Sunday, May 20, 2007

GreenHornet: Chapter 1, page 2

Sent: Sunday, May 20, 2007 12:58 PM
Subject: GreenHornet: Chapter 1, page 2

Do you remember gas lines in the 70s? That first-of-a-kind event was a comparatively gentle, short dress rehearsal for what is happening now. Then, we imported only about a third of our oil and although we didn't realize it, our domestic oil production was peaking but supplied the other two thirds of our needs. Now the percentages have reversed; we import two thirds and produce one third. And we lived not like kings, but like Gods.

In the petroleum embargos of the 70s and early 80s we could still drive anywhere, provided we filled up at the odd or even day. Fuel costs increased the cost of food and anything else delivered by truck, air or train. Yet fuel supply constraints were more an inconvenience than a crisis - we complained about driving 55 miles per hour, we queued up at stations and honked our horns. However, even that inconvenience pushed up inflation and hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder. We worried about street parking and someone siphoning gas from our gas tanks. Trucks delivering beef and pork were hijacked - yes, that happened in the 70s and early 80s, but it made little news. And soon it was over and everything was back to normal. These were two brief, rude interludes in our paradise of fossil fuel luxury.

Now things feel different. We know that inflation makes numbers seem higher than they really are, but $7/gallon is still a shock. And there is a general uneasy sense that things are different in fundamental ways. Those who bought the big 10 mpg pickup trucks with their menacing grills now cost $100 to fill up, and the hint of rationing in the news makes those drivers wonder what they'll do if they can't even find the fuel for a full tank. How will they commute from West Virginia or northern Maryland to their jobs in the metro DC area? More and more people are taking the commuter trains. And national government in DC, long told to prepare for flexible work arrangements but never quite pulling it off, is beginning to wonder how it will get its basic daily work done. Parking spaces in the commuter lots never were sized for big trucks, and now with so many people commuting by rail you have to get the lots early even to find an open space.

That leaves street parking for the Hummers and menacing pick up trucks. Well, not to worry about anyone stealing them; nobody wants them, and you can't even trade them in for a smaller car without a huge loss. There is still that worry though about someone stealing your gasoline. Even locking gas caps are easily broken. Instead, the big pickups advertise: Lots of gasoline in my big tank. In 6 months, they have gone from menacing to menaced.

It's enough for a good ole boy to get really mad and want to run a few Priuses off the road. Matter of fact, that new kind of road rage has begun to make the headlines. And those who had the foresight to buy small hybrids now have their own worries. It is hard to start a Prius without the bluetooth device, but it isn't hard to simply tow one away, remove the old device and replace it with a black market knock off. All those DC folks who converted their small garages into living space and now have to use street parking are worried about their cars being stolen at night. It is weird seeing the new blinking lights on webcams, swiveling back and forth from ledges and rooftops. This fourth-generation video camera's software is designed to ignore motion caused by the wind, passing cars or people walking their dogs, and focuses instead on the owner's car. If it moves, the device wakes the owner, sounds audible alarms, and calls a preset security service offering to respond faster than the police to stop the robbery. Some even wonder if the sedurity services are playing both sides of the street so to speak: Protecting and doing some stealing to demonstrate the need for their service and their skill in recovering vehicles.

Everyone is getting edgy. Basic societal trust is fraying.


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