Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Who Pays for Oil Addictin? View from Washington DC

(dispatch from the Green Hornet)
Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 6:09 PM
To: wwo@worldwithoutoil.org
Subject: Who Pays for Oil Addictin? View from Washington DC

Ezekiel 18:1 "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."

We could discuss this question for years, by which time we'd know the answer.

We could analyze this question from a million different perspectives, such as - where we live: rural, suburban, city; transportation: commuters, travelers, commerce. And by the time we were done analyzing, it wouldn't matter.

And of course there are the very different perspectives today and 20 years from now.

So in the interests of time and space, here is the first of three stories, based on where we live, today and 20 years hence. The locations are Washington DC, Sub Urbium (anybody's suburb), and Great North Woods (a rural NH area). I have some experience with each. First, the Washington DC story today and 2027.

Washington DC, today

DC is the Prius center of the US, or at least that is true of the affluent quadrants in the city. There are so many, and they come in so few colors, I've bought a vanity license plate so I can figure out which is mine. And most of avoid driving in the city anyway; we take public transportation - and that is true of all quadrants in the city. Still, the price of over $6/gallon is making everybody nervous, and you can only manage a couple of shopping bags on the bus or metro. And metro prices have been raised to cover the cost of running the system, so once again it is the poor who are affected most, but not as much as you might think. Oh yes, to save costs the system is also running fewer trains and buses so the system is jam-packed. And they've raised the thermostats in the cooling season and lowered them in the heating season. In fact, it isn't uncommon to ride in buses with no AC and the windows are sealed shut. So in summer we've taken off the ties and everybody wears short sleeves, sweating like pigs on the very warm days. We complain, but we complain together. And when we are squeezed together in a hot metro train, we watch our wallets. Riding in such close quarters has become a pickpocket's paradise.

I've started gardening in earnest, and nobody laughs at my $64 tomatoes now. At least I have tomatoes, corn, and fruit, even if only a little of each. My grandsons think it is interesting to harvest food from dirt. They especially like digging up potatoes.

I've also started using a compost tumbler and I feed the partially composted materials to my worms, in my little 3-tier worm farm. The grandkids think the worms are gross but fun. They see me transfer the finished compost and worms to the garden and guess that it is OK, since the garden is growing nicely. Besides, they know worms grow in the ground anyway. I look at worms and see free organic fertilizer.

Washington DC, 2027

I don't have many more years to live, but I am still living where I was 20 years ago, and my garden is still intact. To expand my harvest and develop items and services to trade with my neighbors, I've quadrupled my composting and have a mini-worm farm in my basement. Still, all these things get to be lots of work, and at 80 I find I can't lift and move as much as I used to. I've also found out which items I can grow best on my little plot, and I have set up informal networks to trade worms and compost, berries, etc. with those who have goods or services to offer me. I was surprised how long it took to learn urban gardening and how much time it takes to do it successfully. Many neighbors never learned at all. Roaming bands of hoodlums have eliminated the problem we used to have with deer and other scavengers (by eating them), and now these bands menace the neighborhoods looking for meals to steal.

I'm also surprised how solar power and solar water heating both became so popular in the neighborhood. Many of those grand slate roofs have been torn down and replaced with shiny solar panels. Solar power generation turned out to be the best bet for rooftop use, so most people simply have had passive heating tanks in their backyards. Global climate changes mean that hot water is essentially free 9 months of the year. And nobody complains about the aesthetic of silicon on the roofs or tanks in the backyards. The city's commercial buildings all sport silicon and hot water tanks on their roofs. This doesn't make us self-sufficient by a long shot, but DC's "net power" usage is only about 25% of what we consume, and we aim to be totally self-sufficient in another 10 years.

My grand kids are now in their early twenties. Two of them have set up a business installing and repairing solar energy and heating systems. One lives with me and after hours helps tend the garden and helps guard the house. They all thought of civil service jobs, and may still apply, but the federal government's de facto power has dropped as its ability to influence events has waned. Young people are less interested in civil service employment and are more interested in practical work with down-to-earth results.

It's hard to remember the good old days of $10/gallon gasoline. At least you could buy it if you could afford it; now supplies are spotty at best. The metro system, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps on moving but it is increasingly moving in slow-motion. The bunny is getting very old, and metro officials never did (and maybe never could) invest in the amount of maintenance needed for the thousands of buses and metro cars.

If you don't take public transportation, you ride a bike or walk. Luckily most people don't have to walk far to get to a store. Unfortunately you never know what you will find for sale in the store, since deliveries are sporadic and the prices are astronomical. Converting most of our corn to ethanol keeps the system going, more or less, but makes the price and availability of groceries a carefully considered luxury for most people. Forget frozen foods - the energy to transport and store frozen goods eliminated them long ago. Now you buy the staples: flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and eggs. As with residents of Cuba during the long US embargo, people now are thinner - they exercise more and eat less.

When you buy your groceries and walk home, you'd better do it during daylight hours and bring your cell phone in case you need to call for help. You won't get any help from 911, but at least you can call your network of neighbors along the way to help you if trouble strikes.


Rainey said...

Mmmm, the ol' "now and later" scenario. I'm looking forward to the next couple stories!

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