But it's coming. When it hits, Peak Oil will turn our dream world into Nightmare on Elm Street. High pump prices will be the least of our troubles. Our food consumption depends heavily on our oil-dependent economy. How do you think we get those grapes from Chile? In addition to food, cheap oil is the driving force behind modern medicine, our water distribution and our high tech industry.
You might quibble about when, but it's coming. And we're not ready on any level - national, state or local.
In the Lehigh Valley, we are currently driving our 65 mph SUVs right over a cliff that will hurl us into worldwide depression. Local leaders refuse to face reality. The LVPC and Lehigh Valley Partnership clamor to widen Route 22, which will simply invite more driving. Instead of encouraging us to conserve fuel (and increase safety) by reducing our speed, limits are increased to 65 mph along Route 33. In the meantime, developers gobble up what little farmland is left, thanks to poor municipal planning in our fragmented municipalities. According to Lehigh County Redneck, traffic is so bad in Lower Macungie's "pedestrian community" that she must load her kids' bikes into a car and drive to a park if they want to ride.
It's coming, so what can we in the Lehigh Valley do? I'm no expert, but here's a few suggestions.
1. Elect leaders who recognize we have a problem, and are willing to do something about it. That's why I asked Dent and Dertinger to take a pledge against Big Oil money in their Congressional race. Northampton County Exec John Stoffa has proposed a world-class regional energy center that would explore needed alternative energy sources. Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham has spoken of the need for "smart growth". Stoffa, Cunningham, and Allentown Mayor Ed Powlowski have all stressed the importance of regionalization. State Rep. Rich Grucela has proposed educational impact fees in new subdivisions, and State Rep. Bob Freeman has long advocated light rail in the Lehigh Valley.
2. Stop building and widening all those damn roads. In addition to the LVPC and Lehigh Valley Partnership, Northampton County Council in 2001 adopted a $111 bond that, in part, finances infrastructure in the county's suburbs. It has refused to rescind this financing even after a developer changed his project from industrial development to a Walmart. But County Council had no problem rescinding a $1 million grant for park preservation in Allen Township. Brilliant!
3. Support the Coalition for Alternative Transportation, an educational charity, that works to improve mobility for everyone by improving walking, bicycling and transit conditions in the Lehigh Valley. Its funding has recently been cut by our local leaders. Brilliant!
4. Promote our downtowns. Our West End Neighborhood and Old Fairgrounds Blog demonstrate daily that Allentown is still very much a vibrant community.
5. Consider our mass transit. Most of us turn up our noses at the thought of riding a bus. Only 1% of the Lehigh Valley's population take advantage of LANTA. But for just $2, you can ride the bus all day. And on Red Ozone days, the bus is free.
6. Consider LVBO's light rail petition. When it rejected light rail, LVPC never considered Peak Oil. Pratima Agrawal, a light rail advocate, has offered the following argument: "If planned in conjunction with other non-driving methods (company carpool, bike, walking incentives, increased bus service), local light rail connection to our three major towns would not only reduce congestion, it would help revitalize our downtowns and serve as a draw for visitors. If connected to our suburbs with park-n-rides, it would not deprive anyone of the benefits and would raise property values."
These are only a few ideas. Like I said, I'm no expert. But I've read enough to be certain of this - it's coming. And we're not ready.