Friday, January 21, 2011

How Should We Interpret Higher Gas Prices?

I have always loved this parable:

"They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger.
But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late.
The frog's survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes. This is a story that is used to illustrate how people might get themselves into terrible trouble.
This parable is often used to illustrate how humans have to be careful to watch slowly changing trends in the environment, not just the sudden changes. Its a warning to keep us paying attention not just to obvious threats but to more slowly developing ones."

What brings this to mind is the rising price of oil.  It has passed $90 a barrel, and continues to rise.  The continued rise in oil prices will make living farther from the city more problematic, both for one's own personal expense as well as a municipalities ability to sustain it with utilities and governmental services.  The likely outcome of higher oil prices is to continue to develop infill lots.

The "frog" part of this story is that the gradual rise in gas prices will not have an immediate impact, but a slow deterioration of lifestyle until it is too late.

Many people who read my newsletter or this blog have already subscribed to the theory of living closer in, more densely packed.  Some also subscribe to public transportation.  The long term truth is that the entire auto society we live in has a termination point as it exists, it may be reached as oil is depleted, or it may be reached as oil becomes too expensive, but it is coming.  Retooling our society for the next fuel source beyond oil will be a huge and extremely expensive task, one that I believe many will not want to do.

So, do we jump out of the water now, or wait until it is too late?

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