Sometimes, we need to look globally for solutions to local problems. And sometimes, we need to avoid looking to the past to help us create solutions for the future.
Consider transportation. Along with affordable housing, it is one of Santa Barbara's most divisive issues. On one side, proponents of highway-widening scream in frustration at the lack of progress. On the other, environmentalists tout alternate modes of transportation while non-commuting residents balk at paving over more of paradise. City and county officials, caught in the middle, want to study the issue further. But the underlying assumption everyone makes is that traffic will only get worse. Presumably because it always has; and because housing prices will continue to climb forcing more of the city's workers to become commuters.
But, what if that assumption is wrong? What if the number of cars on our roads actually goes down? Many experts including academics, activists, geologists and even former executives of the oil industry are making a strong case that we're either at or very close to the peak of oil production. While this doesn't mean that the supply of oil is exhausted, it does mean that the remaining oil will be harder to pump and that oil supplies will decline sharply in the face of ever-increasing demand. That we're at the peak is seemingly borne out by the inability of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries to increase production in spite of record-high prices of over $40/barrel.
What does this have to do with Santa Barbara? For one, U.S. GDP is closely tied to the availability of cheap oil. So, within a decade, a major recession is quite likely (and even likelier considering the cumulative impact of the $7 trillion-plus national debt and the strain on Social Security from the impending retirement of baby-boomers). And two, more obviously, with increasing gas prices, cars will get much more expensive to operate. Putting the two together, one can expect that the currently-inflated housing market will likely collapse at the same time that gas prices make commuting from Ventura and Lompoc unfeasible for most.
Of course, if we don't find a renewable source of energy to replace oil (and we're nowhere near doing that now), one can expect even more heartache for Santa Barbara (imagine, for instance, the loss of tourist revenue). Not to mention that we depend on oil for the basic necessities of life. A documentary called "The End of Suburbia (Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream)" which makes a powerful case for the looming peak oil crisis is playing at 6pm in Santa Barbara Public Library's Faulkner Gallery on Wednesday, September 22. It should be required viewing for all concerned residents and city and county officials. Let's not drive our city into the ditch because we never took our eyes off the rear-view mirror.