Saturday, November 12, 2005

There's a Darkness on the Edge of Town

On last night's commute I heard a "thwop" sound and the streetlight above me went dark. The wind was blowing strong from the south and I was riding south toward Issaquah along the East Lake Sammamish Parkway. As I rode onward, it looked like the blackout pretty much encompassed the city of Sammamish but lights shining across the lake reasured me that this wasn't anything wide reaching, like the change postulated in S. M. Stirling's grimly intriguing novel, Dies the Fire.

As I rode into the wind, watching candles flicker to life in the windows of multi-million dollar lake-front homes, I thought about the change, not the apocalyptic quantum change of Stirling's speculation, but the certain change -- the end of cheap oil.

Notice that I didn't say the end of oil, I said the end of cheap oil. People can debate the level of oil reserves, play games with numbers, speculate about all kinds of scenarios but there is only so much oil under the ground.

We've built our world around cheap oil and that cheap oil is going away. And that will be a big change.

Even if you are a hemp-wearing, tipi-living, organic-gardening Bhodisattva living in Shangri-La, the end of cheap oil is going to have a big impact on you. At the very least you'll have a lot of your neighbors suddenly very interested in how you live!

As I rode into Issaquah, I rolled along new pavement shining under the full-powered glow of the McDonalds and Krispy Kreme signs. Cheap oil made that smooth pavement. Cheap oil fertilized the crops that became the food-like substances sold by McDonalds and Krispy Kreme. Cheap oil brings bikes to your bike shop and food to your market. Cheap oil made the case for the laptop I'm typing this on and placed the fiber optic cables that connect this internet of ours.

I don't claim to have a solution and I don't even claim to have any good advise. But there's a darkness on the edge of town and this isn't the time to be smug or point fingers or say "I told you this was coming." It is good to know where your candles and matches are and to think about where they come from.

We live in interesting times. Over the next few years, it will probably get more interesting.
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