More on the effects of high priced oil...
I just received an interesting pointer from the Yahoo Group Carfree about an editorial in the Falls Church (Virgina) News about the impact of Peak Oil acting as a forcing function to transit. This is a nice follow on to my post yesterday about the rise in mass transit use seen across the U.S. The editorial deals with the issues that increased efficiency may not be enough, and that we will have re-conceive our mass transit to not only be for people, but for groceries, deliveries and many other multi-use purposes. A particularly interesting point is the following:
One day soon, it will simply be too expensive for electricians, plumbers and a myriad of other household service providers to drive 50 or 60 miles in large, inefficient vehicles to perform some relatively minor maintenance task. The very nature of such services will have to change, be localized, and planned so that travel is minimized. Someday, your electrician may arrive on a city bus pulling his tools and parts behind.
This quote really struck me about how inextricably linked sustainability and self-sufficiency are. In the past, the homeowner was really thought to be quite capable of doing basic fixes. And the culture of Home Depot and DYI does reinforce that, but we've also become separated. My father the professor is quite capable of may repairs around the home that were forced out of necessity (plumbers are expensive) vs today where many of my MBA friends have no idea even how to change a tire on their car just calling triple A. The argument for hyper specialization is efficiency, however there is an argument for learning different domains. The ideal of a liberal arts education is not to create generalists, but to reveal the similarities between domains and that problems exist in general classes of problems not limited to a specific field. That understanding of the abstract relationship at an innate level is being lost. Walter Mosley once questioned in the NY Times had the following:
NYT: Do you consider reading an essential activity?
WM: Not at all. Reading isn't the only way to obtain complex knowledge. Probably the best way to gain complex knowledge is human interaction. If someone knows how to build a wall, he can teach me, because I don't know how to build a wall.
NYT: Do you think that building a wall takes more knowledge than writing a book?
WM: I think that people don't know anything anymore. My father was a janitor. He could take a car apart and put it back together. He could build a house in a backyard. Today, if you ask people what they know, they say, I know how to hire someone.
I think Mostley is on to something when he says "people don't know anything anymore." We live in a world of black boxes, and without understanding the impact of our choices, the actions behind the curtain we make bad choices out of ignorance. Economists like pricing for illuminating our impact, however market norms may not be sufficient.