Worth Repeating: End of the Oil Age

Here is another look at my contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Board, printed February 22nd:


“End of the oil age is clearly on the horizon

February 22, 2010

Jason Hammond

Transportation makes up an enormous portion of both our household expenses and our collective carbon footprint. The way we navigate our way across Waterloo Region today is so comically inefficient it has to be considered the low hanging fruit as we struggle with the dual economic and climate crises.

We all remember the gas price increases that made news before the recession set in 18 months ago. Data from MJ Ervin & Associates, a London-based consulting firm that tracks gas prices, provide a wealth of information about what Ontarians have paid for a litre of regular unleaded fuel. From 2001 to 2008, prices increased an average of 7.5 per cent each year. The basic reason is simple: global demand is through the roof. Of course, as demand crashed in the recession, so went the price.

If we look forward to a strong economic recovery, we can also look forward to returning to that path of high fuel prices. By 2014, with business as usual, we would be paying $1.70 per litre. Considering that the global supply of oil is peaking, prices could rapidly go much higher. For our climate stability and air quality, the true cost is disastrous.

As Thomas Friedman pointed out in the New York Times a few years ago, Saudi oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani had a habit of noting that the stone age did not end because we ran out of stone. Likewise, Friedman adds, the oil age will not end because we run out of oil. It is clear that we are already in the transition to cheaper, greener alternatives. The best route to success for our local economy today is to navigate this major shift in an exemplary fashion, and as early as we can muster.

Waterloo Region is positioned to move beyond total dependence on such increasingly expensive fossil fuel energy, but there is a long way to go. A report by the University of Waterloo and the Region of Waterloo states that more than 80 per cent of area commuters drive to work alone. That leaves plenty of room for improvement.

There are a number of helpful and necessary infrastructure improvements on the way. In the next few years, we can expect more intercity train service, and a major shuffle of local Grand River Transit bus service as a rapid transit spine redefines our transit experience. However, not all shifts take years, massive investment, or new technology. All too often, the necessary shift is one of political will and reform of our collective habits.

Whether we are concerned about transit service frequency, access to cycling trails and lanes, a vibrant and welcoming pedestrian environment, or any other sustainable transportation solution, there is a universally effective response. We must heartily use what we already have. Even once a week at first, we can take the time for an evening walk through the neighbourhood, a transit ride to work, or planning a meal with local, organic, and seasonal food. Only by voting with our feet can we prove both the need and the benefits to our neighbours and elected officials.

More than that, we can all take the opportunity to add our own morsel of change to the menu. As our lives become healthier, less expensive, and less impactful on the natural systems that sustain us, we owe it to our community to share our secrets of success with our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and decision makers. Together, we can respond to the end of cheap energy with the end of our total dependence on it.

Jason Hammond is the president of Grand River CarShare.”

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