Oh! It is time to run in circles and flap our hands! Gas is going up! Food will cost more! Who could ever have predicted this???
Here is one of the places where the division between structural analysis and the personal impact becomes glaring. It has become apparent to me over the last few years that I cannot actually afford to run a car. I certainly can’t afford to run two cars. And I really can’t afford to run a minivan which now costs $8 in gas alone every time we decide to go to town. Just to clarify the costs, gas is now (as of this morning) around $1.29 per litre, or about $4.87 per gallon. The van runs about 12 L per 100 km on average, but the starting, warming, and going up hills that we do around here takes a little more, so we basically go through 6 L every time we start her up (the round trip to town is about 30 km, so as soon as we do any scooting we’re up to 50 km by leaving the driveway). Then the two vehicles ran through about $4000 in repairs between December and February.
No. I cannot afford to keep doing this. We cannot afford to keep doing this. And by “we” I mean, “our entire culture,” not just my immediate family.
The price of gas is a shake up: we are not going to spend or subsidize our way out of peak oil, international conflict, and suburban sprawl (in which I am participating.) Even we in North America, even in the ostensible middle class, are going to have to spend a higher fraction of our budget on food. We will not be able to buy stuff, because we will need to feed ourselves. Our houses are too big; we will not be able to afford to keep them as warm/cool as we are used to. Our ability to isolate ourselves from the environment, and manipulate the world around us through the liberal application of fossil fuels is coming to a close. Probably. A miracle may occur. But we cannot bank our futures upon technologies that don’t yet exist. We must work sideways towards solutions, change our ways or perish. (I got that from a comedy routine(1), not a sign on a street corner.)
I look at my own situation, and the car problem in particular, and I come up with these possible solutions:
- Move to town. Give up chickens, gardens, greenhouse, land, swimming, canoeing, apartment, garage, writing studio, and dreams. Break my children’s hearts (and my own) to be more fiscally responsible in the short term. Abandon hope for sustainability, buy back into the rat race. Give up… Wait. That doesn’t sound like a solution. (Yes, I know about Urban Homesteading. To get within walking distance of the university would cost me the same amount as we can sell the current house for, and would result in a reduction of about 3.25 acres of land.)
- Strictly ration driving for “necessary” trips. Give up swimming lessons, meditation, tae kwon do, orchestra, drama, and social life. Resort to a utilitarian life and hope for redemption in the afterlife. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that I’m getting a reward at the end of all of this, so it doesn’t give me a lot to go on, other than a vague sense of moral superiority, which is just not enough to run a life on. I’m going to need more payoff than, “My life sucks, but at least I’m not fucking it up for everybody else.” Also, that’s not a solution that has much to sell it, and what I’m really looking for is scalability.
- Get rid of van. Give up cargo space and the ability to spontaneously take other people places. Still need to purchase a replacement, because otherwise we will be giving up everything in number 2 as well. Also requires us to take two vehicles if we want to take our entire family somewhere. Probably can get $7000 for it, which could be rolled over to “new” smaller vehicle. Would need to replace the functions of the van by renting truck from time to time. The van was supposed to be a temporary solution, to be disposed of when we no longer required 3 car seats. We’ve been down to two car seats for about 2 years, but now the kids are starting to get big. Just last week I had to put my oldest in the front seat for the first time, since he no longer fits between the two seats in the back of the Echo. Can a family of 6 get around with a Honda Civic and a Smart Car? (Three adults, three kids, one about to go through his first teenage growth spurt.)
- Get our friends to move closer so that we can still do everything in #2, or replace with equally fun activities. Ha ha ha. Rural village full of interesting, intelligent, and healthy people: good idea. Intentional community with people we already know? Pipe dream. But not one that I am alone in. Maybe it is the goal we secretly all yearn for. It is probably the solution for what ails us, culturally. Urban villages, probably, with walkability thrown in and a reinvention of The Commons. Transition towns for the Long Descent. (I haven’t read it. Have you?) But how to get there? How to get there? There’s the rub.It’s not going to work this way, one house at a time, one family (or two) at a time, with all of us tied to the places we happened upon. It certainly isn’t going to work with temporary jobs, no stability, and a constant threat of layoff hanging over our heads. We’re part way there, but of the four adults who live on our property, only one has been able to parlay his skills and knowledge into a paying full-time job. The rest of us patch things together, start micro-businesses which lose money (but only a couple of hundred dollars at a time), and pick up part-time teaching gigs when possible. We can’t save the world, or even ourselves, running scared.
Ah: here’s a bit of my own structural analysis. (Remember, structure does not imply intent or conspiracy.) It happens to have been beneficial for a large group of people/organizations to keep us “running scared,” making sure that we never feel like our “needs” are met. Keep up with those Jonses: if you let them get too far ahead, you will be so ostracized that your very survival will be on the line! This is a tremendously powerful message. We are tribe animals, we need belonging the same way that we need air and food, albeit on a slower scale. A solitary human being is actually in jeopardy, isolated from access to basic support systems for food and shelter. There is no such thing as true self-sufficiency, there is only interdependence.
But a truly functioning community of interdependence, working to meet its needs and trade the excess? One that includes a sense of personhood for its youngest and its eldest? One that values the life-supporting work that is traditionally done by women, and expects its men to contribute to the private sphere so that the women have enough space in their days and intellectual life to participate fully in the public sphere? There is a foundation from which we can start to rebuild a society that can deal with the price of gas… without flapping our hands and running in circles.
Too bad it doesn’t solve my immediate transportation problem.
1. Kevin and God. Radio Free Vestibule