Energy Outlook — It’s Ostrich Time

The Future of Oil – New York Times

This article has the cheerful prospect of the number of airplanes and cars doubling in the next 30 years — no doubt the buyers in China and India eager to catch up with the West in waste and consumption. Then the article asks — where is the oil going to come from to fuel all this demand?

This reminded me of my continuing frustration to use energy-efficient transportation in North America. At one time North America was criss-crossed with a network of rails that provided comfortable transportation for passengers at relatively low energy cost. The skeletons of this service litter the landscape — the great urban train stations, the tiny rural stations, the network of rails. This has all been pretty much abandoned — or if still in place forced to play second fiddle to freight. To visit my son in Thunder Bay we had to drive — just not possible to get from here to there by train anymore. Oh, the tracks are still there but the service is not. In fact, Via did not even want to talk about the issue at all — even though there were intermediate stops still in service that could have helped us (thanks to talking to some folks at his school).

So we could take an airplane from Toronto — a three hour drive to the west or just drive from here. We did the later. The idea of accepting the indignities of flying plus fuel consumption at a level similar to every passenger driving their SUV the same distance was just too depressing.

Passenger travel services have always been heavily subsidized by the governments. They have never paid their own way either here or in Europe — where there are still marvelous inter-urban trains that are a genuine pleasure to use. But in North America where the distances are huge, the subsidies that built and maintained the system have been stripped away and given to the airlines and road services. And passenger service is expected to pay its own way — when it runs at all.

Seems to me that governments have their head in the sand when it comes to providing the leadership and direction for the future. We can see that energy costs are going to continue to soar and yet all the work on transportation goes to subsidizing the least efficient means. How long will it take before it is recognized that what North America needs most is to resurrect passenger service? Heck — a train could probably pull its own nuclear reactor to make electricity rather than burning fossil fuel. Or we could deploy larger scale overhead wires to do the same. The point is that all this will take time and we should not wait untill the airlines are collapsing from fuel costs to start working. Airplanes will still be needed to bridge large distances over water or to remote locations. But for inter-urban travel, I’ll take the train.


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