U. S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood may soon be nominated for heresy-of-the-year award for an impromptu speech at the 2010 National Bike Summit last month. In that speech he said federal transportation policy will no longer favor automobiles over bicyclists and walkers.
As anyone who regularly rides a bicycle knows, this change is big precisely because automobiles and bicycles share much of the same infrastructure. But this very fact may bode ill for the bicycle in a post-oil future.
This distressing line of thought occurred to me recently as I was finishing James Howard Kunstler’s beautifully written post-oil novel, A World Made by Hand. I spotted not a single bicycle in its 317 pages. Why? Because in the novel the roads upon which one might ride are crumbling beyond passable. These roads are navigable on foot or by horse, but not particularly by anything on wheels.
But, wait, you may say, bicycles don’t need good roads! We’ll use trail bikes instead. All well and good. Still, where will the rubber for the tires come from? What we use now is synthetic rubber made from oil. Perhaps we’ll get latex from such places as Brazil and Malaysia, that is, unless world trade has broken down. And, the way in which bicycles are made today, we’ll need aluminum smelting operations for all the aluminum parts, even if only for repairs. (finish reading here)
I haven’t read Kunstler’s book, though it sounds intriguing.Â Let’s be honest, there will always be cars.Â At some point, Solar and Wind will be major, albeit not dominant, total energy contributors.Â And, at some point, Nuclear Energy will become the norm because, despite the alarmist rhetoric, there actually is such a thing as safe nuclear energy…it’s called Thorium…which is particularly appealing given the topic of discussion at the Obama’s current nuclear summit.
I assume Cobb’s piece is merely intended to be thought provoking.Â So here’s what I think:Â While it may not be for a few decades, at some point that’s likely within the next two generations oil will be so expensive as to render it unfeasible for use in such things as roads, plastic and rubber.Â Or as fuel, for that matter.Â Will we run out?Â Someday, probably, but before that happens it’ll be priced so high it won’t matter for you or me.Â But I doubt we’ll just give up on cars. No, if nothing else, we humans are ingenious in finding technical solutions to our problems.Â We’re already making bottles from plants.Â And petroleum-free tires are on the way (Google “petroleum alternatives in tire production” for a little light reading on this).
So, dear cyclists, don’t fret.Â Encourage your kids to learn their math and science and take comfort in the fact that a Porsche can now get twice the mileage of a Prius, which means our roads and bike paths aren’t going anywhere.
Until we’re all in flying cars, then we’re screwed.