I don't have a car anymore, and that's good. Five years after the infamous summer of 2006, we've accepted that, for the most part, $3 is the floor for gas prices. But what is the ceiling? We're ready to storm the palace when we have to pay $4/gallon, but Europe hit $8/gallon this year. What is JP going to do if- when- we get there?
Last month, I was at a meeting that asked us to imagine just that. I chose to take a sunnier view (believe it or not). I envisioned people walking, biking, using public transportation, and getting more of their life done closer to home. Some of my fellow participants were not as optimistic. They had reason to presume that an increased price of oil would make it difficult for municipal services to run, including public transportation. I believe some of them also presumed that employment would be affected by a rise in energy costs, and that would lower our tax base, which would in turn make it difficult for roads- and buses- to be fixed.
(I'm not sure lower employment is an automatic result of increased energy prices, but it would certainly make it difficult for people to get to work unless their place of employment was within walking distance. This goes not only for those who drive but also those who take public transportation. It's already $2/subway ride; if the cost of energy doubled, I can't see how the fares wouldn't rise as well. Now, if everyone's salaries got a cost of living-bump, that would make a difference... but I don't see that happening.)
There are things we can do to off-set the cost of living: we can get rid of cable (we gave ours up last year), wear used clothing, cook at home (well, if all of our appliances work), use the library instead of Amazon (or the bookstore), take our bottles and cans to the recycling center ourselves (and cash in) and *gasp* give up our internet service. (By the way, I'm assuming that you've already turned in your gym membership and given up the cleaning service.) And if things get really, really dire, we can share housing. But there is something that's going to be difficult to get around no matter how clever we are: food, most of which is shipped to our area and will therefore become that much more expensive if fuel prices rise. What if we can't afford to ship our food in anymore?
Many of the community gardens along the Southwest Corridor are pretty impressive, and my informal observations are that many of those in JP are more vegetable-based than the ones closer to the South End. There is also a revival of interest in urban gardening for those with a yard or even a lawn. And there is a nascent movement towards "hyper local" agriculture, using small plots of land an acre or less to grow vegetables for sale to local communities; City Growers is spearheading this in Boston.
But is that enough? Of course we need vegetables and fruits- I think most of us agree that we don't eat enough of those- but can they be "the staff of life" for everyone? I don't think even the largest community gardens could grow enough wheat to satisfy all of their members. We can grow corn, as people have for hundreds of years in this area; we can grow potatoes and squash and beans. We could also grow sweet potatoes. But do we have enough space to grow enough food for all of the people in our area? Maybe, but we'd need to engage in the kind of effective planning that, frankly, Boston and JP aren't well-known for.
This vegan is going to reluctantly admit that even a major food crisis will probably not turn everyone into vegans or vegetarians. I know some JP residents who are starting to experiment with chicken farming (but I won't tell you who, even under pain of death). Chickens are one thing, but what about cows? While I may have strong feelings about dairy, I'm reluctant to slap milk out of people's hands, especially if it's a family with young children. Where would we keep cows here? Where would we butcher and process meat? Where would we process milk, for those who don't want to consume "raw milk"? Where would it be turned into cheese or yogurt? Or do we say goodbye to those things just as we probably would have to pasta?
Does that sound alarmist? Yeah, it does, even to me. Is there a value in worrying about the worst case scenario in food, or shouldn't I- you, your partner, your neighbor- be putting our time and thought towards coming up with alternatives to our dependence on energy? Yes, we should- but we should have been doing that for the last four decades. It's something most of us don't care about until it immediately impacts our lives. I'm all for not having to worry about food any more than I already do, but I was also all for gas not reaching $3/gallon.