Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Future of Mass Transportation

One of Maryland author John Michael Greer's oddities (other than being an archdruid)
is that his preferred mode of intercity transportation is passenger rail.  In fact, he chose his adopted town, Cumberland, MD, partly because of its proximity to a working train station. The motivation for he and his wife's move to this Allegheny rust-belt arts-centric village was that we would soon enough become a more regionally-scaled economy, reverting from a global or national scale.  Underlying that conviction was the view that oil would not be abundantly cheap in the near future, driven by the occurrence of global peak oil. Rail travel would then become relatively more important.

It looks like JMG's move is now going to be validated, as we've arrived at peak oil. Although oil prices are much lower than in recent history, the price drop is driven by falling demand, which, along with a host of other commodities, shows that the world is entering a global recession. The fact that the Federal Reserve raised interest rates this month reduces debt-driven growth, so demand for oil, et. al., will continue to fall. Rather than a result principally of geological shortages of oil, which may have brought about a gradual decline in production, peak oil is instead being driven by incongruous financial behavior wherein increasing debt is no longer sustainable.  The interest rate rise is a signal that there will be a significant drop in worldwide oil production.  That is a synopsis of the view of Gail Tverberg, who, along with JMG spoke to us at the Age of Limits Conference in May 2013.  Ms. Tverberg points out that if there were a low-cost substitute for oil that we could deploy today, the fallout from peak oil could be ameliorated, but that appears to be years away.  Not even solar power appears to be cost-competitive enough yet to avert a premature end of the oil era.

If you haven't ridden a train or bus lately, it would be a good idea to start getting used to it.  Once airlines lose favor due to their excessive costs, shorter trips on these more economical vehicles will become the norm. It might surprise you to find out that trains still serve much of the country.  Besides AMTRAK, Maryland has its own MARC train system.  Unfortunately, due to the impending recession, I don't think Elon Musk will get the chance to speed trains up by turning them into air tube pods.

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