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Stranded in the Places Cheap Gas Built
Alex Steffen, 20 May 08

Paul Krugman writes about why the answer to the problem of the car is not, or at least not entirely, under the hood, and makes this nice point:

Changing the geography of American metropolitan areas will be hard. For one thing, houses last a lot longer than cars. Long after today’s S.U.V.’s have become antique collectors’ items, millions of people will still be living in subdivisions built when gas was $1.50 or less a gallon.
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So which is more costly to society and the individual... abandoning the house in the 'burbs or acquiring an electric vehicle?

I think this idea that the suburbs are going to turn into ghost towns because of 8$/gallon gas will be mollified by the availability of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Leaving for what, for the time being, appears to be greener pastures in the city/urban landscape is not a panacea. Yes, I know that delivery of services is more efficient in the city, and should certainly be a consideration when deciding where to live. But I'd rather folks leave behind their gas guzzlers for an electric car, than leave their homes (and all of its embodied resources and energy) to the elements.

Posted by: Drew on 20 May 08

I think you might be a bit more optimistic then you should be. The simple fact of the matter is: Cars: electric, hybrid, fuel cell, etc. are hugely inefficient methods of getting from A to B. Cars will always probably exist in the future; it is just that they will only be used when the space inside them will be used to transport something of need……groceries, furniture, family, etc. If you really think about it, why move 2,000 lbs of metal, plastic, and other materials around when only a 200 lb person needs to travel? Mass transportation IS the future and people better start getting use to not having their own personal vehicle everywhere they go unless it is a bike.
I am excited about the price of gasoline. Americans need financial motivation to CHANGE this disgusting wasting of non-renewable resources. I have been riding my bike 25 miles to a day to work 3 days a week for the past month and I love it. We need more people doing the same and maybe this new generation can start to change streets built for cars into streets used for only bikes.
An electric car only pushes the inefficient use of energy onto energy service providers, who are trying to build a renewable infrastructure and finding they can hardly keep up with new demand in the process.
Approximately 80% of electricity comes from coal. Electric cars are not the solution….conservation and efficiency is!

Posted by: Paul on 20 May 08


I agree with everything you say there.

My point is that a reflex action to move into the "city" because gas is expensive right now may be short sighted.

The pace at which announcements pour forth regarding technological advancements is reassuring... (to me. Yes, I try to be an optimist, though it is sometimes difficult.)

For the greener pastures I picture better:
> two-way mass transit
> electric vehicles powered by my own generators, not coal
> vehicles produced ala Amory Lovins' carbon fiber tech where 95% of allocated energy is spent moving me, not the vehicle
> more telework
> I am praying for a President of this country who has the foresight and the cajones to make greener techs a priority... a financial one, as you say, because I believe that is the only way to get a boat load of people on board. Make the costs of solar water heaters a full tax credit, for instance. Make adoption of the technologies which can ween us from oil free, over a period of time.

Sorry, I've digressed. Just sayin' moving my family because gas is pricey does not have to be an issue if I can wait it out for a few years.


Posted by: Drew on 20 May 08

There is no one solution. It will vary from country to country and, in large countries, from region to region.

In New Zealand, between 60% and 80% of our electricity comes from hydro, so re-charging an electric car overnight makes sense. It would make less sense in NY, which relies on thermal generation.

The typography is also important. I live in a very steep and hilly city (Wellington) which means that city driving uses a lot of gas - my average consumption is way above the manufacturer's figure (Honda Jazz)even though I drive carefully to conserve gas. In this environment, a hybrid makes sense, as energy is captured on the downhill runs. As the lease on our Jazz has just run out, we have switched to a Civic Hybrid.

Posted by: David Nicholson on 20 May 08

This isn't a problem for the Government to solve. This is a problem for the country to evolve to solve. When the companies figure out that there are empoyees everywhere they'll discover that some jobs can be done from home. They'll also discover that there are cities and small towns that have the ability to support their factory.

We as a country need to solve these problems, not our Government. The price of gas may help this to come about. The real push will be when doing anything becomes inconvenient or painful. That is when companies and individuals will push for change and make it happen.

Posted by: Dave on 21 May 08

While I don't think we can continue to each own a car, regardless of how clean they become, I think there's definitely still potential to create workable public transportation in suburban areas. Perhaps instead of viewing these areas as sprawled urban areas, they could be viewed as dense rural areas. As food becomes more scarce/expensive and more people turn to growing their own food, each currently grassy lawn could be turned into organic farm space or permaculture. And it would still be more feasible to build public transportation that surburban people can utilize than it would be to create busses and trains to every rural area. Not to mention many of the ridiculous cookie-cutter houses that exist in suburban areas are big enough to house many more people than they currently do.

Obviously I'm not suggesting that we build any more suburbs, but when resources become limited, we will want to use whatever we have at our disposal. If nothing else, some of those houses could be dismantled for their building materials. What if you removed every other house and used the supplies to build toolsheds and whatever other infrastructure was needed, and had twice as many people living in remaining houses?

Unfortunately its impossible to even think about gardening in most housing developments now, because of the HOA's that run them. In some developments people are not even trusted to mow their own lawns.

Posted by: Chris McKee on 21 May 08



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