Earlier this summer the price of a barrel of crude oil hit a record $147. Since then the price has declined dramatically to about $64. Gas prices here in Monterey have fallen from a high of about $4.60 to just under $3. Some might be tempted to argue this makes alternatives to oil less necessary, but that would miss the point – the current decline in oil prices is strictly a product of demand destruction.
What that means is we’re in between a rock and a hard place. Our economy has been built on growth made possible by cheap oil. More cars need to be sold, more suburban sprawl needs to be built, more goods need to be hauled by truck in order for the 20th century economic model to continue. If you can’t do any of that without risking a crippling oil price increase like that which burst the housing bubble, you are stuck in an economic trough that has no visible way out.
Unless, of course, you start building an alternative to oil.
Besides, the phenomenon of peak oil is going to rather quickly necessitate such alternatives, if OPEC doesn’t do so first. If this current respite in oil prices is to be anything other than the eye of a hurricane, we must build our way out of oil dependence.
Just as the oil crisis has not gone away, neither has the climate crisis. Arctic sea ice nearly reached a new record minimum. Global warming continues unabated, as the carbon-burning industry merely takes a short breather.
2008 is therefore an opportunity to start transitioning away from a failed economic model, one that became so dependent on burning fossil fuels that the economy nearly collapsed and severe ecological crisis has taken place. If we are to turn the 21st century into a sustainable century – with sustainable prosperity, built on renewable resources and a better, more sensible ecology, we need to start NOW on producing alternatives to oil.
California High Speed Rail is one of those alternatives. It will:
-Reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 1.4 million cars from the road, and take the place of nearly 42 million annual city-to-city car trips (Final EIR)
-Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds/year (HSR fact sheet)
-Reduce California’s oil consumption by up to 12 million barrels/year (same as above)
According to the Final EIR 63% of intercity trips over 150 miles in California are taken by car (scroll to page 12). This is a major factor in causing most of California to be out of compliance with state clean air goals. Given that HSR would be much faster than driving between California’s major metro regions, and will likely be less costly as well by 2018, HSR would make a significant dent in those car trips and therefore in the pollution they spew.
And HSR provides a VAST carbon emissions savings over other forms of transportation:
(Image from Alberta High Speed Rail)
HSR can be powered entirely by renewable energy sources, a goal the California High Speed Rail Authority recently adopted. HSR will provide a guaranteed buyer for renewable energy projects, making their construction more likely and more economical.
Sustainability is also a smart economic strategy. We have talked repeatedly about the economic stimulus it will provide. It will also provide a Green Dividend to Californians in the amount of several billion dollars at least.
Sustainable transportation is both economical and necessary for California’s 21st century future. Sure, we have a temporary respite from the worst of the oil price hikes. But does anyone here really want to gamble that such price increases will never return? That we can continue the 20th century sprawl model indefinitely?
If you don’t want to make that sucker bet, then vote Yes on Prop 1A.