Monday, June 28, 2010

To Dream of Less Oil

I think everyone in the USA can sympathize with this dream right about now.  With a tropical storm looming over the collection operations, we are all dreaming of less oil in the gulf, in the ground, in the water, everywhere.  But timely discourse aside, dreaming of less oil is a very appropriate place to begin a series of discussions about the dream of less.

We use oil for everything Primarily, we burn it to move everything around, but some of the oil is used to make the plastics that we package everything in, the lubricants that grease the wheels, and the synthetic fertilizer that grows our food.  So when I say everything, take a minute to look around you, I mean EVERYTHING If it came from someplace that you couldn't walk to (or it is too heavy to carry), it used oil.  If it came wrapped in plastic, Styrofoam, or both, it used oil.  If it grew in a conventional farm, it used oil.  When you really think about how much we use oil, how pervasive it is, using less of it seems a little like free diving.  You can do it, sure, but you have to come up for air eventually.

Lets put plastics aside for a moment and talk about the oil that we burn.  Everyone owns a car, right?  I think it is a requirement of citizenship in this country.  I don't care how great your MPG is, unless your car is fully electric you burn oil every time you drive.  Hybrids are great and all, but driving a hybrid is not nearly as effective at reducing your oil consumption as walking anywhere that is close enough instead of driving.  The next best alternative is riding a bike, third is public transit.  But not everyone has these options.

The trouble is, most of us need oil to conduct our daily lives.  Our towns and cities, our lifestyles, our entire culture is built around the personal automobile, and for many giving up their car would be equal to giving up their access to the entire world.  Unless you live on a self sustaining farm, which you likely don't, or live in a city with excellent public transit and walk-ability (which you well might: SF, NYC, Boston), your car is an essential part of your survival, getting you to and from the grocery store, work, school, and everything else.

But still, we can dream.  And wanting a better situation is the first step to attaining it, so I am dreaming of a life that does not burn oil.  I dream of walking or biking to work, and not owning a car at all.  I dream of a commute so short that driving would be ridiculous.  I dream of living in a city with top notch public transportation, whether that means moving or advocating public transit where I live.  I dream of a network of electric trains (both local lines and high speed rail), trams, trolleys and buses, eliminating the need for automobiles and airplanes (domestically at least).

I dream of living in a neighborhood that has everything I need within a 15 minute bike ride.  I dream of walking to a Farmer's Market, a bakery and a butcher shop, all in the same trip.  I dream of a life in which a trip of 20 miles feels like an excursion into unfamiliar territory.

I dream of living in a community that is rich enough and prolific enough to provide everything I need.  I dream of never buying another Chilean berry, Mexican tomato or middle eastern date.  Of buying furniture, new or used, from local shops and local individuals.  Of things made with local resources utilizing local labor.

Much of this is a long way off, but some is attainable very soon.  Courtney and I are most likely moving to Portland next year, as the University of Oregon has a satellite campus there, and it is a wonderfully walkable and bike-able city.  We won't be selling our car the day we arrive, a new lifestyle must be tested and eased into, not jumped into blindly, but we hope to use our car less immediately, to burn a lot less oil.
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1 comment:

  1. We lived for 20 years where we first selected our job then our job location and then took a GPS and selected where we were going to live.

    It meant that we could live with one car and walk or take transit to work most days. Like you I realize that our current land use is not planned but just happened assuming that oil and free parking would always be there.

    When it does not places can get very interesting. Think Paris where the metro goes everywhere and you still walk to the local shop for the freshest bagette and coffee rather than drive to the mall.