It doesn’t take a genius to see that, with energy increasingly more expensive and harder to find, we can’t keep pulling around two and half tons of steel to propel one man or woman to the store and back. Whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared or not, soon we will stop driving cars around. What happens to the economy when we do?
I drove our Vespa from our home in Vestavia Hills to Longleaf Breeze yesterday morning. To avoid traffic I left the house at 5:15, just before daylight. The Vespa likes to go between 35-50 mph, so I knew I needed to avoid getting on I-65. Instead I drove along US Highway 31 from Hoover all the way to south of Clanton, and then local roads the rest of the way to the farm.
I first didn’t notice it, but by Pelham or so, I began noticing all the businesses that depend on cars. As I drove in the early morning stillness, I mentally began tabulating. I found a bewildering array of small and large shops, independent and chain, dedicated to the care and feeding of automobiles. Untold numbers of us apparently are employed and depend for our daily bread upon the sale of cars, the rental of cars, the buying of cars, the dispensing of gas for cars, the washing of cars, the operation of installations where owners can wash their own cars, the equipping of cars to play loud music, the equipping of cars to make even louder noises if someone tries to steal them, the heating and air conditioning of cars, the tinting of glass in cars, the repair of car engines, the repair of car bodies, the purchase and installation of tires on cars, the changing of oil in cars, the repair of mufflers in cars, the loaning of money in return for car titles, the loaning of money to buy cars, and the insuring of cars.
That doesn’t count the medical providers who exist to patch people up when they have wrecks in cars and to treat the high blood pressure and diabetes they develop from riding in all those cars instead of walking. It also doesn’t count the businesses that are not directly addressed to cars but are totally dependent on them, like motels, fast food restaurants, and big box retailers.
We all have read in the news about GM and Chrysler dealers who are closing their doors and firing their employees, but it’s apparent to me after my little tour that those dealers are just the canaries in the coal mine, and the air is toxic. This is going to get ugly.
So what does all this have to do with subsistence farming? Not much, except that Amanda and I are fashioning new careers for ourselves that seem relatively safe from the coming collapse of our car-dependent system. We may not need scented air fresheners to hang on the rearview mirrors of our car, and we may not even need to pay somebody to change the oil in our car, but we will surely need to eat.
I’m telling my children, and now I’m telling you, that if you want to have a stable means of support in the coming decades, look for ways to provide what all humans need all the time. Here’s a short list to get you started:
I would add in a hopeful, optimistic spirit, beauty. There will be a very small but I hope intense market for those who keep us human with music, poetry, story, and design. It may not be possible for many to derive their sole sustenance from the providing of beauty, but I would like to think we will value, support, and encourage those who do.