A reader recently commented...
Consumers and businesses will not abandon $30 trillion in rolling stock and infrastructure tied to petroleum/liquid fuels that provide the energy for 97% of transportation worldwide. How could they?
Hold that thought...
In his stunning, brilliant chronicle of the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, William Prescott tells of the "Noche Triste" (Sad/Melancholy Night) when the Spaniards and their native allies escaped the Aztec palace shortly after the death of Montezuma.
Montezuma had been mortally wounded by his own people who were disgusted by his traitorous complicity with the Spanish enemy. His death undid the cover provided by a political hostage, and a hasty retreat was staged at midnight on June 30, 1520. Scrambling to prepare their escape, Cortés offered treasures to his men, many of whom stuffed their pockets with gold and jewels to improve their lot when they returned to Spain.
Built on an island in the middle of the grand shallow lake where Mexico City now stands, the palace was connected to the shore by eight causeways, the favored of which had three breaches to cross (where bridges had been destroyed by the Aztecs). Deciding to reuse only one portable bridge for these three crossings proved to be a tragic mistake when, after the army had crossed it, the bridge could not be dislodged from its first moorings. Prescott describes the struggle to cross the third and last breach as the army was beset by those defending their homeland:
"Those fared best, as the general had predicted, who travelled lightest; and many were the unfortunate wretches, who, weighted down by the fatal gold which they loved so well, were buried with it in the salt flats of the lake."
... and now, let's get back to the question at hand...
My reader may be right, that many people won't be able to abandon their black gold. If that's so, then one's point of view may make all the difference between thriving and despair.
Peak oil is a juggernaut that answers to no one. The desires and opinions of consumers and businesses will have no weight when the oil is gone. They will be forced to abandon that $30 trillion of then worthless rolling stock and infrastructure if they wait till Mother Nature shuts down the gas pumps.
When they are heading for the rocks, sailors jettison their cargo -- simply to survive. As the oil economy declines, those who would cling to their black gold may be pulled down with it. Those who jettison the tempting shiny substance in favor of living lightly on the earth with the new artifacts of the solar age will be free to move forward without impediment.
It seems like an easy choice for those who have shifted their point of view from fear (holding onto what we already have for dear life) to hope, investing in solar technology that will survive the decline of oil.
Trying to preserve the automobile with its freeways and fuel tanks will inadvertently hasten our economy's decline. In the next few years we will either spend another $30 trillion more just to operate and maintain our ill-fated oil-based monstrosity -- most of it leaving our economy to support unfriendly regimes -- or we will spend a "mere" $10 trillion building a post-automobile transportation system -- boosting our own economy -- designed to operate henceforth sustainably with solar energy already bought and paid for, without fuel, for the long term.
Hybrid vehicles won't get us there. Electric vehicles won't get us there. Flex fuels won't get us there. Grasping at straws (biofuels) won't get us there.
We still has the opportunity to encourage innovation and call upon American ingenuity to meet new standards of excellence: Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI, say, higher than 10) and performance standards (for example, "more than 150 miles per gallon equivalent"). Those who read the writing on the wall and work together to find new approaches still have a fighting chance!