I must admit not liking meeting people or mild conversation amongst acquaintances. Today’s conditions make ignoring all social contact outside of your circle of friends rather easy (unless you have co-workers I suppose). Between unlimited long distance, texting, and social networks like facebook, combined with the car that lets you go anywhere you choose, intense privacy and a general ignorance of one’s own neighbors is not only possible, but widespread.
I bring this up not out of sentimental reasons, but practical ones. People are struggling with current gas prices and it’s my view that those prices, though they might settle, will keep going up. Up far enough that middle class Americans might not be able to afford daily car use.
Right now we just get up and go, with commutes 1/2 hour or more both ways. Obviously this can’t last forever. As I’ve heard from a Shell executive on NPR, “all the easy oil is gone”. This means offshore drilling, oil shale, tar sands, and heavy oil will start to be our main sources. That’s going to hurt at the pump.
So I imagine that when gas prices get high enough there will be an outcry for public transit and a culture shift in those areas where public transit might not be suitable. That is, knowing your neighbors, such that mass grocery runs, community transportation centers, and multiple family school drives might become common place.
I say this because currently there are no real alternatives to cars with internal combustion engines that run on gasoline. The new electric cars coming out right now just don’t have the range necessary in some suburban sprawl areas. They can handle a commute but that’s about it. Then they have to charge for hours using power that’s still coming from fossil fuels.
The real way to cut down on gasoline consumption is take advantage of the fact that cars generally come with four seats. Theoretically, if you spent half your time in someone else’s car, you’d cut down on half the gas you pay and put half the miles on your own vehicle. In the future it may pay handsomely to know your neighbors.
This change won’t happen right away, even with gas $3.50+/gallon. Moreover, there is a certain feeling of independence in a vehicle. You go anywhere you’d like (within reason) and there’s nothing to stop you from listening to Rush Limbaugh or death metal. Outside of traffic laws and safety considerations, no one can tell you what to do when inside your car. The desire for that kind of freedom will certainly not vanish overnight.
But demand for oil is going up, up, up. The reason you knew your neighbors long ago was because they were the only people you could go to for help. I’m speaking of a much more rural existence of course, but it was the case in many rural areas that you stayed on the farm. Going to town was something you did on weekdays. I think rising oil prices will have the same effect: carpooling will be the only affordable way to get around. Hybrids will save on gas, but if four people take a 40 mile commute to work in the same 20 mpg gas guzzler versus four people all taking 40 mpg hybrids the gas guzzler will get more performance to the four hybrids. I have a great deal of skepticism that there will ever be a true replacement to the fossil fuel run vehicle. Community transportation might be the wave of the future.