Coping with Gas at $100 a Gallon

I am fond of thought experiments. I like to ask “What If?” This can help me frame a problem. For instance, if I wonder how much land it would take to generate enough electricity to supply the U.S., that’s a thought experiment. But it is one that may tell me whether the idea is daft from conception, or whether there is a nugget of hope embedded within.

Lately I have been thinking of another thought experiment. What would I, personally, do if gasoline was $100 a gallon? Now that may seem silly. Nobody thinks we are going to have to deal with gasoline at $100 a gallon. But that misses the point of the thought experiment. When I ask people at what point gas prices are going to have a major impact on their lifestyle, that seems to be a moving target. When gas was $2, they said $4. Now that gas is $4, many have realized they won’t make big changes at $10. A friend who drives a Suburban recently told me that he doesn’t care about gas prices; that he is going to keep driving at the same rate regardless.

So the point is to jump so far out there – $100/gal – that there is no question that 99% of us would have to make some serious changes. The thought experiment is mainly designed to flesh out how people might cope as gasoline becomes more expensive. This is already reality for some, as your $100/gal dilemma is someone else’s dilemma at $4/gal.

What I would like is to hear how you would cope with $100 a gallon gasoline. I will post some of the answers later in the week. Let’s presume that gasoline prices increase to $100 at a steady rate over the next 5 years. Because many of our energy sources are interchangeable, let’s assume that other fossil fuel sources (coal, gas, etc.) follow suit. Alternative (non-fossil fuel) energy sources, such as solar and nuclear, would also follow this trend, but not at the same rate since they are less dependent on fossil fuel inputs. So the idea is really, with respect to fossil fuels, “How low can you realistically go?” I don’t want to make any assumptions on what would be happening in the economy as a whole, because in reality the economy would have collapsed under those prices. So my assumption is that life goes on, albeit with very steep fossil fuel prices.

Here is how I think it would affect me. Looking at my own situation, I just bought a house 23.5 miles from my office. However, I did this with my eyes wide open. The fact is, I don’t spend much time in the office. Since I started with my new company on March 1st, I have spent just 4 days in the office. So, a long daily commute is not something I have to deal with. In fact, I have never actually made the commute, as the 4 days I spent in the office preceded the purchase of my house. (Presently I am on site at our factory in the Netherlands, and I ride a bike to work).

But, even when I do have to travel to the office, at $100 a gallon, that 47 mile round trip will add up. Even the most fuel efficient cars in the U.S. are going to cost me around $100 for the trip. If I have to make that trip twice a month – and so far I am averaging less than that – it’s going to cost me $2400 a year – and that’s presuming I have a car that can get 47 miles a gallon.

Clearly, something like an SUV is out of the question. This could cost me $400 every time I had to go to the office. So SUVs, even now in their death throes, will be transportation only for the truly rich. What I really want – unless the cost is prohibitive – is the most fuel efficient car I can find. Today, I think that’s a Toyota Prius, but I am really hoping that an electric car rides to the rescue. (I would definitely choose the public transportation option if available, but right now it isn’t available from my home location to my office).

Even then, $100 to drive in to the office is pretty steep. I want to find a way around that. I am going to lobby my employer for permission to telecommute. At those prices, he is going to get a lot of those requests. When I think about what I do during a typical day, almost everything could be done via telephone, teleconference, webconference, or webcam. And when I do have to go to work, I am going to search for a car pool. At those fuel prices, a lot of people are going to be willing to share rides. I would imagine that new, creative ways of organizing car pools will pop up.

I would completely stop using an auto for short trips, and likely buy a small motorcycle for quick trips within 5 miles. If time is not a factor, I will ride a bike for those short trips. We would have to do a much better job of planning out our groceries, as it won’t be economical to run to the store to pick up a few items. Entertainment options like Netflix will start to look a lot more attractive.

In my home, I would also need to make changes. My wife and I currently fight over the thermostat. When I am alone, I will set it as high as 85. [Edit for clarification: That’s the air conditioning, not the heat setting in the winter]. With the family at home, I will drop it to 78. The wife and kids like it at 75. With gas at $100 a gallon and electricity sharply higher, we are going to have to get used to being less comfortable. 82 degrees inside is a lot better than 105 degrees outside. But even so, I am probably facing $1,500 a month electric bills.

I am going to install (lots of) solar panels, because at these prices the payback period should be very short. Ditto for a solar hot water heater, which keeps beckoning to me, but remains just out of reach. (I have a brand new hot water heater in my new house, and I can’t justify replacing it already). Ground source heat pumps are going to look much more attractive. I will need to identify and track all sorts of transient electricity drains in the house by installing something like the Kill-O-Watt electricity usage monitors.

My business travel would not be sustainable at those rates. For the next 12 months, I am probably looking at 12 trips just to the Netherlands. If those trips are 20 times as expensive, I am going to have to get webcams for everyone on the team, and our “face to face” meetings will happen that way. To me, being on site right now is important, because I get to know people, and they get to know me. I can understand who does what. But after that, I can conduct business remotely. Ultra-expensive fossil fuel prices will force me to see just how effective I can be at doing that.

Other things would obviously be impacted, such as where we decide to vacation, or where I am going to invest any money I have left over. But I think that covers the major items. Have I overlooked anything major?

I am greatly interested in your thoughts.

67 thoughts on “Coping with Gas at $100 a Gallon”

  1. Robert its not my personal energy expenses that worry me at $100/gallon, its the embodied energy in food, clothing and other neccesities. Not to mention the essential services we all rely on — supermarkets, hospitals, schools etc

    Personally I could cope with $100/gallon gas (that’s A$27.50/L for Australian readers). I’ve telecommuted for a decade and visited the office so infrequently I’ve moved 800km away from the city office. I have solar hotwater and my daily energy usage is less than 10kWh/day. My late model Euro turbo-diesel does around 5L/100km, so it would cost $1500 to fill but that would drive me more than 1,000km. Most of the neccesities of life (supermarket, school, doctors, hospital etc) are less than 1km away so I can easily walk or bike it.

    Problem is, would there be anything on the supermarket shelves? Would the hospital have any medicines or doctors?

    That’s what keeps me awake at night.

  2. Certainly many sectors of society could not withstand those kinds of prices. We are already seeing long-haul trucking and airlines struggle mightily at current prices.

    I didn’t get into the food issue, but if gas was truly going to those levels, my garden would become much more significant than just a hobby.

    Personally I could cope with $100/gallon gas (that’s A$27.50/L for Australian readers).

    Are you in Australia? How is the heat where you are? The problem with Texas is that the combination of heat and humidity makes air conditioning almost a necessity. And it is air conditioning that drives the summer electricity demand up so high. I haven’t run the numbers, but I don’t know that I could put enough solar panels on to comfortably run an air conditioning system in the summer.

    Cheers, RR

  3. Are you in Australia? How is the heat where you are?

    Yes, and its winter (well almost).

    I know, its easy to forget the planet has another hemisphere with the seasons reversed (no, its not a myth) 🙂

    I live in sub-tropics, 28 degrees south, at the most easterly point of Australia. A summer day is typically 28C with high humidity, but coastal breeze helps. I have reverse-cycle A/C (I believe you’d call it an “air source heat pump”) but use I it mainly for heating because there’s no piped natural gas where I live.

    If I wanted/needed to cool the house in summer with A/C powered by PV I’d need more north-facing roofspace than I have. I think that would be true of most houses.

  4. I understand what you are trying to do, but it is making my head spin. First, I live in the northeast and heat with oil. Domestic hot water from oil, too. We use about 600 gallons per year. Obviously we won’t at $100/ gal. Could we use 50 gallons per year, just heating the domestic hot water? That would only cost us a measley $5,000. Of course we wouldn’t have any water at all in the winter, because the pipes would be frozen. And no, burning wood won’t be an option.

  5. The heat at 85 or even 75 is a bit high. We keep the [oil] heat between 55 and 58 and run the wood stove all winter to keep the living room warm. Buy a polartec jacket and wear it as a sweater in the house. Wear a jogger’s cap. Admittedly, when we have company, we push the heat up to 65, but as a rule 58 is the max.

  6. I would move south. Living north of roughly 40° would be untenable energy wise. A reasonable assumption would be that the Canadian border would probably move south to the Mason-Dixon line. Because transportation costs would be extremely high, I would sell or abandon all personal property.

    I believe that I would not be the only one moving south. It’s highly likely that the authorities would respond to this migration by encouraging the development of 250 sq ft flat projects. Note, they’re now doing this in LA today and this tiny square footage living space is becoming more common in other urban areas as well. The big question is would be more like college dorm or more of a slum. I suspect slums would be more common. Because this tiny space is something I would not be able to share (hell, I found 850 sq ft tough to share), I would either have a partner in a different one somewhere else or become single again.

    One of the reasons why they are permitting these tiny apartments is to bring real estate prices down. If I remember correctly 250 sq ft in a managed community would run between $1000 and $1500 a month which apparently is reasonably priced for urban spaces.

    One advantage of high density housing is that you would have enough people to justify large megamart type stores in order to keep the cost of food reasonably low. The whole “local merchant” fantasy puts the customer in an untenable situation. If you pay a premium courtesy the local merchant monopoly or you pay a premium in time and money for transporting food a longer distance. With a megamart, they have enough volume that it’s more likely prices would be lower.

    Another good reason to move south is that transportation would become primarily two wheels. Not bicycles because they are almost completely impractical for anything more than moving one’s body or very light camping. Something that’s the equivalent of 250 cc would give you enough horsepower to carry another passenger at slow speeds or a week’s worth of groceries. A motor scooter of this size would enable you to escape the tyranny of public transportation. You’d be able to travel when you want, where you want, and not be bound by the timing and routes dictated to you by the Transportation Authority. Again, this is happening today in China as people are choosing to use electric bicycles because they are both cheaper and faster than public transportation.

    For what it’s worth, I consider bicycles impractical because of personal experience. I rode one to work on a regular basis. I would put in something like 2000 to 3000 miles a year. Even though I went past our supermarket, I never stopped because my pannier bags were full of clothes and notebooks from work and there was no place to lock up my bicycle where either the bicycle or the goods in the panniers wouldn’t be stolen. So it was like home, shower off, change into something that doesn’t stink, get in the car, go do my errands, and come home. At least with a scooter, I can lock the ignition, and put locks in the front and rear wheels. Under seat storage and a pillion box can also be locked.

    Another advantage of powered two wheel travel is that it lets you live further from the slums known a cities and possibly let you live in rural environments closer to food sources. Speaking of food sources, there’s a good chance that for three quarters of the year, the only food available will be canned or frozen food. If it costs too much to transport food, it will be necessary to grow enough food in a region (assume two acres per person per year) and then preserve what you grow so that you can eat for the entire year. Frozen food may take too much energy or cost too much which means dehydrated or canned food will become the standard again for food preservation. so if a majority of your food is canned, how do you transport it? How much canned food can you carry on a bicycle? With an upright, I could carry maybe 20 or 30 pounds of high density goods. With a recumbent, I could probably carry 100 pounds of low to medium density goods if I used a trailer. But the problem with most bicycles is where you store it? There is no way in hell I’m storing a $1500 bicycle outside of a locked facility.

    I would work three quarters of the year because for me, if the temperature goes above 80, my brain shuts down. When I lost my air conditioning for one summer (never ever buy anything from GE), I lost six weeks of work at home time because the house was too hot even with fans in every single window. All they did was move hot air around and keep the house no hotter than five or 8° of the outside. Additionally, the noise unacceptably loud and made it impossible for me to use speech recognition (handicap accessibility).

    If I had any money to invest, I would invest in deodorant, perfume, shower installers, laundry facilities, nose plugs, face masks, rubber/plastic gloves, office wide odor reduction, and urology centers. We would probably see perfume returned to his traditional use. In the past, people would soak a handkerchief in perfume and and wave it under their nose to help mask the stink, no, stench of people around them. Shower installers would become in demand as they try to retrofit shower facilities and lockers in office buildings. If one is taking public transport, a perfume probably wouldn’t be enough or tickle so nose plugs, face masks, and rubber gloves would be necessary to protect you against the smell and infectious disease risks. Urology centers would be important because traditional upright bicycle seats cause significant damage to the perianal region leading to transient genital numbness at best and permanent incontinence and impotence at worst. I’m sure surgeon would make great strides in reconstructive surgery to repair/replace crushed vascular structures and pinched nerves. Before you dismiss this as an overrated concern, refereed papers in various medical journals have placed the injury rate as high as 50% of all male cyclists. It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when.

    Since I’m immune to the “charms” of urban spaces (I shop over the Internet, I don’t like eating a lot of restaurant food, museums are nice once or twice a year, most movies aren’t worth going to unless you have a date and have a chance at getting laid, and public gatherings creep me out what with the crowds and criminals all mixed together), entertainment would be a bit of a problem. I’m not sure what I would do. I’d probably pick up books from the library and stay at home reading.

    The real question becomes what happens when you age? When you become vulnerable to threats and violence from young criminals, when your health the longer lets you ride on two wheels. history shows that you tend to lock yourself in your apartment. A fair number of elderly die each year from heat stroke because their apartments either have no ventilation or they keep everything locked up out of justifiable fear. It is also a question of how do you do day to day things? How do you get food, how do you visit friends? I have a disabled spouse who really isn’t that old but she can no longer drive and if we had public transportation, she probably wouldn’t be able to manage it. Four wheeled transport with a competent driver is the only way she can get around in the world.

    Try not to look at the world through the eyes of the twentysomething. Imagine your your health being bad enough that walking a quarter-mile is a struggle. That using a cart to move your groceries doubles or triples your walking time. Consider being at risk to young criminals who steal your money, maybe even your food, and do you physical harm.

    That’s one more thing I would do. I would get a license to carry for pepper spray or mace. While my farts may be considered a deadly weapon on public transport, they cannot be mustered on demand when faced with a threat. I would want a weapon I could use to defend myself with. I want to have the most powerful nonlethal force available to a civilian. Cities are havens for criminals. Check your crime stats published by your state. You’ll see that crime significantly higher then it is in suburban or rural areas. In your hundred gallon gas future, crime is only going to get worse.

    cheery future rr

  7. I know, its easy to forget the planet has another hemisphere with the seasons reversed (no, its not a myth) 🙂

    No, I realized that even when I wrote it. I almost wrote “How’s the heat in the summer?”, but I wasn’t sure if you use summer to refer to the hot months down under, or whether summer is still June-Sept. I guess I could have written, “How’s the heat in December?”

  8. The heat at 85 or even 75 is a bit high.

    Oh, I wasn’t referring to keeping the heat set to 85. It was the air conditioner. 🙂

    I turn my heat way down and wear a jacket indoors.


  9. You’re kidding right?

    No, I wasn’t sure about the actual terminology. While I have known about the opposite seasons since I was a kid, I wasn’t sure that in January you actually say “It’s summer”, even though it’s hot.

  10. It might be an easier thought experiment to just say: “No gasoline available” than to say “it’s $100/gal.”

    I’m pretty sure that due to the energy requirements to manufacture and ship a Prius (or any other new car), you wouldn’t be able to afford one. Try something like a ’99 Saturn or a Geo or something that gets almost the same mileage as a Prius, but existed before the energy price increase.

    My parents grew up without gasoline in Canada and electricity was only run to rural areas in the 1950’s. The comment “Living north of roughly 40° would be untenable energy wise” is ridiculous. There were 1 million people living in Saskatchewan in 1920 without gasoline or electricity, there are about 1 million now. The difference is that there was 150,000 farms then and 50,000 now.

    A comment like “living in an apartment expecting to survive with no real-world skills north of roughly 40° would be impossible” is probably valid. In my case, I learned how to garden, butcher, can and freeze fruits and vegetables, repair almost anything, carpenter, weld, masonry and farm. It’s my kids that would need some very quick education on basic self-sufficiency.

    If the only thing you know how to do is something like computer programming and can only survive where there is good take-out food and a local McDonald’s, you are pretty screwed, but lots of people live well with very little or no fossil-fuels.

  11. Gasoline is cheap, enjoy it while you can.

    Coming to the $100/gallon question. I would be able to walk the two miles to work (as I do know, when the weather and time constraints permit), since I assume most people wouldn’t be driving anything beyond a scooter, so the road would be safe. No car. I picked my apartment because there is a metro station, and grocery stores within walking distance. Although a metro ride would likely cost $30+ a ride (electricity would cost??).

    I’d imagine most of the outer suburbs near here would become small farms, I would bike there to buy a backpack worth of vegetables during growing season.

  12. A comment like “living in an apartment expecting to survive with no real-world skills north of roughly 40° would be impossible” is probably valid. In my case, I learned how to garden, butcher, can and freeze fruits and vegetables, repair almost anything, carpenter, weld, masonry and farm. It’s my kids that would need some very quick education on basic self-sufficiency.

    if you have that skill set, you’re quite right. This also assumes that you have two acres per person for every member and your family and that farming is your lifestyle. When you consider that we have more than 50% of our population (worldwide) living in cities, there’s a good chance that they don’t have those skills. If they did, would they have access to farmland, canning facilities and storage so they can eat over the course of the year.

    lots of people live well with very little or no fossil-fuels.

    As for living without fossil fuels, again if you’re in a ninth floor apartment, where are you going to store your cordwood? in order to be of the survive without fossil fuels, you need to live with there aren’t many people. Assume approximately 3 acres per chord per year

    assuming you need about two cords per year per household, a 500 unit condo would need something like a thousand cords or 3000 acres of woodland.

    yes, individual people can live on non-fossil fuels but not if you’re talking about an entire city (Boston: half million people, estimated quarter million living quarters would need three quarters of a million acres just for residential heating.) It just isn’t practical. take a look at parts of Africa and Asia that have been completely denuded just from the demand for wood for cooking fires.

  13. “What bothered you about the story, Robert?

    My fear has always been that the Doomers are right. This story gives a taste of the world in case they are. The suffering will be unbelievable, and I have to try to navigate my family through this. That’s why I pay close attention to stories like this. I want to know what people are doing; how they are preparing.”


    I read your reply on TOD and decided to read your blog and then to post the comment here rather than TOD.

    TOD and your blog are very US / Eurocentric understandably but here in Africa the dimensions of the problems posed need to be addressed on a very differnt level.

    We have had outbreaks of violence recently which have been well publicised, but quite frankly the way in which the vast majority live here in Africa I am surprised we do not see more demonstrations of discontent.

    So now what do we do to protect ourselves and here it is really a function of money and thinking “out of the box”, until one has really experienced Africa it may be difficult for people in Europe to understand / comprehend the difficulties.

    Going back to the insert I posted from TOD, yes I think we are all hopeful the future will pan out so we can bumble through but I think the reality is we will not be able to do so.
    Shortage of resources, food, and energy will tip us over.


  14. Don’t forget about other things you use gasoline for. Right now I can pay a kid $25 to mow my lawn. At $100 for gas, $25 won’t even cover the gas for mowing. So, I would probably have to get a manual push mower. I am not even sure how well those things work, though, so maybe I would get a cow.

  15. I have a brand new hot water heater in my new house, and I can’t justify replacing it already).

    Robert, if you are concerned about not replacing a new hot water heater, you can get a thermosyphon type or a batch typt of water heater. These basically just preheat the water before it goes into your existing tank, so that tank does less work. While probably not as efficient as a pressurized glycerol type of system, they are much cheaper to buy and install. Maybe $2-3k installed before federal/state incentives; less if you do it yourself.


    80 gallons may be overkill; smaller ones are available.

    Federal incentives (tax credit of 30%):

    Texas State incentives (not that generous unless you qualify for one of the utility co programs):

  16. I think it is useful to work from the assumption that if people lived in a place before fossil fuels were prevalent, they will again, and not just on farms. There have been cold climate cities for a very, very long time. And, in fact, there are thousands of people living in Boston, NY, Chicago and Minneapolis right now with almost no heat – they are called poor people, and many of them have their utilities cut off annually early in the winters, and go through winter with minimal or no heat.

    The truth is that much of what is being discussed here is the maintenence of a lifestyle, not survival. For example, people did live in TX before air conditioning, and while many may move because they can’t afford it, others will continue to do so.

    As for the elderly – elderly people living in isolation from their families probably will suffer a great deal – but there are solutions to that problem – cohabitation with extended family or friends who operate that way.

    Reading this, no offense intended, but I think that maybe the scope of adaptation hasn’t quite penetrated for many people – we’re still trying to put together lives that look mostly like the ones we live now.


  17. Solar panels are barely break even on an energy invested perspective. That is it takes nearly as much energy to create the panel as the panel generates over it’s useful life. Thin film photovoltaic might be better, and perhaps “nanosolar” can improve this even more–but this is a research question.

    The only positive EROEI solar scheme is thermal solar, something like a “minto” wheel or a sterling engine, such as so cal edison is using.

    Thus, as 100 oil, I doubt you will be able to afford a solar panel, let alone “lots” of them.

  18. Solar panels are barely break even on an energy invested perspective. That is it takes nearly as much energy to create the panel as the panel generates over it’s useful life.

    That’s just flat out incorrect.

    Do you have a link or citation for that? This contention has been debunked over and over.

    PV payback on EROEI occurs in 1-3 years, depending on the sunny-ness of the area.

  19. Sharon, you make some really good points. It is talking about preserving a lifestyle of vaguely resembling the life we live now.

    your comment about poor people surviving all winter without heat is correct but it’s also quite frightening. It means an increase in disease and a return to the mortality levels of the big city slums prior to the mid-1930s (best guess). That level of existence is basically Third World quality-of-life. It means there is a huge disparity between the upper classes in the lower. One good thing is that if you have a lot of really poor people, even middle-class folks can afford servants, indentured or otherwise. Would you enjoy being a servant if it’s the only way you can get fed and stay warm? Would you be willing to be a servant if it meant you were single for your entire life? (see service life in the 1800s)

    As much as I loved my grandparents, I would have shot them if I had to live with them. My parents don’t have the benefit of being loved and would be shot before they come to live with me.

    Pro-urban or anti-urban, everyone wants to preserve their lifestyle. Each of us sees the alternative future as one not worth living in.
    I for one am not eager to return to a life of limited opportunities and social restrictions.

  20. Reposted from

    No Heating or Cooling required

    but it sure is nice.

    This January 1st, I set the goal of using less than 60 gallons of diesel (hurricane evacs excepted) and 3,000 kWh of electricity (no natural gas).

    In the spirit of “do it before you have to”, I went without air conditioning for 20 days last August (when my upstairs neighbor was gone, otherwise I can coast along with her a/c). After about 10 to 12 miserable days, I acclimated. Fan required. Open the door and window when going to bed and close @ dawn. Lower productivity, but livable.

    And I have become convinced that I can get by without heating in the winter (average winter at least) in New Orleans. On coldest night in winter (29 F) I kept bedroom at 48 F at dawn with no extra heat. Common wall neighbors helped of course. Two layers of socks, T shirt under sweat tops and pants. No stocking caps for sale in New Orleans.

    So far, I am looking to refuel my 1982 M-B 240D diesel in a few days (last refuel in late January) and the first 5 months I used 773 kWh *BUT* the last billing period only included 2 days since I broke down and turned on my a/c.

    Best Hopes,


    P,S, Yexas, especially Dallas area does *NOT* have humidity. Do not trust air you cannot chew 🙂

  21. I live in a temperate climate in Belgium and commute to work by electric rail. I imagine that my job would continue at the oil company where I am working. No doubt we’d have some new projects implementing tighter security at gas stations or maybe shutting pumps due to lack of volume.

    On weekends, I would continue travelling to local shops, theatres, restaurants and museums via electric light rail. I would ride my mountain bike much more often as the traffic on local streets would be reduced. The quietness of empty streets will be a nice side effect of oil shortages.

    International flights would be out of the question. I am originally from Australia and flying home would become impossible. I hope that electric rail from Europe to Asia would become a cheaper option. I could take the train from Belgium to Singapore. From there, it would be a boat to Darwin and then a train back to my home-town of Melbourne. It would be a spectacular three week journey. At present, the tickets would cost more than $10,000 per person, but hopefully higher volumes could drive down the cost. In the meantime, internet video conferencing with relatives would have to suffice.

    I would adapt my diet to the cheaper foods available at local stores. Eating more potatoes and less meat would be likely. Western Europe has an extensive network of electric trains and small farms, so I would guess that the city food supply will not disappear. Electrification of farm equipment and transportation will be a big trend. If I had any spare cash, I’d invest in copper producers such as BHP Billiton.

    In winter, I would not use our gas central heating. I’d try to accumulate some firewood throughout the year and have occasional open fires. In general, we’d be walking around the house with fleece jackets and gloves. On the coldest nights, our family of four could sleep in a single room to conserve body heat. If we cannot tolerate the cold, I’d move to a small apartment to have shared walls.

    Let’s assume that the major city services such as water, sewage, garbage collection, electricity and law enforcement are maintained. In this case, life would be fine in our city with gasoline at $100 per gallon. People would still need the services of teachers, doctors, engineers, police and entertainers. Specialisation of labour would continue and I would not expect a mass population exodus to the country to become subsistence farmers.

    We have an annual “No-Car” Sunday here in September. Half the population takes to the streets on their bicycles or walks along the centre of the busiest roads. Public transportation is the only option for moving around the city. “No-Car” day is one of my favourite days of the year. It is an excellent preview of how pleasant life could be in a post-oil society.

  22. I didn’t know it was called a thought experiment, but I’ve been mulling over such scenario for quite a while. My husband and I refer to it as “when the end of the world comes”.

    Because we live in an area where there is no work we have created our own business and also commute to local towns. One business is in seafood (which is already becoming scarce because of fuel) and the other is the bar business (which is starting to slow, as well).

    We will have our truck paid off in November, and we already live economically in an RV. If we could afford to keep up those payments we would try to find someone to let us move the RV onto their property in exchange for gardening and/or security (two things that will be critical in those times).

    We have already built a wind generator and use propane for cooking and hot water. We could go off the grid, since TV and internet would be the first two things to go anyway. We don’t need to heat our water since a black hose in the sun works very well; and we could cook over a fire if propane was unavailable.

    We are in the planning stages for a community garden, which would be ready by then. There are lots of fish and other sea creatures in our area for the catching. We have boat that uses almost no gas, and we can reach waterways that large boats cannot. I have been researching the local vegetation for everything that is edible (and there is a lot). We have camping gear, and could even take to the woods if it got really bad. I’m not above eating rats and pigeons if it comes down to that, but there is quite an abundance of local wildlife that we could harvest.

    I really can’t imagine a business that we could switch to other than providing food and/or shelter for people who live on government checks. Perhaps we would create a communal living environment with some elderly people, and all survive on their income and our labor.

    Can you tell that this has been on my mind?

  23. If telecommuting were not encouraged at work, I would move within bicycling distance of the office.

    I planted three apple trees last year, and some vegetables yesterday. The grocery store is within bicycling distance, and yes, I have tried it out shopping and biking those groceries home in my backpack. I would need to go to the grocery store every other day, but the exercise would be healthy.

    I’m watching solar panel prices so I can install enough of them to charge up an all-electric car that I hope becomes affordable.

    But the underdiscussed topic is the cost of heating and cooling. Too many homes were designed with the ASSUMPTION of CHEAP ENERGY. Home should have been oriented for passive solar heating and cooling. Trees for shade. Adjustable overhangs. Cross ventilation. Small windows at the ceiling peaks to vent warm summer air. Thermal window shades on the outside of windows because they reduce more heat gain than indoor drapes. Outdoor drying rack for towels. And the most obscure topic is to increase the attic ventilation. Sure, you can put more of those roof vents in, like my solar powered roof vent, but there is no point in putting in a second one until I increase the inflow attic venting at the eaves. Air conditioning flows through ducts in the hot attic, so attic temperature is important. I have a wireless thermometer (Oregon Scientific) in my attic to help me analyze what is happening.

    Reduced supplies make the next energy crisis even larger than the last one. It will be higher prices for gasoline, electricity, and natural gas.

  24. TOD and your blog are very US / Eurocentric understandably but here in Africa the dimensions of the problems posed need to be addressed on a very differnt level.

    As a matter of fact, I was thinking of Africa and SE Asia when I wrote:

    This is already reality for some, as your $100/gal dilemma is someone else’s dilemma at $4/gal.

  25. Can you tell that this has been on my mind?

    It looks like it has been on a lot of minds. I think it is good to think these things through – just in case. I have been turning this around in my head for a while. It started out as “What if gas gets to be $10 a gallon?” But from talking to people I don’t think they would make changes even then. So I wanted to pose the question as “What if you had no choice?”

    When I ask about $100 gasoline, I am also asking about coping if supplies deplete faster than expected. It might not be $100 gasoline, but the impact will be much the same.

    Cheers, RR

  26. Too many homes were designed with the ASSUMPTION of CHEAP ENERGY.

    I agree with that 100%. Design, size, and location of many homes is going to make matters very difficult for some homeowners.

    Cheers, RR

  27. The biggest concern would be that my job still exists, and I think it would since I am a professor at a major state university. If history proves correct, enrollment should prove high as the economy worsens as it gives younger people a place to go (hopefully, with the change many would be forced to leave cars at home and live on campus year round, and maybe even all 4 years).

    I would walk to work (about 4.5 miles). I already do this from time to time and it really isn’t too bad. Groceries and most stores are with in the same distance.

    I am 30 and am still facing paying off student loans and have yet to buy a house. Likely, we will buy a house within 1 year and probably get something around 1500 – 1800 sq ft. within walking distance of work (5 miles), etc.

    Like you, I think there is a ton of fat that can be cut from the system — hell, even if the work force started riding motorcycles/scooters (as many are), there would be immense savings.

  28. Another comment that’s a bit more at the society level than you really want. One of the things that is heavy on my mind at high energy costs is access to centralised medicine. By this I don’t mean the long-term treatment and care for aged/termnally ill, but for conditions which, once treated, leave you essentially healthy, eg, I have a relative who almost lost the sight in one eye after a physical attack but prompt medical treatment prevented that. Likewise there are various other medical conditions that are treatable. As I don’t have the money to buy enough land to be genuinely economically self-sufficient (in which case if I believed in complete doomer situations I might risk it), I’ll try and figure the best lifestyle that puts me within ambulance distance of a hospital. (Will ambulance services end up being restricted due to fuel? I hope not.)

  29. I wasn’t sure that in January you actually say “It’s summer”, even though it’s hot.

    I find that absolutely astonishing.

    FYI, winter in Australia is officially from June 1st -> August 31st and Summer from Dec 1st -> Feb 28th (I’ll let you figure out when autumn and spring are). No we don’t start winter/summer on the solstice, and I have no idea why you do that in the US. Does it take longer to warm up / cool down in the northern hemisphere?

    Anyway, we’re having out own “gas tax” debate down here. The opposition leader (who is in desperate trouble politically) recently promised to slash the petrol excise by 5c/L. Initially the government called this “economically irresponsible” and populist (which of course it is) but now the government has caved and is talking about its own petrol tax cut.

    Its oh so predictable.

  30. I don’t drive, so petrol prices don’t directly affect my transportation. I also don’t have either heating or cooling in my home, so there’s no problem there.

    I would probably get a solar hot-water heater to reduce my electricity bill.

    But as others note, the real problems would be how $100/gallon gas would affect the prices of every other object in our industrialised world.

  31. Robert,

    Another thing to look at is throwing in another foot or more of insulation in your attic.

    You can rent a cellulose blower from Home Depot and do this yourself for several hundred dollars. There are also some Federal and probably state incentives.

    I actually had my attic spray foamed, but this is quite expensive. My attic space was about 1600 sq ft and the bill was about $3500. That was after getting about 10 bids. They ranged up to $9k btw.

    Ground source heat pumps make more sense in the north where there are lots of heating days. Less so in the south (apparently they are better for heating than cooling, efficiency wise).

    I got a quote to ground source my home (6 tons of AC)… about $25k. I think that needed about 15 deep closed loop wells. It might make sense if you had to replace a worn out unit, or were starting from scratch. But…

    For that coin, you could probably put up a solar PV system that would run your AC and then some. At today’s prices (maybe 4-5 kw system).

    That still wouldn’t make sense economically of course, until solar falls by a factor of about 75%/watt.

  32. At 5.90 a gallon or so here in Japan, I’m already riding a bicycle the 4-5 km to work and plan on continuing to do so until the university closes when the economy cracks and students stop coming in enough numbers to warrant keeping the school afloat. That should be rather soon I would think. After that…who knows.

    But, for now, prices nearing 6.00 a gallon are already have an effect here with scooter and bicycle sales way up. Small, efficient and cheap cars are now becoming the family’s first car, rather than the second car for errands. Errands are being done by bicycle and scooter or on foot.

    Can demand destruction in the US really take such high prices as $100 (or even $20 a gallon)? Would this simply not just break the system into sudden change?

    Anyway, as for other concerns at $100 per gallon. This is Japan so, our house does not need to be heated really (the pipes won’t freeze, etc) but, as long as we have electricity we can still use our space heaters. No one has central heating here anyway.

    There are farmer’s markets in the area and a great bus/train system nearby. Hopefully the days of $100 a gallon are still far off that LPG powered buses (yes, we have them here) will increase, and the train lines will diversify and expand even more. We have the technology and infrastructure in Japan but capital is down of course as losses mount with current raw materials/fuel costs. At $100 a gallon, bicycles may be bringing foods to market for local consumption, and volunteering to harvest (rather than machine) may occur sooner than that

    However, like others above, I doubt that much will be functioning when prices are that high…although, should China’s economy overheat and go through a serious decline (inflation/rising costs) and there is a serious and lasting recession in the U.S., perhaps the world….who knows…perhaps this current plateau we are on will stretch out enough that the dreams of cellullosic ethanol, and cheap, abundant and efficient solar power, along with further electrification with increasing numbers of hybrids and Phevs will move towards reality. With the exception of solar in a few countries (such as Japan), mitigation like this certainly aren’t on the scene now in any kind of practical numbers.

    It’s the shortages I fear….that and sudden price spikes that will break economies along with lifestyle.

  33. If gas prices really reached $100 per gallon, I’d locate the blueprints for the Stanley Steamer and start talking to some financiers.

    I’m sorry, but my thoughts on this thought experiment is that it’s rather silly.

  34. Excellent question I think about a lot, too, Robert.

    I’m going to talk with my father more about gasoline rationing during World War II (when he was in high school and college).

    For the kind of supply-demand situation that would drive prices to $100/gallon I’d expect rationing to be implemented first.

    (In fact, economically, rationing with resellable coupons is about the same as a high, rebated tax to discourage consumption.)

    Expect food to still get to cities, essential goods to be delivered, priority travel, and feedstocks to continue.

    For the rest, your question is just as relevant. I’m on the Westside of Los Angeles where heat and cooling are less critical and don’t use oil. But we drive a lot.

    I’d look for a lot of (1) ridesharing and (2) web conferencing as quick and effective alternatives to driving and flying.

    Sign up with a ridesharing service, set up a ride via your BlackBerry, and the transaction is logged for security (driver, rider, vehicle, pickup time and place, dropoff time and place).

    Personally I’d do a PHEV conversion to my Prius (probably from A123). And use my bike and local transit more.

    I’m a long-time electric rail transit advocate, but more light rail doesn’t happen quickly (alanfrombigeasy and I talk about that).

  35. For the scenario you describe, supposing it built up slowly enough, I would expect the commuter problem would be met by some modern analogue of the cyclecar or bubblecar, quite possibly a three wheeler. That is, it would be a one person conveyance with purchase and running costs of the same order as a light motorcycle but the safety and weatherproofing of a car. With modern materials and methods it would probably outperform vehicles of this sort that emerged briefly in earlier periods when market conditions were right. Given a trailer or overhead rack, it could cope with shopping needs too, but I would expect more and smaller nearby centres to spring up if fuel costs really rose, because the final leg (store to home) has worse fuel efficiency than the legs supplying stores.

  36. There are even more potential impacts on the commercial and industrial sectors. At $100/gallon, shipping goods to most suburban retail locations becomes uneconomical. The commercial establishments that are close to rail terminals and freight docks will be able to manage their costs to receive shipments, while others will move or go out of business quickly. Cities that are lucky enough to have transit systems, especially streetcars, may be able to convert some of their rolling stock for delivery. Same will have to go for solid waste transport, or we’ll be seeing a lot more neighborhood trash dumps.

    Essential services like police, fire, ambulance, utility maintenance, road maintenance, mail delivery, trash pickup and school buses will be prohibitively expensive to provide to low density areas. There undoubtedly would be rationing to support many of those, but many localities are already strapped for cash and would not be able to afford even a basic level in low density areas. It’s simply a matter of travel distances adding up on a daily basis.

    Extractive industries like wood and mining may have to swap out their support vehicles for alternative fuel vehicles in order to stay in business. The agricultural sector would have similar pressures. Shipping of raw and manufactured goods would become uneconomical in many instances. Like retail, we would see manufacturing operations attempt to relocate at rail heads and near freight docks.

    The price of oil-based feedstocks that go into of certain goods would skyrocket. Many chemicals, some industrial gases, fertilizers and pesticides, synthetic fabrics, tires, asphalt, packaging, some medicines and medical supplies, and indeed most consumer items fall in that category.

    In terms of physical infrastructure, our greatest needs to meet the coming challenges are 1) a renovated and expanded national electrical grid, 2) new or improved transit systems in all sizable urban areas, and 3) new or improved intercity rail and water transport routes.

    -Laurence Aurbach

  37. I’m sorry, but my thoughts on this thought experiment is that it’s rather silly.

    Yes, it is. At $100/gal gasoline consumption would comprise 100% of US GDP and total oil consumption would be 2x GDP. $100 in real dollars is not possible unless supply falls 80-90%. Even if we allow that as a “thought experiment” (actually doomer fantasy) there is no grounds to “assume other fossil fuel sources (coal, gas, etc.) follow suit.” 80-90% reductions in coal, NG, nuclear? And yet you can still afford rooftop PV?

    Of course a currency collapse could produce $100/gal gas in nominal dollars. But food, rent, PV panels, Broadway show tickets, etc. would also increase by similar amounts. Salaries for experienced oil company engineers would probably increase by twice the inflation rate, so your lifestyle would change a lot less than mine.

    Darrell is correct that we’d institute rationing long before $100/gal. We’ll ration before $500/bbl (about $12/gal). All countries will also nationalize their oil companies by then, either in fact or effectively via taxation.

  38. For my own personal planning purposes, I have been assuming that no more motor fuel would be available for ordinary people like myself in another 10-12 years. This assumption is based on another assumption that Jeff Brown’s Export-Land Model is at least sort of correct, and that the US will have to rely mainly on its own oil reserves in another 15-20 years at most. The Federal government and military will get first call on those and any imports they can still get, then first responders, state and local governments, industry, transport, and agriculture; ordinary people will only get what little is left over, which will be enough to make your scenario very realistic within a ten year time frame, maybe even less. This holds true whether or not we get rationing.

    I’ve already implemented the first step in my plan: I’m walking to work, 1.7 miles each way. It is a 45 minute trek, which is a bit of a time commitment but not too burdensome. I’m walking mainly to improve my personal fitness and drop the excess pounds, but even that is partly to get into shape for the assumption that I might eventually have to do a lot more walking. Fortunately, we live in a small town, it is mostly walkable, and most downtown shopping and services are also within walking distance (but the opposite direction from my workplace, unfortunately). I probably need to equip myself with a hand truck and a garden cart so that I could haul larger loads by hand.

    Another part of my plan is to replace one of our two cars with an NEV. I hope to do this within the next 3-4 years; I wish I could do so today, but I am not well-to-do and there are so many other demands on my limited financial resources. Once I have the NEV, I’ll hopefully be able to put up at least enough PV capacity to recharge it.

    At $100/gal, I probably would also get an electric bike, or maybe his and hers bikes; in fact, I probably would be thinking of making the purchase once fuel prices had climbed sufficiently high to start significantly thinning and slowing down local traffic, but not before.

    I am assuming that by the time that motor fuel is >$100/gal, local mass transit will have improved so that we can get to the nearest large city (Asheville) for shopping and services (especially medical) that are not available in our small town. Worst case, I am sure that owners of vans and SUVs will get into the shuttle business, or neighbors will carpool for these trips. I am assuming that my days of travel outside of our local area are drawing to a close. If they can manage to get an Amtrak spur up here, then maybe some travel might still be possible, but otherwise it will not be possible. I do worry about my mother-in-law, who lives 400+ miles away; we might eventually have to relocate her to our community.

    Obviously, $100 motor fuel means that all energy becomes more expensive. I have a whole “to do” list of energy conservation retrofits for my home that I am on, and will hopefully have those done long before we get to that point. Since my furnace and water heater and range are all propane, I do worry because propane prices are likely to move in lockstep with gasoline. I plan to eventually install solar water heating and solar space heating panels (hopefully I’ll have enough time to do this), and I do have a wood stove and could use that for most of our heat. I need to get myself a solar oven. Since I do have a south-facing roof, PV panels are also a feasible option; the big question is whether I can ever swing the financing.

    As for increased prices of things with imbedded energy, especially food, I am ramping up my garden production, and have taken up beekeeping. Rabbits will come within a couple of years, and chickens could follow after that. For most other things (clothing, housewares, etc.), I am assuming that we are just going to have to become much poorer and content ourselves with less. I’m getting into the habbit of not buying something unless we really need it, and then getting things that are highly durable and will last a long time – hopefully beyond our lifttimes. One advantage of growing older is that you don’t need to keep accumulating so much stuff. Fortunately, too, we live amongst one of the largest concentrations of traditional handcraftspersons in North America. A lot of things like hand woven fabric, pottery, basketry, woodenware, wrought iron, etc., would still be available even if many of the factories and stores shut down.

    WNC Observer

  39. At $100 gas, I’d be glad that I live close enough to bike to work (10 km). However, as I’ve got 3 kids, I consider the trade off of time with them and choose to drive my echo which I usually get about 18km/l with. One other thing that I’d want would be a good bike trailer, as none of the good grocery stores are a decent walk away.

    If we’re assuming that it’s $100 per gallon in inflationadjusted May 2008 dollars (or $26/litre for my fellow Canadians), and wages haven’t altered, We’d definitely be dumping one of our two cars, as I doubt that we’d drive enough to make up for the asset depreciation as well as licensing and insurance.

    As others have mentioned though, $100 gas is going to have a lot of other consequences. I can’t imagine food also not greatly increasing, which will cause there to be less spur of the moment spending, which will cause businesses to close or tighten staff levels, which will worsen sentiment. At $100 gas, I think Canada and the US would be in a deep recession or depression, depending upon the time franme that we went from $1.25/l to $26/l .

  40. I see five main problems with higher energy prices: transportation, home energy use, food prices, inflation, social unrest/war. Gas at $100/gallon essentially means gas generally unavailable except on the black market and for designated key users. I wouldn’t be surprised to get there in a few years, with rationing for small quantities of fuel and free (black) market prices of $100 per gallon for unlimited quantities.

    So how would I cope? My wife and I bike to work, so assuming our employers (very large government and semi-governmental) are still in business, we’ll probably still have jobs to bike to. The wages may be too low to be worth going, but transportation is covered.

    We moved to wood heat a few years ago and could cook food with wood heat if necessary. Around here wood availability for heating isn’t a problem. Water heating would be a problem. We’d probably go back to two-three times a week bathing. We could do alright without electricity, but it wouldn’t be fun. We do a lot of canning and have a root cellar.

    Food prices might be a problem, but we just bought some excellent farmland a 2-hour bike away that we’re planning to use for small grain and vegetable production. Our small tractor sips gas, but within a few years we’ll have moved to small enough scale that we could move to our tricycle for a tractor. I should post some pictures. It’s enough to pull a broadcast spreader. I think food is somewhat covered.

    We have inflation covered through various investments. I don’t know if Deffeyes was joking when he said “small-denomination gold coins”, but I’ve taken that somewhat seriously.

    But the real problem is civil unrest/war. I would guess that’s why your house is well outside of town. I won’t go into that.

    How would most people cope? I would guess apartments and/or hostels for the wealthy, and hoovervilles for the rest, assuming no riots. Otherwise a slow return to feudalism or worse.

  41. If gasoline cost $100/gal, I would be cycling everywhere. At the moment, my wife, three children, and I do quite a bit of our intracity travel by car. (Shopping, classes for the kids, etc.) If gasoline were $100, that type of travel would be restricted to only the absolute necessities.
    But we are lucky, we live in the center of town. Many of our friends live in the suburbs. They are the ones who will suffer with fuel at $100.
    Cutting the grass (our yard is pretty big) would be a problem. We would either covert the lawn to prairie grass, or get a push mower. Ugh.

  42. Too many people ignored your admonitions to consider only the gas/fuel prices and got sidetracked.

    I think this is a very interesting thought experiment that is happening in the real world, because I think that $6-$7 per gallon is going to be many people’s $100 per gallon and we seem to be headed there.

    (Although I have no earthly idea why.)

    Anyway, for me $100 a gallon gas would probably mean that my Corvette Z06 would sit in my garage. (Wouldn’t be able to sell it anyway.)

    I could actually use it for long trips – as it gets excellent highway mileage.

    I suppose I might could drive it to work, as I purchased a home literally 3 miles from my work – unlike some of the 60+ mile commutes that some of my prius driving (and condescending towards me for having a Vette) “green” friends have.

    So getting to work would be doable, but perhaps a Kia Rio at less than $10k would make a nice ride to sit in the driveway. 38mpg highway and I’m sure decent mileage around town would be good for any work-related travel. I’d carpool more too!

    The tough part is the minivan. I don’t know how we’d get along without it having two kids. And it get’s poor mileage.

    I set my thermostat at 70F in the Summer. I can’t see that changing a LOT, but I might be willing to overhaul the heating and cooling units to get more efficient ones.

    No more gas fireplace.

    I have a natgas water heater and I cook with gas. Right now those bills are never significant. I assume under your scenario they would go up dramatically.

    If Solar became cost effective, then I’d sure look into that.

    That brings me to one flaw in your game.

    In MY world, those things would eventually come DOWN below fossil fuels based on technology improving without an unnatural rise in prices on fossil fuels.

    We have enough fossil fuels to get us through the next 20-30 years and by then alternative fuels should have the bugs ironed out.

    What we are facing is the unpleasant stage where one technology is still in its adolescence, and is buggy and temperamental but we are being artificially forced to adopt it before it is ready.

    Kind of like the early 70’s when cars suddenly had emissions controls that weren’t ready for prime time.

    After a while alternative energy sources will become more reliable, economical and we will decrease our reliance on fossile fuels.

    We are just rushing the process right now.

  43. Interesting. Some of the comments are also interesting. One additional factor you should plug into your thought experiment, for your consideration and amusement:

    All life exists at the expense of some other life.

    Plug that in and see where it takes you.


  44. $100 gasoline? Obviously, we would switch to electric cars. I guess we would build nukes, solar, wind, geothermal, coal power plants, and we would drive PHEVs. Homes would be heated by electricity.
    You know what? Cleaner air, quieter streets.
    Big trucks and fleet vehicles might have batteries they switch out for fresh packs.
    Air travel would die (until small nuke battery is perfected), even ships might be in tough. Sailing vessels? Nuke powered ship? The Navy did it.
    The USA is a large economy, so the death of imports might actually be a boon for the average guy. You might read about “labor shortages” which of course, to the working guy would read “heaven.”
    If you owned a large mansion, finding hte butler, maid, gardenre etc might start to run a few bucks. Boo-hoo.

  45. The Federal government and military will get first call….. then first responders, state and local governments, industry, transport, and agriculture; ordinary people will only get what little is left over,

    I agree. This scenario makes for a more interesting and realistic thought experiment:

    What if rationing forces you to reduce personal oil consumption 10%/year for eight years? Assume rationing coupons trade at $25/gal.

    The big problem with this thought experiment is alternative fuels. It’s easy to convert cars to CNG or something like propane. Do these escape rationing? If so, wholesale conversions would tend to drive NG toward the $25/gal equivalent coupon price. That’s a problem, we need NG for heating, electricity, etc. We’d also quickly have a NG import problems that’s just as bad as our oil import problem.

    Ethanol would become widly profitable and cause further disruption in global food markets. You’d also see vehicles converted to run on wood and/or coal, as in WW2 Europe. You can’t effectively ration wood people grow on their own land, so you’d have to outlaw such conversions for air quality reasons or something. Battery conversions would become popular and lots of commuters would buy electric scooters. I’d personally probably buy a golf cart/NEV and refit it to hold six so we could take the kids to school, shopping, etc. These are all near-mid-term effects during the rampdown. Longer term we’d bring more domestic energy sources online and life would return to “normal”.

    A fast rampdown would be inconvenient, but manageable. The doomer fantasies of ghost suburbs and societal collapse are just plain silly.

  46. Too many people ignored your admonitions to consider only the gas/fuel prices and got sidetracked.

    Yes they did. Despite peppering it with caveats, people get fixated on the $100. That isn’t the point. The point is to figure out how much you could cut your fossil fuel usage if you really had to. Not if you were forced to; i.e., that you simply didn’t have any fuel. But if the expense got too great, how much could you cut?

    It is really a way of getting a feel for just how much fat there is to be cut.

    Cheers, and thanks for getting it.


  47. DDW: The big problem with this thought experiment is alternative fuels. It’s easy to convert cars to CNG or something like propane. …

    Very good point, how rationing one thing can lead to distortions in other markets.

    RR: It is really a way of getting a feel for just how much fat there is to be cut.

    With greater flexibility over time. My sister-in-law yearns to trade her Ford Explorer for a Toyota Prius. When many others would too, used SUVs have little value, and she has little money. But ultimately she will.

    I bought our Prius three years ago when my old car met an untimely end. Knowing gasoline prices would rise, and remembering 1970s gas lines, top mpg was my only choice.

    The whole fleet turns over in 12-15 years. If the average personal vehicle averaged today’s Prius’ mpg it would save half of U.S. motor gasoline, one quarter of U.S. oil use, at current VMT.

    Which although a lot isn’t enough, and doesn’t address necessary shorter-term behavior changes.

  48. Robert,

    As you and I know from having been in the Netherlands, the vast majority of people can learn to commute by bike — except those who live tens of miles or more from work. (And those people will have to move closer to the city center or a rail hub.)

    When I lived in Europe, I lived 16km (10 miles) from where I worked, and rode my bicycle almost everyday.

    The U.S. would do well to move towards the model of countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, or even to return to life as it was in the U.S. in the 1880s. We burned almost no fossil fuels then, and life wasn’t all that bad.


    Gary Dikkers

  49. “The problem with Texas is that the combination of heat and humidity makes air conditioning almost a necessity. And it is air conditioning that drives the summer electricity demand up so high.”


    The people living in Texas in the 1800’s didn’t have A/C and they survived quite well. (You think Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston and the other Texas pioneers complained about the heat? If the heat had been unbearable, Davy Crockett would have stayed in Tennessee — Well, maybe he should have considering how it turned out for him.)

    In the 1970’s I lived in Lubbock and Laredo, TX for a total of five years, and I didn’t use A/C.

    Its a matter of letting your body get acclimated plus designing buildings for that heat.

    Using thick walls, courtyards, and planting trees around a house for shade, it can be quite comfortable in the summer Texas heat, even with no A/C.

    Cheap stick-built apartment buildings and houses with thin walls and asphalt shingled roofs would be unbearable w/o A/C, but people could learn to stop building that way.



  50. NICE!!

    since i am an old retired coot, my problem set is a bit smaller[not easier] than most. i’d list and prioritize, but my first and most important move–

    contact my Pa Amish acquantences to negotiate living/food facilities in a favorable way to us both. next would be medical facility through this contact. if i solution these two adequately, i’ll move on down the list.

    i look forward to your postings on this one very much.


  51. Well, Robert, with your pedigree I have trouble understanding your views on future possibilities. If petrol gets to even $4 per litre the biofuel floodgates will open and there will be no problem at all. Ethanol and methanol will be readily available and E85 will be the fuel of the day. Algal oil is the intersting one, though. I have had a good look at that. The problem there is to find a method of bringing all of the elements together without consuming too much energy or wasting too much water or requiring too much equipment. The biggest of the hurdles is to feed the CO2 into the soup, and I think that my little group may have the problem solved. The solution is awaiting some trials. But regardless of what happens our only true source of energy is the sun. And it is our failure as engineers, scientists and technicians that we have not taken full advantage of the free energy flow sooner. CSP is the key to overall energy security until fusion power becomes possible.

    The US is the main looser in a declining oil supply situation, because they have built a lifestyle around oil guzzling. So when US natural supplies dry up completely the pain will be applied rapidly. Most other countries will have a softer landing for a whole range of reasons from urban layout, to limited dependence, to the ability to draw on less economic oil reservoirs, and the avaliability of alternatives. For my personal travel needs for the future I am designing a vstol hybride microlight/ultralight E85 fueled air vehicle which will give me range, flexibility, speed, and low cost travel for 3 people. It may not work, I may not finish it, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. Are you familiar with the cafe foundation?
    My main product for the near future is at . For anyone involved with stainless steel this little gizmo will save them much anguish, time, and money, while being OH&S and environment friendly.

  52. I won’t even get to the $100 mark, as we’ve greatly adjusted what we do at much lower prices than we pay now.

    In December of 2001, my wife and I owned an Olds Achieva that was falling apart, and an 88.5 Suzuki Samurai. I drove the Samurai, and she drove the Achieva. The car was falling apart, and for some reason it was “invisible” when she was driving and people would just pull out in front of that car (happened to me a lot with it). I worked at an injection molding facility that handled forward lighting components, and the Grand Cherokee was a vehicle that we made parts for. I knew that they made a huge order for parts (post 9/11 sales push, like all the 0% financing) so we bought one.

    Now, gas was around $1.30, more or less, when we got it. She drove around 40 miles round trip to work (I was less than 2 at one point, but it snowed/iced a lot so we got 4WD) and even at 18mpg with a strong tailwind, it wasn’t too bad at first. Later, as gas started slowly creeping up my wife declared that $1.75 was the breaking point, and she would drive the Samurai if that happened.

    And it did, and we switched cars. Later, we bought a Mitsu Lancer and she drove that. In Feb 2003, we were hoping to move back to AZ, but either way I didn’t care for filling that Jeep up at $2.00/gal, even for short trips. We traded it in on a Subaru Impreza 2.5RS. Of course, this was the first time we crossed $2/gallon and several gas stations couldn’t even post the proper price at the time.

    Well, we moved to AZ and I started autocrossing. I live in Sierra Vista, and would compete in Tucson. Once gas hit $2.25/gal I stopped going to Tucson very much, and at $2.50+ I lost interest in competing at all.

    During this time, I traded in the Mitsu and got a WRX, which actually got better mileage than the 2.5RS. For a while, I started cycling to work but I had some fairly serious knee issues and had to stop. Those knee issues led me to trade in the WRX and get a 2008 Fit, which I love. Hauling bikes and stuff for a ride is great, and it holds more stuff and people in greater comfort than either Impreza does/did.

    At this point, we’ve changed and trimmed so much to save on energy (I slowly creep the thermostat up while it gets warmer so the wife and kid don’t notice) that most new “changes” wouldn’t be that new to us. I still plan on building a solar-station of sorts to charge an electric bicycle so I can ride back to work. I hope that more people “discover” cycling so stores will come up with better, and more secure parking. It will be hard for people to foot the bill on an expensive electric bicycle if it’s still so easy to steal.

  53. I’ll agree with others that $100/ gallon is not realistic, as long before that point we’d have WW2-style rationing. Petrol products would continue to flow to essential needs so we’d still have food, freight, police & fire, etc. Also, long before $100/gallon we’d be ramping up CTL plants. There’s lots of coal, so I think a cut-off of electricity is unlikely. Still, prices are already $8-9 in Europe, so I think it’s safe to say that prices could go a lot higher here in the US before behaviour would change significantly.

    It’s more useful to think about what we’d do if we had to get by on a WW2 ration of, say, 4 gallons / month, while electricity continued to be available (but perhaps got more expensive). I use about 250 gallons of gas / year, so I’d have to cut my already low driving even more. I’d try to make more use of my electric scooter and bicycle, although most of the car trips are with another passenger, to haul large objects, or go more than 20 miles, all things I can’t really do without the car. I might consider a more efficient car, but realistically only if I could get a plug-in hybrid. At some price point for electricity I’d consider PV panels; I have a south-facing roof where I could generate 8 kwh / day using a 2kw system. PV doesn’t make sense for me now because I only use 7kwh/day, which costs less than $25/month. I’m lucky to live in California where the climate keeps my heating and cooling energy needs low. Cutting my use of nat gas for winter heating will be the most difficult thing, but if I had to, I could get through the winter without heat. I have a space heater though the high cost of electricity means it’s more expensive to run it for one room than to heat the whole house with gas. Using wood is not an option though I could heat (poorly) one room using wood.

    Frankly, my energy use is already pretty dang low compared to most Americans. I’m already driving 1/3 the average, using CFL bulbs for most of my lighting, etc. So I’m kinda hoping higher prices motivate some other people before I have to make changes.

  54. My house uses about 150W of electricity (I pay a little extra for 100% renewable from the utility). My gas bill ranges from about $30 in the summer to $150 in the winter, though I’m just now doing a major insulation refit. I do drive a lot to visit out-of-town friends, though, so right now I spend about $40/week on fuel. That would go up to $1000/week at $100/gallon, which is clearly untenable for me.

    As most everyone else has brought up, you have to decide if we’re talking ceteris paribus (econo-speak for “disregard the if-you’re-aunt-had-balls-she’d-be-your-uncle fallacy”) or simply that liquid fuels were about a thousand BTUs per dollar. The substitution effect would eventually bring up the cost of natural gas (CNG), oilseeds (biodiesel), and electricity (Fischer-Tropsch and EVs). And transport costs would drive up the price of nearly everything else.

    But assuming my job still existed, I would telecommute and bike in town (easy to do where I live but unpleasant six months out of the year), do a lot of vegetable gardening, not use my dryer, assemble some good storm windows, and take the train to visit my parents and friends. And I would finally finish my EV conversion project that’s been inching along for years.

  55. I’m surprised by the number of commenters who assume we’re going to enter some kind of a time warp back to 1880. Yes, the end of cheap oil will cause some lifestyle changes that resemble conditions back then, but let’s not get carried away.

    My guess is that the US of 2018 is going to look a lot more like the Europe of 2008 than the US of 1918.

    Certain peculiarities of our culture have been brought about by a century of cheap liquid fuels, but it’s not like we’re going to return to sending telegrams and running our steam trains on cordwood and watching hand-cranked black-and-white pictures at the Bijoux on Saturday nights.

    Many trivial and a few important parts of our current lifestyles will become untenable. But if you need a reminder that the future will be weirder than we can imagine, go back and read one of the “Life in 2010” predictions from the last century.

  56. $100/g is extreme enough to assume everyone would abondon gasoline which is interesting, because a more moderate price would trigger differnt societal response.

    Personally I’d quickly move to an electric scooter. I had one when living in China and loved it, unfortunately the infrastructure in Southern California is not conducive to one. However if a large portion of society also embraced fewer wheels per person major infrastructure might be modified to accommodate it. Imagine taking the slow lane on each freeway in southern California and making it a pair of bike/scooter lanes.

    That assumes however that I’d stay in the US with $100/g fuel costs. I’d likely move as quickly as possible to another part of the world already much more adept at living without cheap fuel.

  57. “I’m surprised by the number of commenters who assume we’re going to enter some kind of a time warp back to 1880. Yes, the end of cheap oil will cause some lifestyle changes that resemble conditions back then, but let’s not get carried away.”


    I’m one of those who mentioned the 1880s.

    I don’t think we are going back to the 1880s. Many of the “Peak Oil Doomers” seem to think that we will go back to a Mad Max version of social chaos where only those who hole up in the mountains with a bunker, a lifetime supply of survival biscuits, and a .50 caliber sniper rifle will be able to survive.

    My point was that in the past we got along quite well without burning fossil fuels other than coal, and that if we had to, we could do that again without society resorting to chaos.

    Do I think Peak Oil is real? Definitely. Do I think thats going to force us to live like it’s the 1880’s? No, but we could if we had to — and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be bad.

    Actually technology has taken us far beyond the 1880s. You and I and many others know how to use technology to help us live pretty well, even without an abundance of liquid fossil fuels.

    Liquid fossil fuels make current life pretty easy, but we could manage without them without needing to become a “Mad Max.”


    Gary Dikkers

  58. Robert,

    Your post opened up some fresh thinking on my own similar thought experiment, so thanks for that. Here’s where it’s led and it might give you an idea of how to restate your question in a way that would be harder to get sidetracked on.

    Rather than focus on just an unaffordable oil price, phrase the question in terms of how your disposable income spending patterns would change given large increases in transport/heating/electricity/food etc. One graph I saw recently pointed out the huge increase in healthcare as a percentage over the last few decades from 4% to 16%+, while clothing and food came down sharply. Surprisingly, housing stayed relatively constant such that those 4 categories totaled the same in almost every decade since the 50’s. So if food and energy were to shoot back up, something else would go down. Housing? Healthcare? Other?

    Standard of living and more importantly its perception is a slippery thing. My current thinking is that standards are so high in the industrialized countires that large increases in energy prices can be ‘absorbed’. Yes, people will be poorer than they would have been, more will go bankrupt, more will have to work longer, retire with less, but compared to the other 5 billion + people in the world they will still be living rather comfortable lives.

    I plan on breaking down my own expenditures by category and then considering how I would answer the question I posed at the beginning.

  59. Rabid B,

    Go over to the oil drum and about 2/3 of the way down the comments is a guy from Pakistan. He says just what you said but from a Pakistan standard of living point of view. Same tactic, but equally relevent because of the way those people live. It makes good reading.

    Another approach. Some time ago I started to develop the idea of an algal oil fence. Assume that it was possible to have a side fence to your 1/4 acre section (this is not for European readers) that was a algal oil farm from fence height to the ground. It is feasible to produce about 1200 litres per year in this area (this is not for US readers who need possibly 6000 litres per year). So the design exercise is to see how this could be done. I did come up with a workable solution, soon to be tested. Another variation is an algal oil tower, a bit like a white ants mound (Australia). The processing of the algae to produce the oil is also intersting and not particularly difficult.

    Com’on $100 per litre. I can’t wait. As the price goes up so does the return for any alternative

  60. If we assume that all fossil fuels rise 20-25x, then obviously our electricity bills would become equally manageable.

    The key question is – are we assuming this happens overnight, or over a decade or two?

    If overnight: Unquestionably the world would turn to nuclear, and we’d switch over to electric cars to run on uranium.

    If in 10+ years: We need to be planning now to achieve the optimal solar growth curve – balancing current spending against the offsetting price spikes that could occur, and also accounting for some level of efficiency improvement. One good question to ask is if any very smart solar people believe that the theoretical efficiency of ~29% can be engineered around? If it can, then we may be spending money on outdated infrastructure if we’re going to have 50% efficient cells in 5 years. (This is doubtful, I realize, but the efficiency ramp-up is an economic trade-off to be addressed.)

  61. Thank you for posing this question! It made me think a bit. I personally wouldn’t be very affected by $100/gallon gasoline, because I live in NYC and can walk (or take the subway) to work. My landlord pays the heating bill. My biggest worry with $100 gasoline would be food. The other issue would be visiting parents, friends, and relatives, all of whom live in other cities and towns, often hundreds of miles away. But that’s “fat” of some sort.

    I consider myself lucky, but I know that I’m something of an aberration. So let’s assume my parents, who are now retired, are an average US household. They raised me in a small town in northern New York state. At the peak of their earning power, they were probably pulling in $100k a year together. After taxes that leaves them about $60k a year. Let’s assume that energy, food, mortgage payments, etc., total about $30k each year. Given what they’ve told me about their finances, I believe that’s approximately correct. That means they have a cushion of $30k a year to work with. (They’re pretty frugal people.)

    Their commute (separate cars) into the nearest large town was about 15 miles one way, so if we assume that Mom’s car and Dad’s truck each got 30 mpg (possibly optimistic), they’re burning a gallon for each trip into town. Let’s suppose they each go in 6 times a week (for work and shopping), for a total of 12 gallons a week. At $2/gallon, that’s $1200 a year for gas. So even with $4/gallon gas, they’re doing fine, paying about $2400 a year. I think it would start to really hurt at about $16/gallon, because we’re talking about $10k a year just for gasoline.

    As to heating, northern New York state gets cold winters (down to -20 in February, usually). For a long time my parents used electric heating along with a wood stove, but after the ice storm of ’98 they added a fuel oil heater so they wouldn’t have to rely on the grid for heat. (Seven days without heat was about as much as they could take.)

    I’m not sure how much the heating oil costs them, but my guess is that it’s probably an order of magnitude less than they paid for gas for their vehicles when they were working. So let’s say their heating costs are 25% of their transportation costs. Then at $16/gallon gasoline they’re shelling out $12k a year for transport and heating. At $32/gallon, it goes to $24k/year and it’s almost pushing my parents into the red.

    As I said before, I’d consider my parents to be fairly frugal people (they grow vegetables and for a long time my dad had apple trees), so my guess is that if $30/gallon gasoline is starting to give them trouble, a large majority of Americans will be having similar problems below that price level. So if I had to guess a price where we saw lots of people changing their behavior, it’d be about $20/gallon, with an upper bound of $40/gallon (meaning that I’d give a 99.9% chance of seeing significant demand destruction with prices at that level).

    I’m posting as anonymous because I’m not sure how comfortable my parents would be to have their son discussing their finances on the internet. 🙂 But I enjoyed your thought experiment, and thought you might be interested to read my application of it.

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