Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Fine Eye on the Signs

Well, I made it to work and back for another day. Gas jumped 4 cents as oil has another jittery day on the market. Every morning, the radio announcer gives another excuse for the spike or dip in the price of oil. Every dip seems to be punished by a two or three-fold swing in the other direction. Usually some far away matter is used to shoulder the blame – a riot in Nigeria, an war-like statement from Israel or a dire prediction from an expert in the field.

It’s funny that the media now can announce what the exact price of a litre of gasoline, down to a tenth of a cent, will be tomorrow morning. Amazingly, all of the signs fall in line, right behind the announcers like the colour guard following the drum major.

Not too long ago, gas used to swing up and down ten cents every other week without a batted eyelash from any media outlet. Then, after Hurricane Katrina, oil companies began releasing excuses for gas price jumps. We began to hear when a refinery was down or deliveries were disrupted. Now, they have created a mini-industry of PR staff searching for the next excuse.

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. I want to explore alternatives to the theory of a sharp decline. Alternative is a word that evokes windmills, solar panels and cars that plug in overnight, but I am looking for an alternative future to the one predicted by The Peak Oil Theory. I find it hard to believe that my whole community will pick up and abandon the neighbourhoods in the outskirts and run back to the city centre like a reversal of the White Flight of the seventies and eighties. Besides, the new condos downtown are way to small for a family of three or four.

Still, every time I look out the window of my train to see the windmill, turning or not, I scoff at the idea that it is somehow making a dent in the energy shortage. A windmill can power something like 500 homes. Well, I can see 500 homes from my front window and I live in what’s called a medium-high density area. We can dot the whole landscape with windmills and still can barely run a laptop in every home much less heat them all. I doubt that that a windmill can even produce enough power to push the train I ride for a one-way trip.

To me, an alternative is the laptop I am writing on right now. It will allow me to work from home, stay in my community and improve my lifestyle. Oil prices be damned. Of course this is only one small piece in the solution to save the cul-de-sac, but so is wind power. Let's not abandon ship just yet. There is more to the suburbs than cookie cutter houses and manicured lawns. I think it's worth saving if indeed it is on a disaster course.

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