Sunday, June 22, 2008

Three sides of the energy crisis

1. I saw a headline in the Sun-Times a couple days ago around lunchtime saying that Americans had driven 30 billion fewer miles in the last six months, and I was curious precisely what they meant by that, so I fished out a couple quarters and bought a copy. They meant that driving had gone down in the period from December through May, year-to-year. That's about 100 miles fewer per American, which of course includes people that don't drive anyway. The article claimed that the sharpest decrease came on rural roads and attributed that to decreased vacation driving. Even the notoriously insight-free Sun Times made the point that the era of cheap energy could be quickly ending. But what really struck me was the portraits of people affected by high gas prices. Some of their problems really seemed to have easy solutions that they couldn't see. A person that typically drove home for lunch mentioned spending extra money to eat out every day; in Chicago she probably spends more money on that than she would driving home and back. If the money is in a crunch bring a lunch in! One Uptown resident had cut back on volunteering on the south side because of the cost of gas to drive there; I'm sure there's no shortage of volunteer options in Uptown! Now that doesn't mean it's an easy change; I'm sure he has relationships on the south side and it hurts to have to change them.

I think some of that is just the nature of Sun-Times writing, though. Given a chance that paper will print gripes over insight nine times out of ten. Energy getting expensive? Everyone's surprised, most of all, us! If Chicago truly functions as a bunch of little neighborhoods tied together by the loop (this is the common refrain, and it's at least superficially true; I'm sure sociological studies have been written that explore this hypothesis more closely) then it's at least reasonably well set-up to handle the problem of expensive energy. Though it would be better if the CTA wasn't living from budget crisis to budget crisis.

2. There was a DVD of a documentary made a few years ago with a title like The End of Suburbia sitting on the kitchen counter, so I watched it. Instead of being surprised that energy was getting expensive this film's makers had known it would happen since the 50s. If I really wanted to stick it to these guys I'd say, "These guys probably thought the oil crises of the 70s were permanent; even a broken clock is right twice a day," even though that argument doesn't speak to their claims. Well, they probably cherry-picked experts for opinions on peak oil, but that's not going to stop people from hearing the important message that we need to make our energy supply more robust before oil becomes a problem. What will stop people from hearing it is that the message, in this case, is tied up in a culture war. Mixed in with the arguments about energy are plenty of cheap, sarcastic criticisms of suburbia.

Now I think some criticisms of the general suburban way of life are apt. Yards were made to be mowed, that sort of thing. As far as the topic of energy is concerned, the big argument is that car-dependent towns won't work in an era of expensive energy. But this is a film that at one point criticizes people in oil-consuming nations like the US for blaming so many other people for high energy prices. And it, in turn, blames a worst-case caricature of suburbia. Which is pointless when talking about a problem that affects everyone. Everyone in the industrialized world uses lots of energy, and if we have decades of severe energy shortages (the scenario leading to the title of the film itself) everyone will suffer badly, not just suburban people.

3. After I went to Urbana last weekend for Jess' birthday I stopped at my parents' house to drop off a cooler I'd borrowed from them for the MC200. When they saw me they were very relieved. They'd sent me an email the night before that I hadn't yet received (as I was downstate) because they'd heard about a naked bike ride in Chicago and wanted to make sure I wasn't taking part.

I don't think I would have done it if I'd heard about it. Unless I had a crush on someone that was going to be there and wanted to prove to her that I was, you know, just as willing to flash the whole north side as she was. But I'm sort of honored that someone, anyone, even if it's just my parents, would worry that I would do something like that. Clearly I at least look like I'm on the right track.


Audrey said...

I agree-that IS excellent people thought you'd be in the naked bike ride!!!!

the wretched harmony said...

HA. you should have done it. the north side missed out.