Wednesday, January 20, 2016

when the trucks stop running...,

resilience |  Ships, trucks, and trains are the backbone of civilization, hauling the goods that fulfill our every need and desire. Their powerful, highly-efficient diesel combustion engines are exquisitely fine-tuned to burn petroleum-based diesel fuel. These engines and the fuels that fire them have been among the most transformative yet disruptive technologies on the planet. This is a dependency we take for granted.
Since oil reserves are finite, one day supplies will be diminished to where the cost of moving freight and goods with our present oil-fueled fleet will not pencil out. We have an oil glut in 2016 and a corresponding lack of urgency. Yet, inevitably the day will come when oil supplies decline. What will we do? What are our options? That is the sobering reality my book explores.
Consider just how dependent we are on abundant and affordable oil, which fuels commercial transportation: Grocery stores, service stations, hospitals, pharmacies, restaurants, construction sites, manufacturers, and many other businesses receive several deliveries a day. Since they keep very little inventory, most would run out of goods within a week. When trucks stop, over 685,000 tons of garbage piles up every day in the U.S., sewage treatment ends as storage tanks fill up, and in two to four weeks water supplies would be imperiled as purification chemicals were no longer delivered. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
Although ships move roughly 90% of cargo and made globalization possible, it is hard to think of a single thing that isn’t transported on a truck at some point, if only for the last mile. Equally important are other kinds of “trucks” and equipment used in farming, logging, mining, construction, garbage, and countless human endeavors. Certainly it would be better to deliver goods by rail, which are four times more fuel efficient than trucks, or by ship, which can be up to 80 times more efficient than trucks. But there are only 95,000 route miles of railroad track, and 25,000 miles of inland and coastal waterways in the U.S. That’s compared to over 4 million miles of U.S. roads. Just why we are so reliant on trucks and under-utilize more efficient ships and trains is explored in my book.