Sunday, August 21, 2005

I Gotcher Future Right Here...

I came of age as an SF reader in the '70s, a great time for gloom, doom, and "if this goes on" stories. When gas was, briefly, in short supply, and gas prices rose to a dollar a gallon, it was the end of life as we knew it, and SF (and the news) reflected that idea. Car manufacturers were more or less pressured into making more energy efficient vehicles, and the ecological news compelled (eventually) lower-emission vehicles too. It didn't solve the problems of pollution or dependence upon fossil fuels, but it pushed the days of reckoning off a little further into the future. So when I see all the SUVs driving around, juxtaposed against the signs of gas prices sitting near $3/gallon, I get this feeling that we've done this before. Only this time no one seems unduly alarmed--no, that's not true; there is commentary all over the place about America's (and the world's) dependence upon oil, and the problems that's setting up. But this time the people who got really upset in the 70s--the people who were buying and fueling the cars--seem unconcerned. The pocketbook issues of how much money it takes to refill your gas tank don't seem to bother anyone, and God knows the manufacturers don't seem to feel compelled to make SUVs gas efficient (I can't even recall the last time I saw a car ad that emphasized its gas mileage).

Most of my life I've lived places where you didn't need a car to go get a quart of milk; never even owned a car until we moved out here and picked up our little '97 Honda Civic. I actually like public transportation a lot; on the other hand, I use our car a lot, because it's easier and (at the moment) cheaper. But when I read an article like this, it pushes all my old-time SFnal buttons. "'The world has never faced a problem like this,' a report for the U.S. Energy Department concludes. 'Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.'" There's a really ugly near-future SF scenario in the making. Let's see: first the gas gets expensive. Then it gets scarce. People whistle in the dark and pretend that the shortage means other people, not themselves. Then they don't make that trip to the mall because they're saving your gas for the trip to the supermarket. Maybe private travel gets restricted in order to save fuel for public transit, which suffers shortages and cutbacks. The economy suffers, of course. Carry it far enough and you've got a grand "new dark ages" scenario going.

Will any of this happen? I dunno. I'm still waiting for the flying cars we know, from SF, will eventually be ours. How they'll be powered is anyone's guess. But in the meantime, I hope that the people out there working on "alternative energy sources" put the pedal to the metal.


Anonymous L.N. Hammer said...

Actually, I am seeing signs, both witnesed and in news stories, of people cutting back -- trading down SUVs for smaller cars.

We're hoping to snag a used hybrid when our putput-class offroad vehicle dies.


4:24 PM  
Blogger claire said...

I'm STILL waiting for my zepplin. Have done so since I was seven.

I do not know how to drive a car (forgive me growing up in Manhattan). But I can see a scenario where the trucks that bring stuff to the island can't make it in.

At some point we in this New Rome (not Manhattan but the Bush/US) need to figure out how to live with the rest of the planet.

SF world? I hope for the good stuff in our future and not the depressing John Brunner one...


7:31 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I keep hoping, tech-fan that I am, that we'll figure this one out before it kills us all. But I am a child of the 60s and of the 70s, and my "all you need is love" optimism tends to get a little curdled by my 70s "we're all gonna die" pessimism.

This evening during 60 Minutes I noted one ad (for GM) in which they did quote mileage (30 mpg) and one extolling the virtues of the SUV. I can well believe that people are beginning to cut back... I recall reading something, shortly after 9/11, suggesting that people were buying SUVs because they represented increased armor, and gave the illusion of greater safety. Guess we've reached a point where the illusion of safety runs up against the reality of less cash.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

And Claire, someone should give you your zeppelin. You've worked very hard and you deserve it!

7:57 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Oh--and the music in the commercial for SUVs? "What Shall We do with the Drunken Sailor," played as if it were an anthem. What is up with that.

8:31 PM  

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