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Transport in a Post Peak World

Let me just state right up front , for the record . I love fossil fuels , i can hear the howls of protest now  but there it is, i think their great.  As an exercise imagine if all the products and services provided by fossil fuels vanished from your life right now.  For a start you wouldn’t be angry with me for saying i love fossil fuels because you wouldn’t have a computer to read it on,  you’d also probably find yourself sitting on the ground because most if not all of your house just vanished and you would be wondering what the hell was going on !  Or maybe your feeling a little smug right now because your in an all natural building and so almost nothing came from fossil fuels. Did you dig the clay literally with your hands ? Or did you use a shovel made from steel ? Used your hands ? Im impressed  but i still got you cause your still reading this on a computer.

The point of the mental calisthenics was to point out that we’ve got to get away from the whole us and them mindset.  Us being the side of right who know that the current way we run our society  is totally unsustainable , that fossil fuels are evil  etc etc etc  and Them being the evil fossil fuel using society around us. People, hate to break it to you but  we are all Them.  As part of my work at PRI Australia and now The Koanga institute in New Zealand it’s been my privilege to meet all sorts of amazing young people from around the world and i must say i’ve had some fun pointing that out to them but the brutal fact of all this is that  we need to accept that fact and get on with  the first steps in moving towards a more sustainable society. Note i didn’t say sustainable i said more sustainable  because we simply don’t know what exactly that is , unless of course somebody wants to be dropped off with a tribe of Kalahari bushmen or some other increasingly rare group of hunter gatherers.  See the romantic notion of the wholly sustainable life is at the moment just that ,  a romantic notion.  Theres growing food because its good for you and the environment and it strikes a blow at the heart of the big multinationals and then theres growing food because your life depends on it.  The two are light years apart and so is the current hijacked concept of being sustainable and the reality that we don’t have a clue how we are going to achieve it and the fact that life is going to be a lot harder and dirtier and a hell of a lot less convenient.


Right about now is usually when the author says”but” and launches into an optimistic pep talk about how our lives will be better, fuller, richer etc. Sure they will be, no arguments but it will also be bloody harder !

So on to our main topic ‘Transport in a post peak world.’  Now if your not up with the concept of peak oil then i will direct you to my good friend Wikipedia for a more in depth explanation but simply put Fossil fuels are a finite non renewable resource. They are also incredibly energy dense ,we have built our entire civilization around them,  they are getting increasingly harder to find and more expensive to extract.  The whole project of Globalization was only made possible through cheap transport fuels so as these fuels get more and more expensive this system will simply seize up and with it industrial agriculture.  Not convinced ? Fact is for every calorie of food we consume in the developed nations Ten (10) calories of fossil fuel are used to grow it package it and ship it.  Now even a small child will quickly figure out that that little equation is not sustainable.  In fact its not a little unsustainable its almost as though someone sat down and carefully engineered it to be as unsustainable as possible.  Added to that, for every kilo of food we grow using modern methods we lose between 6 kilos (in the USA) and 11 kilos (China) of soil forever.  So that which cannot be sustained will not be sustained, meaning our food production system will be coming a lot closer to home (Less food miles) and will be primarily along organic lines.  And if anyone cares to try and argue those points they can take it up with the laws of thermodynamics i’m just the messenger ! Of course what applies to transportation of food also holds true for all other goods such as flat screen TV’s, Ipods and such that are produced overseas and shipped to market.  Ditto the mined raw materials to produce these things  and Ditto the fuel hungry mining process itself. For interesting developments in the revival of sailing ships for goods transport check out  The sail transport network

Now we’ve discussed transport of industrially produced food and goods a little and i’m not going to say much more except that people really need to consider supplying most of their  non negotiable needs themselves (see “Walking the middle path”). But i suspect where most people will (at least initially) squeal the most is the effect these unfolding events will have on personal mobility.  Leaving aside the complex knock on economic effects of peak oil its a sure bet that transport fuel will be harder to afford be it from increases in price or a reduction in peoples ability to afford it.  And you can read into that what you will, but it seems to me to be baked into the cake.

Of course nothing is simply going to stop, its just gradually going to get harder and harder to sustain current personal transport habits.  And its the changing of personal habits that is our first line of response and also that which has the potential to give us the most bang for our buck. Recent studies have shown that simply by being more organized and more mindful we can reduce the kilometers we travel by a third without any real loss of quality of life. Im sure we all know what i’m talking about , the quick trip to the shop because we’ve run out of milk, the two or three trips by different family members to get different things or because they didn’t want to wait for the other, or the classic shopping two or three times a week rather than once because we can’t be bothered planning out our meals. It all adds up. Taken a little further think of the benefits of coordinating with  friends to shop together, the money saved in fuel can pay for a nice cup of coffee or better yet when they get dropped off you get to pop in for a coffee.






Of course don’t overdo it !


Not only are you saving fuel your maintaining and strengthening social ties !


Join a car pooling club or co operative or a ride share scheme. Our cars spend most of their time parked in our driveways doing nothing except quietly but rapidly depreciating. Depending on your situation public transport might also make better sense.


Below are links to a few of the ride share schemes in NZ and OZ

And then of course there is the humble bicycle one of our most efficient transport machines. Here not only do you get cheap transport but time to think,  and a free workout . Cargo bikes are big at the moment and for good reason, here you can take the little ones for a ride or bring the groceries home. I want one badly in fact before leaving Oz i was part way through building my own. See for great DIY instructions.

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Many cities in both Europe and the US are now running  bike share schemes to ease parking and traffic issues in the inner city

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And of course electric bikes are now readily available and coupled with the cargo bike concept are able to move fairly large loads over extended ranges.

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While on the subject of electric vehicles i must say i’m not a fan of Electric cars. While i believe they have their place in the mix we must not use them to try and prolong  “business as usual “ Business as usual is going away.  We are far better keeping the cars we already have going as the massive amounts of energy that have gone into their manufacture is highly amortized  whereas new cars be they super efficient or not have a huge energy cost to manufacture.

As Dmitry Orlov says “The idea of making cars more efficient by making more efficient cars is sheer folly.”

Of course the Elephant in the room is Air travel particularly International Air travel.  Air travel is set to become something that only a few very well off people will be able to afford. For all the reasons previously laid out.  And yet the alternatives are few in fact i can think of only two . The first is don’t and the second is sea transport in general and sail transport in particular.

And in point of fact  passenger sail transport networks whereby tens of thousands of individuals travel between countries already exist.  Web sites where individuals can sign on as crew for a share of costs such as are constantly matching yacht owners needing an extra set of hands with people wanting the adventure of ocean travel . Im sorry theres not more to say here on the subject of flight except that fantasies of cheap flights using Bio fuels or such are just that Fantasies.

So while this is just a quick summary of potential transport issues and solutions heading into the future we all need to take a good look at where we live and how we are going to get by on less more expensive fuel. Questions like How far do you commute to work?  How many cars do you have? Do you live far out of town? Where do the kids go to school ? Where is your food going to come from? and can you afford it. All these are question people are only now starting to ask and unfortunately  due to the way we’ve designed our living arrangements predicated on cheap energy the answers aren’t good.

Its going to be an interesting ride !

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