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Why I don’t agree with James Kuntsler about peak oil and the “end of suburbia”

The remarkably low fueling cost of the best current hybrids (like the Toyota Prius) and future plug-in hybrids are a major reason why I don’t worry as much about peak oil as some do.

kunstler.jpgJames Kuntsler, for instance, argues in his 2005 book The Long Emergency (see Rolling Stone excerpt here), that, after oil production peaks, suburbia “will become untenable” and “we will have to say farewell to easy motoring.” In Rolling Stone, Kuntsler writes “Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world” [No — that distinction probably belongs to China’s torrid love-affair with coal power].

But suppose Kuntsler is right about peak oil. Suppose oil hits $160 a barrel and gasoline goes to $5 dollars a gallon in, say, 2015. That price would still be lower than many Europeans pay today. You could just go out and buy the best hybrid and cut your fuel bill in half, back to current levels. Hardly the end of suburbia.

And suppose oil hit $280 a barrel and gasoline rose to $8 dollars a gallon in 2025. You would replace your hybrid with a plug-in hybrid, and those trips less than 30 miles that have made suburbia what it is today would actually cut your fuel bill by a factor of more than 10–even if all the electricity were from zero-carbon sources like wind power–to far below what you are paying today. The extra cost of the vehicle would be paid for in fuel savings in well under five years.


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