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Thread: How close are we to the tipping point?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    How close are we to the tipping point?


    As gas prices edge closer to $3 per gallon again, American motorists are dealing with high transportation costs, as well as rising prices generally -- since virtually everything we need gets to us by motor transport or involves petroleum somewhere along the way.

    The question is, how close are we to the "tipping point" -- the point at which large numbers of people (especially middle class people) can't afford to keep up with ever-escalating fuel prices? It's one thing to grumble about having to pay an extra $10-$15 more per tank; quite another when you literally can't afford to keep on doing so.

    When that point is reached, there could be profound repercussions throughout our economic and social system. Much of the current American way of life may be at a crossroads.

    Consider just two inter-related aspects of that life -- far-flung suburbs and the SUV boom.

    Americans love both -- understandably. Suburban developments open home ownership to people priced out of close-in (to the city) housing -- as well as perceived safety (relative to blighted cities), better schools for their children and so on. SUVs, meanwhile, have become the modern equivalent of what large station wagons were to families in the 1960s and '70s. They're large, versatile -- and like a home in the 'burbs, viewed (rightly or wrongly) as being safe. The two have boomed together, especially during the past 10-15 years -- largely because of relatively cheap gas, which made both a long commute and driving a large, fuel-hungry vehicle feasible for average middle class Americans.

    But both may share a common -- and sudden -- demise.

    As bad as it is to sit in gridlocked traffic for an hour or more each way to get from one's suburban home to one's place of work, the trip becomes increasingly untenable as gas prices slide past $3 -- especially if the trip involves a 15 mpg SUV. The savings achieved by purchasing a home in the 'burbs begin to disappear as weekly fill-up costs surge upward to $50-$75 or more. Many suburban families take in just enough money to afford their lifestyle -- with little left to save or shift to cover unanticipated expenses.

    Eventually, something's got to give.

    SUV sales are already slowing -- in particular, sales of the biggest, least fuel-efficient models. Owning a Hummer is once again becoming mostly an indulgence of the rich -- not middle class suburbanites who want to play at being Arnold.

    In fact, recent sales data suggests the large SUV may be on the verge of a wholesale extinction. Those who can remember the early-mid '70s will recall just how suddenly Detroit's once-prolific sheetmetal dreadnoughts disappeared in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo and gas shortages. Those shortages and price spikes were qualitatively different, however. They were the result of supply manipulations -- not diminishing supply.

    This time, the shortages could be permanent. Many geologists believe the world supply of easily/economically recoverable oil has hit "peak" (or soon will) and that -- along with exponentially growing demand -- will mean a future of ever-higher fuel costs, price spikes and shortages.

    At $5 per gallon, suburban life -- and all that goes with it -- could become unsupportable. Everything's intertwined -- from at-the-pump prices to the cost of groceries to the cost of home heating oil. Synergies are at work -- and the pincers are being felt by more and more Americans.

    We won't know what the actual tipping point is until we reach it. But it's out there, someplace. And we're headed toward it at a frightening clip -- "frightening," because we seem so oblivious to it and have done so little to prepare for what could be wrenching changes in our lives.

    One bad hurricane, a major war in the Middle East. It won't take much. We are incredibly vulnerable.

    And almost totally unprepared.

    END


  2. #2
    ColleenC1
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    We are teetering on the top. It takes a long time to work one's way uphill but the slide down is very quick!

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Quote Originally Posted by ColleenC1
    We are teetering on the top. It takes a long time to work one's way uphill but the slide down is very quick!
    I think so, too.

    I'd be surprised (pleasantly) if the near-term future doesn't involve serious problems on the energy front...

  4. #4
    ColleenC1
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    I guess I wasn't really paying attention, but when I did tune in to realize that a barrel of gas was over $65.00 a barrel, I kind of think that (at least here in America) we are being played with (psychologically) they raise it, then lower it, then raise it, then lower it, then raise it and keep it high.

    It is a method to get people to accept the condition that they are in. Called negative and positive re-inforcers paired together. Or like Pavlov's dogs keep shocking them everytime they try to get out and eventually the door can be left open and the dogs never even try to get out, they have been "conditioned"

    All this is great intellect, but when one is placed in the situation, one doesn't even realize it is taking place

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Quote Originally Posted by ColleenC1
    I guess I wasn't really paying attention, but when I did tune in to realize that a barrel of gas was over $65.00 a barrel, I kind of think that (at least here in America) we are being played with (psychologically) they raise it, then lower it, then raise it, then lower it, then raise it and keep it high.

    It is a method to get people to accept the condition that they are in. Called negative and positive re-inforcers paired together. Or like Pavlov's dogs keep shocking them everytime they try to get out and eventually the door can be left open and the dogs never even try to get out, they have been "conditioned"

    All this is great intellect, but when one is placed in the situation, one doesn't even realize it is taking place
    No question some of the volatility in price is the result of thng other than supply. But it's m y understanding no major new oild fields have been discovered in years; nothing, at any rate, that would keep pace with current and anticipated demand....

  6. #6
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Perhaps some businesses could move out to the suburbs where their employees are?

  7. #7
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    We have done nothing to prepare for this. No one remembers the energy crunch of 1974. It is interesting that we actually reacted to skyrocketing prices and lack of fuel availibliity by purchasing smaller vehicles for a while. It wasn't until 1989-90 when the SUV boom began in earnest.

    Fast forward to today, in light of diminishing oil supplies, in the name of clean air, we are burning anywhere from 2-5 percent more fuel than we otherwise would if we didn't have the RFG standards in place, which is limiting our refinery outuput and also causing our cars to burn more gasoline. Our clean air standards, being so strict, are preventing automakers from putting diesel engines in our cars. If 50 percent of our cars had diesels as they do in Europe, we would be burning something like 15 percent less gas annually. Diesel would be the cheap, quick fix for this country without having to immediately and drastically change lifestyles Shame on the automakers and the government for not bringing them here.


    The government could make some investments in rail freight as well to alleviate the burden of trucks traveling down highways.

    The problem is, no one is willing to do thing.

    Fortunately for me, I can get a long way pretty quickly on a bike, so I'm not too worried.

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Amen on diesels; it's an outrage... .

    And like you, I took steps to limit my exposure, so to speak - because I do believe the feces are going to hit the fan, probably within 3-5 years at the most.

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    Perhaps some businesses could move out to the suburbs where their employees are?
    Sure, but hard to make that kind of turn on a dime.. or even a dollar bill!

  10. #10
    ColleenC1
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    because I do believe the feces are going to hit the fan, probably within 3-5 years at the most.

    I heard the predictions are this summer

  11. #11
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat
    We have done nothing to prepare for this. No one remembers the energy crunch of 1974.
    NZ had carless days, In South Africa, there were no fuel sales from 5PM Friday until Monday morning

    I remember it!
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  12. #12
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: How close are we to the tipping point?

    Quote Originally Posted by ColleenC1
    because I do believe the feces are going to hit the fan, probably within 3-5 years at the most.

    I heard the predictions are this summer
    Possible - especially if The Chimp pushes us into a war with Iran to shut up the growing chorus of critics (and shut down the various inquiries) while he brays about the country being "at war" and not to question the "commander in chief."

    Here's a bumper sticker I like:

    "January 2009: End of an Error"

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