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Distant Rumbles. Ronald Lairchild (october 11th, 2005)

It wasn’t too long ago that the engines of CN Rail visited my hometown. I was born in the mid-seventies, and I can clearly remember running to the fence at the back of the schoolyard to watch the vast Diesel Engines rumble by, looking to see what had happened to the pennies my friends had placed on the tracks. When I walked home I always had to watch to see if the train was coming, and sure enough the tracks by my home had huge trains go by at odd hours, so it paid to be aware.

Photo Credit: Cafetrip.com
Gravenhurst Train Station

Eventually the tracks went silent. In the late 1980s companies like CN Rail
got rid of a lot of their unprofitable lines (see deregulation and
capitolzation(1), and tracks all over the county went to seed. As I grew I
didn’t really care; it was good to be able to stroll on the old tracks
without having to worry about being squashed. Eventually they ripped up the
rails and turned the whole mess into the Trans-Canada Trail. Many of the
small towns in southern Ontario (places like Tottenham, Gravenhurst, and
Kleinburg) have turned their now derelict and trackless train stations into
things like tearooms or heritage sites.

Years later when I bought a car I soon learned the hard way that those lines
could have been useful. In order to make a living I needed to do a two
hundred kilometre commute by car into the city every day. I ended up
spending a lot of money (along with the thousands of people that made the
trip with me every day) on gas, on repairs, and on insurance. Canada has a
reputation for being a really big place, and to reach all of its parts you
sometimes have to do a lot of driving.

Of course, this was all before the price of gas went up over $1.25 a litre
in September of 2005. By that time I had started to work from home, and I
was really glad that I had made the choice. When I was commuting to work and
the price of gas was $0.55 to $0.65 and I was paying roughly $40 a week to
get to and from work, which meant that the first hour I worked was going
right into the pump. At $1.25 a litre that meant that roughly the first two
hours at the office were going straight to the gas station, which is of
course is CRAZY. I sat down with a few co-workers at lunch and we figured
that if gas ever went to $5.00 a litre we would have to insist on getting
paid at the end of every day or else we wouldn’t be able to get home each
night.

Then of course I learned about something called “Peak Oil”. Also known as
the Hubbert Theory (2), this is defined as “concerns the long-term rate of
conventional oil (and other fossil fuel) extraction and depletion. It is
named after American geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who created a model of
known reserves, and proposed, in 1956, in a paper he presented at a meeting
of the American Petroleum Institute, that oil production in the continental
United States would peak between 1965 and 1970; and that world production
would peak in 2000”. After learning this it became obvious that if my car
stops working or I can’t put gas in it my employment will soon follow, which
is why I now work at home.

Bringing Peak Oil into the conversation brings me to the documentary The End
of Suburbia (3), which has become something of a keystone in the Peak Oil
conversation. The basic topic of this film is “Oil Depletion and the
Collapse of The American Dream”, and of course being Canadian I have no
“American Dream”, but the overall situation applies to all of North America.
The movie speaks of how the large car manufacuring companies bought up the
rail companies going in and out various areas and had them all dismantled so
that people would use cars. Bill Bryson, in his book “I’m A Stranger Here
Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away”(3), speaks of how
we have begun to do away with sidewalks all toghter as we assume everyone
will be driving. In my “neighbourhood” where there a lots of cookie-cutter
commercial parks sperated by miles of empty fields, sidewalks are out of the
question.

This leads me to ask “what will happen in my area if gas goes above $5.00?”
In the early 1990s when the “Me Generation” ran out of steam there we
hundreds of malls that went out of buisness and dozens of housing projects
were quickly abanoned. The “Grand Trunk” era of railroad building is over,
and to reconstruct all of those lost lines would be enormous. It’s enough to
make you go out and start stockpileing diesel.

The heart of the matter is that real change seems to be quickly arriving and
it will be the kind of change that affects our culture deeply. There also
seems to be this looming feeling that “we can’t go on eating like this
forever”. As if to answer, North America has become the only place in the
world where obesity is one of the leading health problems. How can we stop
gurgling gass when we can’t even stop eating outselves into coma? If Peak
Oil ever arrives (and the price of gas is rising at a faster rate every
year) we will all be stuck in our towns with no way to get out to make a
living.

By: Ronald Lairchild


References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CN_Rail#Deregulation_and_recapitalization
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_Oil
http://www.endofsuburbia.com/
http://www.randomhouse.com/features/billbryson/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel

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