I’ve been out in the yard lately to see the lady in the black truck drop off her child with my neighbor. This truck is a Texas Truck—complete with lift kit, 4-wheel-drive, and $500-a-month payments.
What drew my attention to it in the first place was the driver’s determination not to park it on the street—not even for long enough to get out and hand her child to her caretaker. Her driving skills are impressive. One day, she got one wheel on the driveway and one on the sidewalk, and I’d venture that a plumb line dropped from her outermost bumper end would have pointed at the line where curb meets street.
Texans love their trucks. They prefer diesel duallies, but they’ll settle for anything with a cab and a bed. They perhaps love their vehicles too much.
Americans are about to find themselves betrayed by the internal combustion engine in a big way. For the last hundred years, we have harvested energy from the earth that had accumulated over the course of millennia. Everything in this country and the rest of the industrialized world, from water-well pumps to the lettuce in a salad is powered somehow by the combustion of fossil fuels. The production of fossil fuels has peaked, and those oil reserves remaining will become increasingly more difficult (read: expensive) to acquire, while demand, fueled by growing world population, continues to grow.
Americans are feeling the bite of $3-a-gallon gas, yet they consume 1.4% more gasoline now than they did a year ago. Those trucks Texans love are starting to show up regularly in shopping center parking lots with For Sale signs on the windshields, because at 11 miles per gallon, it costs a lot to get around in style. In some cases, it can actually be cheaper to drive a Cadillac.
Currently, much of the price pressure on fuel is political. Most of the earth’s known reserves are in politically unstable areas. How much of the instability is due to the presence of oil is a question for scholars to answer; however small bumps in production produce huge waves in prices. A 5% drop in production caused the price of natural gas to quadruple several years ago in California. When the drops in production are temporary, the price adjustments tend to be temporary, but as we draw down the available reserves and production falls, the price adjustments will stick.
There will not be a “great crash” when the oil runs out. Rather, as we have seen in the past several years, prices will climb steadily until the prices of some things, like Florida oranges in Maine, climb out of reach of ordinary people. As the cost of energy rises, the cost of production of everything that involves energy input rises with it.
My son and his friend once missed half a day of school because of a flat tire. When I chided them that they should have walked, the friend proudly told me, “I wasn’t going to leave my truck.”
I wouldn’t leave my horse. I wouldn’t leave my husband, child, or dog. But, “I wouldn’t leave my truck”?? Such loyalty speaks volumes about priorities and the way Americans have been enthralled by the internal combustion engine. Sadly, that loyalty is unlikely to be deserved.
- ▼ 2006 (15)