Geologist now agree the world hit peak oil production around the year 1970. So in some ways, it is incredible the Baby Boom generation ever owned cars at all. After standing in gas lines on alternate days back in 1979, it seemed as if personal vehicles would become obsolete. Then Jimmy lost to Ronnie, and it’s been “business as usual” for U.S. commuters.
It requires little human energy to turn the ignition and start a 150-plus horsepower engine. In this daily act, the ratio of energy returned on energy invested (ERoEI) is grossly imbalanced. Yet, cars endure as a consumer symbol of U.S. freedom. That is assuming that demand and dependence on oil can be called “free.”
In contrast, Euro style is to hop on a bus or train, which helps balance the ERoEI ratio among commuters. A transition to this lifestyle is relatively simple for urban dwellers, and it is already practiced in places like New York City. For rural citizens (who in general, live closer to the land) there are other ways to balance ERoEI. The goal must be to find balance in ways that are unique to every lifestyle.
Car-lite is not for everyone. The U.S. economy still depends on auto manufacturing, and it’s not realistic to divest entirely. Captains of industry offer the half measure of hybrids to infuse some life into sputtering revenues. Unfortunately, petroleum products are also used to produce durable goods like a hybrid car. They build the roads that hybrids drive as well. In the long term, the demand for oil and imbalance in ERoEI remain.
According to Scientist Chris Martenson’s online Crash Course, learning to live with less fuel is crucial for continued prosperity during the coming 20-teens. For commuters, prosperity requires miles of new train tracks, buses that run on schedule, and cabs or rentals to fill the gaps. The consumer costs for public transportation are minimal compared to loan payments, insurance, and gas expenses. To say nothing of routine maintenance, parking fees, and license renewals.
More importantly, using shared and public transportation saves energy in the world of post peak oil. In return for human “energy in” there is an intrinsic reward for social responsibility (and the snob appeal of Euro style)! A car-lite choice for public transportation is just one way to promote ERoEI. Social responsibility is self-reinforcing. Once a need is identified and understood, the course of action becomes clear.