Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Saturday, 16 April 2005


Jackie and I bicycled to Philo today. It was a 28 mile round trip.

This is downtown Philo. You can almost see Jackie over on the left, the figure in peach and neon yellow attending our bicycles. The rightmost building is the Philo Exchange Bank.

I lived in Philo for several years. It's a great little town.

We had lunch at the Philo Tavern (leftmost building in the picture) I don't think I've eaten there since I moved away. The food is just about the same, except that they seem to have switched from curly french fries to straight ones.

We wandered over to Philo library (new since I lived there), but they close at 1:00 on Saturdays.

People not from around here may be unaware of the fact that Philo is the center of the universe, but it is. Check out their water tower:

Closeup of Philo watertower

It was a similar route to our other long bike rides, just a little further. We went south along the bike trails to Savoy, then east almost to 130, then south and east on the county roads to Philo. We returned about the same way, except that we came back north on Race street to downtown Urbana and stopped at Strawberry Fields for sourdough bread and natural peanut butter before heading home through town along Clark street.

The local bluegrass band Green Mountain Grass was playing outside the store, so we hung around and listened to a bit of that as well. Quite a treat.

It had been too cold Thursday morning to ride to work, but nice enough by evening that Jackie and I went for a ride after I got home from work. Friday I rode to work even though it was still pretty chilly. Today, though, was wonderful--warm and sunny. Look at that clear blue sky.

I'm all psyched to start riding to work regularly. I hope the weather cooperates.

I don't normally bother linking to stuff that BoingBoing has already linked to, but Jim Kunstler's new book The Long Emergency and his related article in Rolling Stone magazine are a special case.

For one thing, I've read Kunstler's earlier books and mentioned them here before. I've also talked about the peak oil issue and talked about Kenneth Deffeyes book Hubbert's Peak before as well. So, it's a topic I've had an abiding interest in.

I've ordered a copy of Kunstler's book but it hasn't arrived yet, so the rest of this is based on having seen just the article so far. With just that information to go by, I think Kunstler has the general shape of things just about right.

I was particularly struck by his insight that one important transformation of the past twenty years--the destruction of regional and local warehousing--is predicated on cheap, reliable oil.

When I was a kid, car repair places had to have a big stockpile of spare parts. If your car needed some part they didn't have, it might take days or weeks to get it. Nowadays, car repair places don't seem to have any spare parts except ordinary consumables like wiper blades. If your car needs a new alternator or starter or muffler, they just order the part for overnight or two-day delivery. That only works because fuel is so cheap. It is literally cheaper to fly parts across the country than it is for a regional distributor to tie up land and capital storing parts locally. That's going to change, and the change is going to destroy businesses like Walmart that are built on the huge cost savings of forcing their suppliers to do their own regional distribution.

So, I think Kunstler is right about the medium term. Having said that, I think he's overly pessimistic about the short term. There's a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of energy conservation and technological fixes for higher fuel efficiency in the US. As soon as gas prices move up another dollar or two, people will start to conserve both by behavior changes and by paying up for more efficient cars and appliances. Whenever conservation and technological fixes come together to bring demand back below the peak oil curve, the price will plummet. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see oil back down to $30 a couple of times over the next decade.

But no foreseeable technological fix is going to let us preserve our current lifestyle on the quantities of oil that are going to be available over the next fifty years or so. If there's something you really want to do that takes cheap oil and a dollar that's worth something, I suggest you go ahead and do it now. Although obviously last year would have been much better, it's not too late. If there's some easy way you see to take some of the remaining relatively cheap oil and turn into some durable object--an energy-efficient house, a set of really good tools, a good bicycle--go ahead and do that while it's cheap.

And, just to bring things back full-circle, here's my bike on the road home from Philo:

[My bike]

Six days ago we covered much of the same ground on our long ride. The farmers had just started plowing the fields. By today, they were nearly done.

A great day for a ride.


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