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$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better Paperback – Bargain Price, July 16, 2010
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Imagine an everyday world in which the price of gasoline (and oil) continues to go up, and up, and up. Think about the immediate impact that would have on our lives. Of course, everybody already knows how about gasoline has affected our driving habits. People can't wait to junk their gas-guzzling SUVs for a new Prius. But there are more, not-so-obvious changes on the horizon that Chris Steiner tracks brilliantly in this provocative work. Consider the following societal changes: people who own homes in far-off suburbs will soon realize that there's no longer any market for their houses (reason: nobody wants to live too far away because it's too expensive to commute to work). Telecommuting will begin to expand rapidly. Trains will become the mode of national transportation (as it used to be) as the price of flying becomes prohibitive. Families will begin to migrate southward as the price of heating northern homes in the winter is too pricey. Cheap everyday items that are comprised of plastic will go away because of the rising price to produce them (plastic is derived from oil). And this is just the beginning of a huge and overwhelming domino effect that our way of life will undergo in the years to come. Steiner, an engineer by training before turning to journalism, sees how this simple but constant rise in oil and gas prices will totally re-structure our lifestyle. But what may be surprising to readers is that all of these changes may not be negative--but actually will usher in some new and very promising aspects of our society. Steiner will probe how the liberation of technology and innovation, triggered by climbing gas prices, will change our lives. The book may start as an alarmist's exercise.... but don't be misled. The future will be exhilarating.
Q&A with Christoper Steiner, the author of $20 per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better
Steiner, an engineer-turn-journalist, explains how the simple but constant rise in oil and gas prices will change our lifestyle, but not necessarily for the worse. Read this Q&A to find out more about this revolutionary theory.
Gas prices are going up again this summer, but are you really suggesting prices might rise to $20 a gallon?
That figure lies far ahead in the future; it's hardly an imminent thing. But most people don't require much convincing to know that $2 gas isn't sustainable for the long term. Oil is a finite resource that the whole world demands--a world that grows more gasoline consumers every day. It's important to understand that this book isn't about oil statistics, it's about our lives and the ways in which we live will change.What do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?
Readers should gain an appreciation for the kind of change that lies behind the growing price of gas. Weaning ourselves from gasoline isn't a scary thing, it's an exciting thing. We're talking about cleaner environments, more walkable lives, better public transportation and more vibrant cities.What are some of the surprising ways you think rising gas prices will change our everyday lives?
I don't think people realize how close our airline industry is to an all-out collapse. The book details a massive airline extinction at $8 per gallon, and in fact, serious change could take place even before then. It's certainly not something that should be celebrated, but the collapse of that industry will open the door to new ones, such as widespread high-speed trains in America, a phenomenon that won't take serious root until plane tickets become luxuries rather than conveniences. Beyond the airlines, I think people might be surprised to think that their future may not include Wal-Mart, and that their food world may condense, ruling out things such as sushi, but introducing things such as local organic fruit, vegetables and meat.Is this pure speculation and fantasy or what kind of research did you do?
I consulted experts in a bevy of industries throughout the whole book, so this is not a random exercise, far from it. That said, it can be hard to forecast exactly at what gas price each change will happen. There are many unforeseen factors that can accelerate or forestall a certain change, such as government involvement in building high-speed train networks. If the government funds trains aggressively, change will be effected quicker, obviously. But I do feel that all of the changes represented in the book will happen eventually, whether they take place at gas prices of $10 per gallon or $12 per gallon.So how scared should we be of the changes to come?
There is little to be scared of. The rising price of gas will unlock countless doors to innovation, opportunity and change.Why does your book's subtitle say rising gas prices will change our lives "for the better"? How so?
We've grown used to engorging ourselves on the back of cheap oil and it has lead to all manners of problems. As the price of gas goes up, we'll live closer to work, school, eat healthier foods and even be skinnier and safer. The book profiles research that connects cheap oil to America's obesity rate and to the daunting numbers of people that die on our roadways. As the price of gas goes up to, say, $6, we'll save more than $30 billion on obesity-related diseases, 10,000 fewer people will die in car crashes and thousands of people will be spared heart attack deaths related to air pollution. Those kinds of effects will only be magnified as the price of gas rises further. And that's just a sampling of the benefits.In what ways will rising gas prices improve our economy and job market?
America has lost much of its manufacturing mojo during the last 20 years. A green revolution, fueled by a search for alternative energies and technologies, could change that. Not only will there be need to produce things such as solar panels, electric cars, and new city infrastructure, but the power of globalization will be blunted by higher gasoline prices. The advantages of, say, making a computer in China decrease as the cost of fuel increases and the cost of transporting things all over the earth rises-that will lead to manufacturing jobs returning here, to home soil.In what ways will the rising cost of gasoline boost innovation?
The innovation game is one that many people anticipate as oil's grip on the world ebbs. New technologies will be needed in all arenas that oil touches, including cars, trains, our homes, the plastic we use and the roads we drive on-and those are just a few examples. The opportunities for inventors in a world with less oil will be prolific.What kind of places did you visit for your research and why was it necessary to visit them?
Good books need good stories, and it's hard to tell a good story from just talking to people over the phone, so I got out there and did things. I worked on an electric UPS truck in Manhattan for a day; I spent some time on a fishing boat hauling in Asian carp; I descended into one of New York's new train tunnels currently under construction; I rode our nation's fastest train to meet the Amtrak CEO in Washington. I'm not anointing my book or my stories as good--that's up to the reader--but creating an enriching storyline within a nonfiction book was my goal, so I'm hopeful I did that.So now that we know this, what should we do in the here and now?
Preparing for the future isn't about buying the latest gadgets or the car with the best mileage. Those things help, of course, but they're mere pings in a coming cacophony. People who will do the least amount of adjusting in the future are those who already live more sustainable lives. Where you live largely determines how you live. Buying solar panels for a house at the far edge of the suburbs, for instance, won't alter how the future affects you. Moving to a walkable neighborhood where groceries, your kids' schools, your office or a train are all within several blocks-that's a change you'll profit from and a place where the future will be kinder.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. According to Steiner, senior staff reporter at Forbes magazine, surging fuel prices will transform Americans' daily lives almost beyond recognition. With traditional energy sources disappearing and global demand soaring, the U.S. will confront gas prices rocketing to $6, $8, $14 and beyond—prices that will compel sweeping changes in everything from urban planning to food production. He reveals the consequences of each incremental hike in gas prices: at $8 per gallon, air travel will essentially vanish; at $14 a gallon, Wal-Mart stores will become empty “ghost boxes”; when gas hits $16 a gallon, sushi will become an extravagance only for the extremely wealthy. While many changes will come at tremendous social and economic cost, Steiner envisions a better future, where human ingenuity will spur greater efficiency and less waste. Although it's unlikely all the author's predictions will come true—he goes so far as to forecast the order in which airlines will go out of business—the surprising snapshots of the future (where rising gas prices might revitalize Detroit) make for vivid and compelling reading. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It's a good news, bad news story. For instance, at $8 per gallon the cost of fuel causes big airlines to start going out of business, leaving only perennial favorites Southwest and Jet Blue as major carriers. The good news is that high-speed electric trains become the main mode for long distance travel, linking major cities throughout the country. And as a side bonus, few people fly making parking at airports easier.
Then at around $12 per gallon people can't afford to commute long distances any more and distant suburbs become ghost towns. But in the cities they move to, new zoning and building codes are passed making the cities more vibrant. Neighborhoods are revitalized as big box stores like Home Depot disappear, replaced by local stores, corner bakeries and butcher shops.
By $20 a gallon, our lives will have changed for the better. Fewer miles are driven, but pounds melt off our bodies as we walk and bicycle more. There is less air pollution and skies become clearer. The decline in global competition allows US manufacturing to experience a renaissance, creating more jobs and higher tax revenues. Given high transportation costs, the globalized seafood market shrinks dramatically, allowing fisheries to heal and renew.
At this point, society has adjusted to a post-fossil fuel world and the price of gas has become a non-issue - hardly anyone is buying it. The book thus presents an exciting and reassuring picture of our future. In Steiner's analysis, serious problems will be met with new technology and wise governmental decision-making. We will live differently but we will live well. This sounds great and I think that some of Steiner's world will and should come true.
However, the analysis has some shortcomings. First, a rise in the price of gasoline may not be so inevitable, given that the cost of fuel is self-regulating. As the price of gas goes up, we buy less causing prices to decline and re-stabilize. In fact, some experts assert that if the price of gas goes up much from its current level, perhaps around $6 per gallon, the economy could collapse. So projecting $20 per gallon may be unrealistic; but that's primarily a technical point.
Second, life is much more difficult to predict than just looking at the price of gasoline. Other factors such as exploding world population, climate change and a highly unstable global economy will also have their effects. Gas prices will be just one of many issues to deal with. For example, Steiner predicts that mass transit will increase. But a coastal city can't build a subway system if the city is underwater from rising sea levels. In fact, the city may no longer exist.
Third, the book is overly optimistic about the ability of technology to provide substitutes for oil. The Post Carbon Institute claims that there is no known technological fix for diminishing oil supplies and we will eventually need to operate with perhaps 10-20% of our current level of energy consumption. Rather than alternative energy sources saving the day, "powering down" is much more likely to be in our future.
In spite of these shortcomings, the book has an important underlying message: we can still be OK if we run out of accessible oil. But will our lives actually change for the better? That depends. If we rely on politicians to respond rapidly and make rational decisions, we may have a long wait a-coming. Congress can't even tie its own shoestrings, let alone take the bold and timely action necessary to deal with issues like peak oil and global warming.
No, the path to a better world will not come from the top down. It will come from the bottom up as we, the citizens, take the initiative to build stronger communities and demand necessary action from politicians. Over 300 transition towns around the world are attempting to do the former, including Transition West Marin, Sustainable Fairfax, Transition Sebastopol and others here in the North Bay.
In terms of demanding action, the ball's in our court. We need to elect politicians who have the vision, wisdom and guts to move us in a better direction. Steiner is right that our lives will change. Let's work together to make it a change for the better.
One thing for sure that would happen is that the price of beef would sky-rocket. Here's why: All the corn and grain currently fed to cows would be turned instead into ethanol fuel. Fewer cows, less beef and dairy, and very expensive beef (and milk, and ice cream), and also probably very expensive chicken as well, because most of their feed is corn-based. So, vegans should rejoice at expensive gasoline, which will do what no amount of PETA commercials or anti-meat propaganda could possibly do, which is end meat-eating as we know it. (Sure, the wealthy will always be able to afford meat, the way they can afford yachts and the rest of us cannot.)
Personally, I think gasoline is seriously under-valued in this country. The 18-cent per gallon gas tax is ridiculously low, it hasn't changed at all since gasoline was $1 per gallon. Why the tax wasn't pegged as a percent of the cost of gasoline is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps if the federal government instituted a 25 percent gas tax, and spent the money on building great public transit and "super trains", then the future shock that will undoubtedly occur will not be as disruptive. Unfortunately, most cultures, and certainly the American culture is much more reactive than pro-active. We are in for a bumpy ride.
Most recent customer reviews
The book's premise doesn't fit 2015 gas prices. The research is not compatible with current times.