Friday, September 16, 2005

Carless And Carefree?

The Chicago Tribune has a story today about people who live without cars. It isn't that difficult to do in this city--I lived without a car for 3-1/2 years until I moved in with my wife who already owned one. If she didn't work late hours and we didn't have pets, we could probably live without it. Oddly enough, I grew up in the car-crazy western suburbs and she grew up in the city, but she is the one who wants to drive everywhere. I just don't think it's worth the hassle or the expense, and walking is so much healthier (city air pollution aside).

Anyway, this article presents a few examples of people living without automobiles. Unfortunately, the reporter loses credibility in the second and third paragraphs:

They are the carless people of Chicago, the folks who don't own a car either because they don't want one or they can't afford one. Either way, they are relatively immune to rising gas prices because, for the most part, they don't buy gas.

Having a chunk of the population car-free is good for Chicago's economy, economists say, because it means those people won't have to cut back on the rest of their spending to account for the bigger bite taken by gasoline.

Not owning a car does not mean a person is immune to rising gas prices, and an economist with even half a brain would have to agree. The problem is that everything is affected by rising gas prices. Every product on every shelf gets transported using gasoline and/or diesel fuel. Consequently, rising fuel prices will impact the price of everything one buys. Even people who don't buy gas are going to pay plenty more for everything else. I am shocked that the reporter would disregard that fact. And while higher gas prices won't take an obvious slice out of a non-driver's pie, it will leave that person with a smaller pie--getting fewer goods for the same amount of money. To put it another way, more expensive gas and diesel will take a "bigger bite" out of every slice before it gets to the consumer's mouth. No economist is quoted in the story, so I am inclined to believe the reporter simply made this up without thinking it through logically.

This is why I am concerned about dwindling resources and "peak oil," the point in time when we have used more oil than we have left, which will essentially be the "beginning of the end" of transportation as we know it. Unless the automakers, truck manufacturers, airplane builders, and train locomotive producers are holding back some wondrous alternative until we run out of oil (a popular but doubtful conspiracy theory), we are in for a world of hurt. How will we eat? It doesn't matter whether I walk, bike, or drive to the grocery store if the shelves are going to be empty when I get there. Living without a car is a great way to simplify one's life, improve the environment, and get exercise, but it absolutely offers no protection from increases in fuel costs.

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