OPINION: Gas will rise, but it won’t all be so bad

Gasoline at $4 a gallon didn’t last long, thankfully. We’ve settled in around $2.50, and that short period of pump shock is a recent but fading memory.
If Christopher Steiner is right, it’s only a lull. High gas prices will come back – soon, and with a vengeance, he declares. Think $4 was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
His new book is “$20 Per Gallon.” After you’re hit with that, consider the subtitle: “How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better.”
How our lives could possibly be better with gas costing eight times what it does today is an excellent question. But Steiner, a writer for Forbes magazine, cites data that strongly suggests the diminishing supply of oil – even if we drill, baby, drill – will force prices steadily up in the coming years, and that we’d better get ready for it.
How fast will it happen? We could see $6 a gallon within a couple of years, he predicts. We’ll almost surely be at $10 within 10 years. The upward trajectory will continue unabated.
The only reason prices took a temporary dive late in 2008 and this year was the worldwide economic collapse, which sent demand plummeting, Steiner writes. The global economy will recover, and the insatiable demand for oil in the emerging economies of China, India and elsewhere will resume, sending prices skyward in a post-peak oil era.
This will change every facet of our lives, Steiner contends, since our entire economy – not just our vehicles – runs on oil.
Most airlines will go out of business and air travel will once again be the province of the elite. Trains will make a comeback. The era of the big box stores will end. We’ll buy less from China and start making things in America again. We’ll drive much smaller cars many fewer miles, and eventually they’ll all be electric. Suburban sprawl will be a thing of the past and small towns and city centers will be revived. Small farms and local food economies will re-emerge.
Our homes will be smaller and much more energy efficient. Family bonds will strengthen because mobility will be impaired and families won’t scatter as much. Where we work, what we do for a living, where we go to college, how and where we shop – nothing in our lives will be unaffected.
Our lives will be better, Steiner believes, for some of the reasons mentioned above. But if he’s right, it won’t be before a sustained, convulsive economic shock that will make what we’re going through right now look like a mere bump in the road.
Steiner’s sweeping predictions and the certainty with which he makes them need to be taken for what they are – informed and intentionally provocative speculation. But regardless of whether he’s right about the extent, he’s likely correct in the basic assumption: The era of cheap oil is coming to an end, and we’ll pay a lot more at the pump in the coming years.
That means businesses and communities that plan for such a future will be those most likely to survive and thrive. UPS, for example, is already experimenting with a small fleet of electric delivery vehicles. Forward-looking airlines are investing in new engineering and construction materials to cut weight off planes and increase fuel efficiency. Communities are reinvesting in their inner core.
Think about that last one, especially relating to what’s happening, slowly but surely, in Tupelo. New investment in Fairpark. Reinvestment in historic neighborhoods like Mill Village and others in the downtown area. Recovery of old ways like walking and bicycling. More locally owned retail shops downtown and nearby. An increase in small parks and green spaces. An increasingly popular Farmers’ Market. Talk of public transportation, for heaven’s sake. All of this supported by the city’s new master plan.
These aren’t exercises in watery-eyed nostalgia or dreamy-eyed boondoggling. They’re bits and pieces of what the future will look like as we confront the energy and economic realities of the coming decades.
One more thing: There’s that big plant on Highway 78, waiting for occupancy. The dip in gas prices hurt demand for the Prius. Before long, if Steiner’s right, people will be clamoring for the Prius again. Good news for us.
Smart people will figure out how to make money and improve lives in the new reality. And maybe, as Christopher Steiner suggests, our lives will actually be better with gas prices out of sight – hard as that is to imagine today.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.

Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

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