Tags: world oil price

20 Oct 2005, Comments (0)

We’re all f###ed, part 3

Author: Helen

Anyone been musing on Peak Oil lately, while the signs at the service station go from


To a ridiculously cheap $1.19?

(OK, so I liked that graphic so much I posted it again.)

From time to time I hear reports in the media that sales of small cars are already up, which seems a bit silly – you’d think if you were going to think about a smaller car you’d have done it before; but it may be due to a mixture of demographic factors as much as rising oil prices. Certainly people seem to be loving the big gas guzzling SUVs as much as ever. Peter Costello doesn’t mention the p-word; he talks as if it’s just a problem with the refineries and when they get pumpin’ again, we’ll all be right.

Unfortunately, the world oil price looks as if it’s going to be high for some time, and that means that Australian consumers are going to be paying higher prices at the bowser than they were last year and for quite some time, although not at the levels we saw with the spike after the hurricane.

Let me make it clear that petrol prices, high petrol prices, are in no-one’s interest. They’re not in the interest of the consumer, they’re not in the interest of business, they’re not in the interest of government, they’re not in the interest of the world economy. But until such time as refining capacity comes back in full and the world oil production increases we, unfortunately, will have to live with higher prices than we’d like.

Of course he would say that, because to a neoliberal government like his, the alternative is terrible to contemplate. If peak oil is a reality, it ends the easy economic growth bonanza and ushers in a very different world, not based on endless consumption.

I’ve been thinking of what my suburban world would look like when petrol becomes scarce and prohibitively expensive.

All those roads! What’ll we do with them? I have visions of riding my bike comfortably down multi-lane highways and formerly busy roads, like Geelong road and Francis street out my way, which are now too scary for me to ride on. For a few months, or years, riding bikes to work and school will become a real choice for those of us now scared off the roads by trucks and hoons. I imagine sailing along Francis street on a warm summer night, unmolested by speeding Commodores.

But then, without the registration and petrol taxes for their upkeep, those roads will soon resemble the old alphalt footpaths in the inner suburbs– mini-mountain ranges cracking and heaving from below, with triumphant weeds sprouting through. They won’t provide a smooth and joyful surface for bicycling then. If the state governments are sensible, they’ll maintain a strip on each wide enough to allow bicycle traffic to continue. But we know they aren’t sensible, so I don’t know what will happen to all that tarmac.

The Victorian government will finally have to do something about the horrible state of our rail network, which has already reached capacity. Since the Hurricane Katrina petrol price rise, my 7.30 city loop train from Footscray has been so packed that passengers have been left standing on the platform. I felt so sorry for the dad the other day, holding two little schoolboys by the hand, staring after us as we moved away like a mobile tin of sardines. If it’s like that now, picture the scene once passenger vehicles have been rendered a plaything of the rich.

Talking of play, there’ll be fewer drives down the coast and bushwalks in the Strzleckis. A car trip will be something to be saved up for (and fewer of us will own cars, so we’ll have to hire them). Holidays like the one we’ll be enjoying next January on the Gippsland coast will be fewer and farther between. Overseas? I can’t see the era of cheap air fares continuing much longer – and by the time my kids are old enough to be backpackers, the backpacker era may be gone.

I hated the Big Bad Supermarket ™ which just got built just around the corner, but hey, now I can get a trolley and go, well, just around the corner. But it’s not just transport that’s the issue. What I’ll be able to buy at the BBS ™ is a moot point, because a fuel shortage will affect the price of everything. One thing’s for sure, cheap mangoes from Queensland and cheap asparagus from Peru or wherever the hell they get it from, will be a thing of the past. (Mmmm… Asparagus… Must stop at BBS after work…) We might regret building housing estates over all the best arable land in Victoria.

So many of the things we take for granted are based on petrochemicals. Just look at the millions of things in our daily life which are made out of plastic. Life will change dramatically when the sources of plastics are drying up. We won’t just be able to reach for an empty ice cream tub whenever we have leftovers to store, or buy household necessities for peanuts at Mitre 10 or the $2 shop, or reach for a plastic supermarket bag to carry our wet swim towel in. Some of this will be a good thing — Some of the avalanche of useless stuff, which mainly ends up in landfill, will be stopped. But a lot that is useful would go as well.

Like fibres. A lot of the modern ones are petrochemical based as well; bye-bye affordable clothes. (We’ll still have wool and cotton, both of which have sustainability issues of their own.)

A real decline in petrochemicals will usher in a new era of scarcity,unless research has something up its sleeve which will save us all. Neoliberals had better start praying.