Blueberry Man and the No Fly Zone

| 12/7/2011 10:33:56 AM

Tags: air travel, the environment, peak oil, Cam Mather,

 By Cam Mather

My friend Steven Moore asked me to speak to several of his sustainability classes at Queen’s University last week. He asked for my “Thriving During Challenging Times” talk. When we were discussing what I should cover in my talk, he told me that his students were already aware of the converging challenges of peak oil, climate change, the economic collapse, crumbling infrastructure, an aging population, blah blah blah. Wow, fun class! Sign me up! I asked him if he provides Prozac for the students as they leave his classroom each week.

So I edited down my usual thriving workshop since I assumed that most of the students in these classes don’t own houses and so aren’t likely to put in a geothermal heating and cooling system, and woodstove for backup etc.

As I suspected, the students were kind of dazed and confused after my talk and in the morning class there weren’t a lot of questions or comments. When I suggested that the students avoid flying and own some precious metals and switch to a plant-based diet I expected to get a lot of push back. But there wasn’t too much. I guess they are old hands at this stuff.

I asked some questions to get a handle on where they’re coming from. I asked, “How many of you think you’re going to have a higher standard of living than your parents?” When I began asking this question to high school students in the wealthy suburbs of Toronto 20 years ago, most of the students raised their hands. Fewer of these university students indicated as much, so I think perhaps reality is setting in. When I asked how they would all be getting home for the upcoming holidays, about a third indicated that they will be taking a bus, a third will take a train, and the last third will be flying. So I asked “How many of you have been on a plane in the last year?” and just about all of them raised their hands.

I am not passing judgment. They are just functioning within the reality of the economic framework in which they live. Flying is cheap. Bizarrely cheap. So cheap that no airline seems to be able to make money over the long haul as the recent bankruptcy of American Airlines shows. It looks like they couldn’t handle the high costs of fuel, so they filed for Chapter 11. Heaven forbid they’d pass higher fuel costs on to their customers. That seems a foreign concept to them, not in their business model. But the writing is on the wall. Air travel is about to become the domain of the rich. A decade ago a barrel of oil cost $20. Today it’s $100. So it’s 5 times more expensive. And the more I learn about the potential for a steep drop off in the production of crude oil in the next few years, along with the increasing competition from developing economies for what’s left, air travel is about to change radically.

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