Tramps Like Us Were Born to Run … Or Not.

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

Jimmy Fallon opened the Emmy Awards on TV last month with the cast from Glee doing “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. It’s the definitive “road” song. The CBC (Canada’s answer to PBS and NPR but without all of the fundraising drives) is sponsoring a series of road songs, written by artists in every province about the road experience. There’s just something about the road. Heading out on the highway. It’s such a North American thing. You can “head out on the highway” on your motorcycle or “get your kicks on route 66” in your RV.

So many people raved about the book “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac that I decided to read it a few years ago. I know I’ll take flak saying this, but I thought it stunk. It was just this endless series of hitch hiking from one coast to the other, and drinking a lot and smoking a lot of dope when he got there. I obviously missed something, but the one thing I got was the freedom that cheap and abundant oil has provided a number of generations. Whether it was a car, a motorcycle, truck, RV, bus – you name it, we’ve been a mobile generation. When Michelle and I got married in 1983 we jumped in to our Toyota Tercel and spent the summer driving across Canada, and down the west coast to California. We camped and stayed with friends and family along the way and I think we lived for almost two months on $500. And that included gas!

The German military just recently leaked a document acknowledging peak oil and it’s impact.

The British government has tackled this recently as well.  

The U.K. Energy Minister had to hold a summit on peak oil when the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security released their report called “The Oil Crunch.” When a businessman like Richard Branson, who owns an airline (Virgin Air) among other oil dependent companies says we’ve got to start preparing for this, apparently governments will listen.

Funny too how it’s European governments that are the first to acknowledge the impact of peak oil. They are already much better prepared than North Americans. They tax fuel so heavily that consumers drive less, drive smaller cars, and have an excellent transit system. North America is car-dependent and transit-challenged. We also have this expectation of cheap transportation. When the airlines, which are all basically bankrupt, started charging extra for luggage and other services, consumers were outraged. How about this? If you think air travel is too expensive, stop flying! Stay home!

That’s a lot to ask of people today. Not only do we like to travel, cheap energy has allowed us to form relationships with people from all over the world. I presented a workshop on peak oil a few years ago and one of the couples in the class was particularly concerned about the impact of peak oil on travel. She was from Canada and he was Australia. They both loved their families and wanted to be close to them and so they were trying to decide where to live. They asked for my advice but I couldn’t help them. In the future, potentially the near future, air travel is going to get really expensive. Airlines will go out of business, as they were during the oil price peak of 2008, and the few that are left will cater to wealthy people. I watch romantic movies (my wife forces me) and I know you can’t stop love. The problem is if you have a bunch of people traveling all over the world falling in love with people from the other side of the globe, there’s going to be tears with peak oil. It’s inevitable.

Last year there almost 9 million cars sold in China. By 2015 that number will be up to 13 million new cars each year. It’s the same in India. Everyone on the planet wants the personal driving experience and I don’t blame them. The problem is, they’re just getting reaching an income level when they can afford cars at the same time that we are realizing that we’ve found all the easy oil, and what’s left is going to get more and more expensive. 

When I lived in the city I was restless. I lived for the canoe trips I took every summer. I would spend months preparing for them, right down to planning every meal. Now that I live in the woods surrounded by lakes I haven’t been in a canoe in years. I was at a get together with neighbors recently and they were all sharing their travel stories. I had to admit to them that I have no desire to go anywhere. Ever. I never want to get on a plane, or a train, or a boat. They thought this was bizarre. They raved about the new experiences, the adventure, and all I could think about was the intestinal parasites and cavity searches. But mostly I thought about how fortunate I am to have found “home.” A place in the woods I love. A place I never want to leave.

The other night I watched the movie “The Bourne Identity.”  I spent the night in Zurich and Paris. When I watched “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Namesake” I felt like I had spent two hours each time in India. Sure I really didn’t get to tour the Taj Mahal, but it was good enough for me. In fact, I prefer it to traveling.

I would love to see Manchu Pichu. I would love to stand in a 1,000-year-old castle in Europe. I’d love to walk on the Great Wall of China. But I have accepted that I never will, and I’m pretty comfortable with that.

I have my little piece of paradise that I heat sustainably with wood that I cut from my property. On the album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Floyd wrote;

“When I come home cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire”

And on a cold November day, when I come in from cutting firewood, I love to curl up by the fire, and pop a DVD into my solar-powered DVD player and let some film crew take to me exotic places. In my youth I might have been “born to run,” but as Bruce Springsteen sings;

“Someday girl I don’t know when
we’re gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go
and we’ll walk in the sun” 

Well, I’ve arrived there! I power my life with the sun. And now I’m gonna grab my guitar and write a song about it! It’ll be huge! Way bigger than anything Springsteen ever wrote!

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