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The Slow End of Oil

28 January 2011 One Comment

A very interesting story from the BBC’s ‘The Report’ team last night, analysing nothing less than the continuing validity of petroleum fuels.

And it’s interesting that a profusion of motoring-related stories (really oil-related stories) are in the news at the moment. And from within those stories it’s easy enough to see a pattern emerging.

These stories point not only to the reality of our current financial situation. This, anecdotally at least, seems to be looking more and more like a recession. And this is being borne out by local news stories, more so even than the generalist doom-laden narratives of the credit crunch which have so dominated the headlines of the last two years.

They also point to the currently extraordinary price (and so value) of oil and oil-based products.

The first seemingly small story –very much a Radio 4 story – reports the increasing number of thefts of heating oil direct from people’s homes. The price of the fuel has risen by 70% in recent months, and Police are now warning farmers and other isolated rural groups to be increasingly vigilant, in the wake of an increasing number of thefts.

Secondly, Police in Sandwell and Dudley are reporting an increase in the number of thefts from garage forecourts. Not only this, but garage workers report an increase in the number of people simply unable to settle their fuel bills, people who have forgotten their wallet or some other avoidance.
These are the more street-level expressions of the ongoing challenges people dependent on fuel are facing. People would rather face the stigma of non-payment, or profiteer on the back of extraordinary prices, than let their petrol habits go.

A related story, discussed on the BBC last night, tells of drivers back to school, to learn how to conduct their vehicles more efficiently. According the driving course providers, learning to drive economically can save you as much in 16% a year in fuel use. A Europe-wide study suggests a more realistic figure of 6%, which is nevertheless a saving if you’re a fleet or high-mileage driver.

These stories, stories from the fringe of motoring news, perhaps point the way to the future. A future of high oil prices and an entirely different, less freer attitude to motoring. And as the car is so linked to global ideas of freedom, it’s no surprise that we are taking so long to let it go, or to accept the inevitable changes to our habits. There will be no going back to the days of cheap fuel, and a car will be seen as an increasing luxury. If we want on we might have to share it.

And so private transport becomes public transport, and so the definition of the car begins to change unavoidably.