That how far I drove this week between filling my car with gasoline Monday morning and dropping my son at school Wednesday morning. Why is that significant? For many reasons: cost, time, and luxury to name a few.
First, the cost. My car achieves approximately 16 miles per gallon and gasoline is currently selling at $1.99/gallon. For arguments sake we can agree I used about 20 gallons of gasoline or spent just $40 to go 298 miles. In that 298 miles I took kids to school in the morning, picked up kids in the afternoon and drove myself to Orlando two nights. Looking at a map, 298 miles would take me south to Key Largo or North to Macon Georgia. By comparison, Greyhound would charge $65 for the trip to Key Largo and the scheduled time is 11 hours 50 minutes. With passengers in my car there is no way another alternative competes with my personal vehicle regarding cost.
Right now we are enjoying cheap oil again, prices are less than $50/barrel and gasoline has fallen to its lowest price in since President Obama took office in 2009. However, there is no way this low oil price can continue. Most people do not understand Peak Oil, or laugh it off as a doom and gloom theory. However, the “Peak” in the U.S. occurred in 1972. Peak oil theory is not about there being no oil as there will always be oil Instead, Peak is about the marginal cost to extract each subsequent barrel of oil costing more than the prior barrel. Think of this like working out and having to do pull ups. The first one is easy and takes no effort, the second is harder, followed by the third, fourth, etc. Some people can do ten or twelve pull-ups but the amount of effort to do so is immense. Getting oil out of the ground is the same.
The movie, “There Will be Blood” illustrates this well. Over 130 years ago oil pooled upon the top soil in Pennsylvania. It was easy to retrieve, take a bucket and scoop it up. By the 1920s it was necessary to dig a well, more expensive (harder like the 2nd and 3rd pullups) than the first barrel. In the 1980s discoveries of oil on the North Sea helped the U.K. recover economically but at great expense. Whereas in the late 19th century a farmer with no materials could fill a barrel of oil in a day with a shovel and a bucket by the end of the 20th century it took nearly a billion dollars to successfully drill a hole in the ground under thousands of feet of water.
My 298 miles was traveled quickly, far faster than in other locales or in days gone by. I estimate I spent about nine hours traveling 298 miles this week. If I lived in Manhattan the same 298 miles could have taken nearly 30 hours. Sixty years ago to travel 298 miles would have taken twelve to fifteen hours. Of course, by car just 100 years ago such a journey as unheard of. Currently I am reading James Howard Kunstler, “A History of the Future,” an excellent prose depicting a post economic collapse in the future. Twentieth century Americans find themselves living again like frontiersmen without electricity or automobiles. Thus, all channels of trade have collapsed and the horse and mule have again become the key method of transportation. In some instances river boats are used to transport goods on the Great Lakes.
We are spoiled to know we can jump in a car and be 298 miles down range in just six hours. The same trip, Daytona Beach to Key Largo or Macon, Georgia in the late 19th century would have taken two or three days, if not longer. I often contemplate a trip to my cabin, in North Georgia, via bicycle. I figure four to five days to travel the 500 miles, weather permitting of course. In my car, even the weather does not slow me down.
And of course, luxury comes into play. I drive a nice, air conditioned car with power windows, leather seats and connected to the world via an incredible stereo. Why would I choose to use public transportation and subject myself to uncomfortable influences from others? Of course, this personal luxury only works when fuel is inexpensive. But again, even as a child, our 1969 Ford Galaxy had vinyl seats, no air conditioning and a leaf-spring system unchanged from the days of the wagon that took men west in the 19th century. One hundred years ago my car would have been more luxurious than any coach manufacturer built at the time, and yet it is mass made.
Next week I may drive farther. 298 miles was nothing unique other than an observation and a moment to gain perspective that our lives are amazing in 2015 I thought I would have a flying car by now, but there is nothing wrong with cost effectively quickly, and luxuriously traveling 298 miles.