Monday 2010.08.02

Reading through the daily news on the web, recently I came across this.

Recession breeds wave of supercommuters – Business – Economy at a Crossroads –

Stunning. Astounding. Face palming disbelief.

It’s bad enough just simply taken at obvious face value meaning as an indicator of economic matters. What’s even worse is looking at it and seeing what’s there as a bigger picture issue. First, the larger consequences and issues that come into play in that general story, and second, even worse still, the realization that for probably the gigantic majority of the people reading that story, the light bulb will just not come on about the related story.

At obvious face value, the main theme is right there for anybody who’s conscious and functionally intelligent. The economic scene in the United States is not good at the moment. That’s screaming obvious. You read a story, and read about people who are going to extreme lengths (kind of literally) to go back and forth to some sort of paid employment, somewhere. What’s just crazy is the dead obvious implication of the story, the hanging unfinished statement of the thing.

In a time where all indications are that we are, right now, most likely in a “bumpy plateau” phase of a worldwide all time peak of oil production rates, the wobbly peak area of Hubbert’s peak, we have, there, a story involving, as a fundamental basic part of the whole thing, people travelling very large distances just to go somewhere far away to do paid work and return to where they live. To state the obvious, this means burning up petroleum at an even faster rate, for any of the people who fit the scenario of this story.

In similar territory, in local news in this area, a new roadway work project is getting started. A major overhaul of interstate highway in the area is going to happen. This is on a stretch of road that’s part of the U.S. interstate highway system, although it’s one of those pieces of road found in the interstate highway system of the United States that is actually one of the shorter, local, bypass/loop sections. The road with the changes happening is going to be seriously disrupted for, apparently, a very long time. The goal of it all is to actually eliminate some exits and entrances, for one thing, which is pretty odd considering that the stretch involved, built decades ago, was rather poorly planned originally, and part of that was some fairly inexplicable restrictions in access to the highway along this section, which has been a source of navigation and traffic problems ever since. The other part is to widen the road, just in this one relatively short section of highway, when, really, there seems to be no good reason I can see to do so.

Major disruption to area traffic, for a long time, major expense, no real need for the changes, and to top it off, part of the changes seem, from what I can make of it, almost certain to actually make traffic problems on the area city streets much much worse, probably creating new problems where there previously were none.

All this appears in a time where we need to come to grips immediately, urgently, with changes that are coming regarding what James Kunstler refers to as “the era of Happy Motoring”.

Widening this local section of highway is just about the last thing that needs to be done. I would go so far as to suggest that this project is just flat out fucking crazy. My own personal opinion is that it would be a silly, pointless project on its own merits and needs, or lack of same.

In a time of major economic trouble and problems with government resources, it’s really absurd and stupid.

In a time with the above plus heading into the decline of oil, this is, as I said, the last thing needed.

I am not one of the people ranting against the idea of government spending to support projects in the current economic circumstances. That sort of thing makes sense, when done right, to counter an economic downturn by funding work that needs to be done, in a time when paying work is needed. The point is that there is much work that needs to be done, and given the economic problems, including government financial problems, it’s insane to be planning and funding projects that are useless or worse. If spent, the money must not be wasted.

Not long ago I wrote about some really great, important books that people should read. There are a few books I would recommend that talk at length about the madness of suburban sprawl and the waste of resources, among other problems, that it brings. The Geography of Nowhere, and Home From Nowhere, both by James Howard Kunstler, and Suburban Nation, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. The problems of what we can cover broadly with the term “suburban sprawl” are numerous and extensive, and discussed at length in the aforementioned books. One large part, which could be argued to be the worst, is the horrific, terrible waste of resources this scheme causes, virtually institutionalized by law in most places today in the U.S. by zoning laws and regulations. Here in the United States in the early 21st century, we have the results of trends that have basically been going since after the end of World War Two, in which, in most places with relatively few exceptions, it has been made difficult to impossible for people to go about daily life in any reasonably functional manner without the use of a motor vehicle, constantly. It’s not at all odd or unusual for people to find themselves shuffling around in an automobile (or, these days, a big truck, in the form of SUV, pickup truck, or van) for long distances, for anything and everything.

We now have a situation where, in recent years, the worldwide production of crude oil pumped out of the ground has been around roughly 80 to 85 million barrels of crude per day, as the United States has been consuming close to 20 million barrels per day. It’s looking more and more like this range of 80 to 85 barrels per day over the past few years might be the all time peak of worldwide oil production rate levels, with the current “bumpy plateau” going since around 2005. The last data I saw graphed, it was on a downward slope, and not looking like it was coming back up.

The last thing in the world we need is more people driving longer and longer distances just to function, and gigantic piles of money shoveled into more roadway expansion.

We do need to figure out, and work out, how to get back to living more locally and regionally. Not more “globalization” that is entirely dependent on the availability of plentiful cheap oil. Not more gigantic corporate business that depends on the above with supply and distribution paths stretching hundreds and thousands of miles for everything and killing off local and regional business and farming. Not more shortsighted sprawl planning and development with isolated “single use” zoning pockets of areas (Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck refer to this kind of thing as “pods”) that deliberately isolate and separate places where we live, where we work, where we can buy things we need, all designed around cars rather than people, so that cars and driving long distances for everything become an absolute necessity rather than an option now and then for when we want to travel further as we like occasionally, rather than being required to do anything that is outside our home.

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