worth of cars – on the road.  That fits my definition of unsustainable.

Some of Steiner’s predictions fit our current way of thinking.  For instance, when gasoline reaches $6 per gallon, the SUV as we know it is history.  We’re seeing that now.  Other conclusions were more of a surprise.  I simply hadn’t focused on how much oil it takes to run the airline industry, but Steiner has.  Just a little more than double the current price of gas will bring an emptying of the skies.  When jet fuel reaches $4 per gallon, fuel costs will account for 40% of the cost of doing business for those airlines which remain.  Steiner predicts the cost of a ticket will rise to the point where the flight across country, or up and down the eastern seaboard, will become much more prohibitive.

At $12, the suburbs begin decaying as people move to urban centers where density permits the use of mass transportation and car ownership is not required.  This is good news for preservationists.

And Steiner predicts our behaviors and priorities will change further at $18 per gallon:

The state and federal government have plans to make the fifty miles of two-lane Route 20 between Freeport, IL, a town of 25,000 and Galena, a town of 3,500 four lanes all the way.  The cost:  almost $1 billion.  That’s $18 million a mile to widen an existing highway between two rather small towns.  The same billion could build a high-speed train corridor from Chicago to Milwaukee or from San Diego to Los Angeles….Instead, the momentum of our government’s road building machine may build a road that few people will know about, care about, or use.

Not all changes will be positive and many will require deep sacrifice and strong collective action.  But the bottom line for Steiner is that we’ll have to live in a much more sustainable basis…as our grandparents did…or give up our economic security.

$20 Per Gallon is sobering, positive…and a good read.

More to come (at some point)…

DJB

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