Today Amanda and I fly to Los Angeles from Birmingham to see our brand new (and first) grandchild. If you do not yet have a grandchild of your very own, I apologize for oohing and cooing incessantly. If you do, you understand. We are, to put it mildly, fired up.
By tonight, I will be looking my grandson in the eye, making all sorts of infantile noises (grandparents don’t even need to follow the rule about avoiding using baby talk with a baby – unfair, isn’t it?), and teaching him to say “Buddy.” Let us pause in wonder at the presumption of international air travel.We paid about $350 each for the privilege of traveling about 2,000 miles, and then back again at a time of our choosing. Total traveling time each way, including layover, is about 6 1/2 hours. I have no idea of the carbon footprint we’re generating with such an extravagant adventure, but I know it’s a whopper. Little wonder, then, that airlines are under financial stress. Too much fuel consumption, too much labor cost, and too little revenue from the masses they move incessantly from one side of the world to the other. Yes, the price of oil has swooned, and it’s easy to believe that there’s no way we could ever have trouble getting all we want, and at reassuringly low prices. With the price of a barrel of crude having collapsed from a high of $147 to the present $40 in just a few months, we can be forgiven for assuming that silly speculator-driven “oil crisis” is safely behind us. Unfortunately, this is simply one more manifestation of peak oil. As supplies tighten, minute variations in supply and demand cause extreme price volatility and velocity. And make no mistake about it, volatility works both ways. Goldman Sachs analyst Jeffrey Currie predicts a swift and violent rebound in the second half of 2009. Sooner than most of us realize, plentiful supplies of cheap petroleum, and the cheap travel they fuel now, will be a distant memory – sort of like the Florida Everglades. And cities and towns go on building new runways and highways and bridges and freeways and parking lots in what Jim Kunstler calls “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” I’m afraid Smith and his generation will study the decisions we have made and are making now (take a look at the highway funds in President Obama’s stimulus bill) with angry incredulity. How can we be so blind? It is our human nature, unfortunately, to assume that we will always be able to do what we have done in the past. We shall be disappointed. Let us hope we survive to regret our folly.