Our thanks to Robert Rapier over at late great The Oil Drum for forcing us to think about this. It’s not that anybody thinks gasoline is going to increase 25-fold anytime soon; it’s more an exercise in getting your brain around what we humans are facing. So here’s our pass at it:
- First, we think it’s unlikely to happen, not because gasoline won’t become that precious, but because it will become untenable politically to let it rise to that level in a free market. Instead, we believe it more likely that powerful people will insist on rationing gasoline (with themselves at the head of the line) long before we see a market price of $100 per gallon. By powerful people, we mean first the military, then law enforcement (powerful people are more afraid of the rabble than we rabble can possibly comprehend), and then agribusiness. Notice we didn’t say farmers; we said agribusiness. After that comes the bullies, thugs, and criminals. So by the time we reach $100 per gallon gasoline, our assumption is that price won’t matter, because to us, ordinary men and women who just obey the law, grow a little food, and try to eke by, the price might as well be $100,000 per gallon. it will not be available at any price other than in the tiniest quantities. And we assume that by then, electricity will be a rare privilege.
- How do our lives change if we cannot use petroleum except by the spoonful? We stop traveling, of course, other than to places where we can travel by bicycle, on foot, or in a lightweight solar-powered vehicle. And that’s good, because by then governments would have long since stopped maintaining roads. Roads would become impossibly potholed and bumpy, with weeds encroaching everywhere. And those foolhardy enough to travel on them would do so only in caravans so they would have some defense against highwaymen (how’s that for a return to the good old days?).
- We are designing the buildings on our farm so they will need no fuel other than wood for heating and cooling. And yes, we hope we’ll be able to cop a few cups of petrol for the chain saw and the wood splitter. Those dependent on air conditioning or heat from fossil fuels would just learn to live by the seasons. It would be hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
- We expect to grow our own food, so we would not starve; but there would be no more fresh seafood other than fish from the pond, and probably a lot less animal flesh of any kind. We would need to save seed carefully from year to year and be diligent about returning all organic matter (including our own body waste) to the soil to conserve minerals.
- We don’t think the Internet would survive, at least not the portion of it we call the world wide web. Perhaps we would retain the ability to send and receive messages electronically, but the electrical grid would be too unreliable, and service too intermittent, to support a 24/7 information infrastructure. That means we would all be more dependent on information written in books as well as on information we can exchange with our neighbors. And that means we would all have a greater incentive to do favors for our neighbors. We would all know that it may not be long before we’d need to ask them to return the favor.
- We hope some form of postal service would remain in operation. Without a postal service, nations would cease to have relevance.
- We would learn to maintain our tools lovingly and to rebuild and recondition them; nobody would be making new ones.
- Vacations? Only within bicycle or walking distance.
- International travel? A fairy tale Grandma tells the kids.
- Refrigeration? Put it in the creek for a day, or let it sit in the root cellar.
- Ice? A special treat we enjoy a couple of times a year, especially during cold weather.
- Diabetes and heart disease? Reduced dramatically.
- Retirement? What you do when you die or have children to care for you.
- Relationships? Better than ever, because we would all need each other to survive.