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Page added on May 24, 2012

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Peak Oil’s Impact: Re-Visiting College Graduations

Consumption

On the heels of a recent article by Tim Worstall (which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post), expressing his confusion about the absence of any visible and immediate consequences of Peak Oil, and with the graduation season full upon us again, I thought it might be a good idea to provide a “for example” to perhaps enlighten those still befuddled by the concept.

A peak in the rate of convention crude oil production—with insufficient/inferior more-expensive-to-extract substitutes serving as the current Plan B—means that all of us who depend on crude oil in some manner (which would be … ah, just about everyone) are in for some changes. What we do, what we can do, what we can afford, what is available, and what we rely upon in years to come are going to provide clear evidence to even the most confused among us that our unthinking reliance on the primary energy source which enabled growth, progress, and prosperity in the past 150+ years is no longer an automatic option.

So with a few minor editorial changes, I’m re-posting last year’s brief discussion of Peak Oil and just a few related thoughts about its impact on college searches and graduations.

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I am now the very proud father of a college graduate (a wonderful young woman who completed her four-year curriculum in only three years—impressive!—and has now returned to the Boston area). I could not be more delighted or happier for her!

I flew to New Orleans to attend her graduation, and stayed there for five nights (had to help pack the van in which she and her friend were traveling back home). My wife, her son and a friend of his flew down separately, and stayed in New Orleans for three nights.

No great surprise, but my daughter was not the only graduate. While I do not have the exact statistics, I believe the overwhelming majority of the approximately 2300 graduates came from someplace other than the immediate New Orleans area. That’s lot of graduates now driving/flying someplace else, and a lot of family members who attended the graduation after having flown in/driven from some other location. In what may be a stunning revelation, that was not the only year a graduation was held at Tulane University … shocking I know!

Even more shocking, this happened several times not just in New Orleans. Rumors abound that graduations were also held in Boston, New York, and possibly someplace in California, with more expected.

Putting aside the affordability of college for many if our economic path does not change soon, how are families going to deal with the impact of Peak Oil on just the most basic travel options for significant family events such as this?

What kind of choices will families and students be forced to make in the years to come when travel expenses to and from colleges become prohibitively expensive for many if not most of them because the ready, affordable supply of gasoline and/or jet fuel is no longer so ready or affordable? The college visit experience most engage in during senior year of high school has become an industry unto itself, and travel expenses for that aspect of college planning are not insignificant. Our trip to New Orleans was the only college visit we made via airplane, but there was also no small amount of driving involved as my daughter and I checked out a number of colleges here in the New England area.

When gas was $2 and change it was a barely noticeable expense. But at the then-current $4.29 per gallon (which was $3.99 six weeks prior), families are going to start taking note. Restaurants and hotels and assorted other merchants and service providers who derive no small amount of revenue from these travels by countless hundreds of thousands of prospective college students and their families will suffer in the process.

I traveled to New Orleans nearly a dozen times in the three years that my daughter attended Tulane. My wife joined me on three of those trips, and my daughter traveled home on multiple occasions as well.

Each of those trips required some combination of air fare and hotels and rental cars and cab fare and parking fees and gas expenditures and/or use of our own vehicles getting to and from airports….We’re fortunate in that our other daughter attends school in New York City, making Amtrak an enjoyable option, but how many families can or will be able to rely on mass transit for these types of travels? The complete failure of too many of our leaders to recognize the need for more investment in mass transit will prove a damning regret in years to come.

My daughter attended Tulane in part because it was one of the few that offered the major she sought (and a substantial scholarship to boot). What if traveling that far had not been an option? Or if it had been, what kind of dynamics would have been involved if she had moved down there, and we didn’t see each other for nearly 3 years because travel expenses had become prohibitively expensive for us (not that it wasn’t a drain on my finances to begin with)?

What kind of lifestyle changes would this young college student have had to make, knowing that she was essentially on her own for three or four years without the intangibles of family contact? (As it is, a week after she moved to New Orleans for the first time, hurricane warnings forced an evacuation of all area colleges, and she was on a plane back home about 8 days after she and I had said good-bye!) What happens in these or similar conditions when plane fare is out of the question for most? Buying airline tickets last minute is not exactly an inexpensive proposition! And what kind of options have to be put into place when vehicular travel is not feasible, and there is no mass transit available?

“Our friend of past online debates, Randall O’Toole, is a champion of both the auto-based transportation system and mobility in general. His argument is essential that there is a correlation between mobility and prosperity, that the more mobile a society is, the more at liberty people are to follow endeavors that enhance life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Greater mobility increases job opportunities, shopping selection, service competitiveness, school choices and even the gene pool people have a chance to select from when seeking a mate. There is no question that, in a broad sense, he is correct.” [1]

Greater mobility has been a wonderful option for many years for countless millions of us. What happens in the years to come when it’s not?

Peak Oil Matters



3 Comments on "Peak Oil’s Impact: Re-Visiting College Graduations"

  1. BillT on Thu, 24th May 2012 12:08 pm 

    You go back to the days before it was common. Maybe the 1940s. Not a problem. Billions lived quite well then. So will you, after the pain wears off. You will see that not having to work one day out of 5 for your car will be liberating.

  2. DC on Thu, 24th May 2012 3:59 pm 

    In the US of Oil, it is still possible for someone from NY or Bsoton w/e, to attend a school, that teaches what..liberal arts? african-amerikan studies, that is thousands of miles away. How much longer is it going to be viable to keep shuttling ‘students’ around the country this way? Its like a mega scaled up version of the Us suburb, where people drive 60 miles a day to pointless jobs.

    What I find even more suprising, is that a place like Boston, or other mega cities on the east coast, cant provide quality rounded educations in the local area. Why? Boston is not a small city, and its surrounded by other equally large cites. But nope, gota head to Soggy New Orleans of all places…what a friggen joke.

    In the future the 1% will be able to jet there children to the few showcase post-sec institutions that remain. Everyone else will be ‘educated’ via screen(if there lucky) on how to be good button pushers and consumers of low-grade factory goods made…somewhere. And youll be educated in the comfort of your own home, you wont be partying like its 1999 in Fla or New Orleans(both will likely be fully submerged again by that time anyhow)

  3. Stephen on Thu, 24th May 2012 6:04 pm 

    It is possible parents will send their kids to universities closer to home and that people who come from far away will end up taking trains as opposed to flying. Yes it is still possible to get from LA to New York with one train change in either Chicago or New Orleans. I think we need to re-activate train stops in all the towns that still have the station / active tracks in place and work to see which inactive / abandoned tracks can be refurbished and where new tracks can be constructed so that each town has a rail stop again. If you look, http://www.abandonedrails.com shows just how we had this in the 1930s and earlier and how many of those train routes have been abandoned or converted to freight only usage in the last 60 years.

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