Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Gas-Powered Scooter

The trouble with normal is, it always gets worse. -- Bruce Cockburn

One of the signs of increasing curmudgeonhood is that you start crabbing about the kids in your neighborhood. The object of my irritation these days is a boy, maybe nine or ten, who spends great amounts of time on a gasoline-powered scooter -- you know, those conveyances we used to push with one foot -- that he drives in little figure-eights on the road next to my house.

This is just so wrong.

First of all -- back when I was his age, when glaciers covered the hemisphere and wooly mammoths roamed the tundra (well, maybe not that long ago), I actually moved my body during playtime. Now, I was not athletic; I was a chubby little, or I guess chubby big, Weeble-shaped child. Yet as soon as spring thaw hit I was out there every day, crawling under and over fences, fishing for tadpoles, haunting the pastures and marshes of our property; doing kid things that involved physical activity.

This boy, by contrast -- part of the generation slated to become the most obese ever -- just stands there and goes around in circles. I have a dark fantasy of someday confiscating his scooter, throwing a handful of sand in the gas tank, and telling him to use it the way scooters were meant to be used. "Ya mean I gotta use my foot? But that's haaaaaaard!"

But the gas scooter is just a Dingsymbol of something much bigger: Our society's twin addictions, both to petroleum and to amusing/acquiring ourselves to death. I am sure that when this kid goes back home, he goes home to a garage filled with gasoline-powered toys -- four-wheelers and snowmobiles and locomotive-sized SUVs. I suspect he lives in one of the newer McMansions that keep getting built around the lake -- huge houses big enough for two families, whose monthly energy bills I can only imagine.

The new thing in our neighborhood is golf carts. The neighbors use these to drive a few hundred yards down the road to their friends' houses. Because whatever we do, we mustn't walk, ever. I'm not talking about elderly folk with bad hips; I'm talking people my age and younger. And this fad began the last time gas prices spiked; it's as if people said, "Hmmm...gas is above $3 a gallon and climbing; whatever shall should we do? Oh -- we know -- we'll buy another gas-powered vehicle!"

I have to admit that part of me applauds the current oil crisis, because I want it to be the thing that finally starts weaning us all off the petroleum teat; that finally kicks the captains of industry in the butt and gets them serious about developing and promoting alternative forms of energy; that reduces our involvement with and dependence upon oil-producing countries; that makes people start rethinking their value systems and lifestyles. There are faint glimmerings of progress in this regard; I just heard about two new ethanol plants being planned in my economically sub-moribund state, which is good news considering that we now rank 48th in terms of job creation. But, as the saying goes, first you have to recognize that you have a problem. And I just don't think we're there yet as a nation.

And the thing is -- until we do, until we hit absolute rock bottom and admit that things have to change, it's the poorest, most vulnerable people in society who are going to be hurt the worst in the energy paradigm shift. I work with people on limited incomes, who in many cases were barely scraping by before the oil prices began to rise. Our agency utilizes volunteer drivers to help bring clients meals and to take them to medical appointments. Many of the volunteers are retirees on limited incomes, and some of them are not going to be able to afford to help us much longer; if we don't have enough volunteers, our ability to deliver services is going to be severely curtailed. We have clients who have dropped our services, even though we provide them on a donation basis, because they have no more money to donate, and they're too proud to not contribute something -- for them it may be a choice of giving money to us or paying a utility bill so their power won't be shut off. Think of the working poor -- young families with a lot of expenses, with parents shuffling between multiple low-paying jobs -- and, in rural areas like this, that means doing a lot of driving, often to other cities; what happens to these households if energy prices continue to rise?

And in the midst of my internal jeremiad, I have to stop and think about my own more foolish consumption habits. The other weekend I almost found myself making a 45-mile trip to my food cooperative, for the second time in a month, to pick up sale items I'd forgotten the first time -- stuff like fair trade coffee and recycled paper towels. And because I was twitchy and wanted to take a drive somewhere. What's wrong with that picture? D'oh!

So when I see the gas-powered scooter, I start thinking about all this other stuff, and about how things are likely going to get much worse before they get any better. Until then, God help us.


Rachel's Big Dunk said...

two things:

First, I, too, secretly giggle every time I see a HUGE SUV at the pump. Yeah, bring it on. Let it get to $5 a gallon. Like it is everywhere else in the bloody world. The other day I gasped when it cost me 38 bucks to fill the tank of my tiny minivan. (Mazda...) The lady in the the monster next to me said "you think that's bad? It costs me over $60." I thought... yeah, your point is? Go buy a smaller car. (Ok, sympathy rant over....)

Second- Jeremiad!!!!! That is fantastic!!!!! I am going to steal that! LOL.

Songbird said...

I swear, I'm going to raid the college fund and buy a Hybrid. The only trouble is, with dogs the size of ours, the only option is the Ford Hybrid SUV, which looks like, well, an SUV. So I guess we will stick with our Volvo wagon, which gets much better mileage than the minivan I used to drive.
My kids have a person-powered Razor scooter. They love it. At least something is going right.

Anonymous said...

My kids have person powered scooters, too - not Razor scooters, but cheap knock-offs which are currently serving them fine. They seem to prefer their bikes, tho.

I confess, however, that I have a non-person-powered scooter (an electric one with a big ole seat for my big ole fatasse) for no purpose other than for fun - and it is fun...ok, and for little trips to nearby destinations.

(The kid on our block with the obnoxiously loud gas powered scooter has either moved away or his scooter has ceased to function - we are not complaining.)

sally said...

Thanks for this post, we have the same problems over in the UK, tho not with golf carts, our gas bills are huge...£45.00 = #65.00-70.00 to fill up a small car!
We are trying to cut down on energy consumption, walking or riding bikes when we can, installing low energy lightbulbs and using the washing line for the laundry.
We've also checked our shopping habits...but it is hard to live simply in a world that revolves around we just keep on trying and picking ourselves up each time we fail and starting over again!

Tom in Ontario said...

The Ontario government has decided to stop subsidizing our electricity so we're going to have to pay the real cost of production and delivery. They're also shutting down all the coal fired power plants. As long as the government was subsidizing there was little incentive to conserve.

As for vehicles, we've got a '96 Ford Windstar van (with 4 kids we need a pretty big vehicle) but we have a little '96 Ford Escort wagon for times when there are less than 6 of us driving somewhere.

LutheranChik said...

Well, again, as I point my finger I have four other fingers aiming back at me -- my Intr pid isn't exactly the most energy-efficient vehicle in the world. ("But it goes so fast and rides so smooth!...") My next car is going to probably be, like, a used Saturn or some other modest and efficient vehicle. As it should be.

LutheranChik said...

Re electricity rates: On the news the other night they were talking about how, in I think Maryland, when the regional energy company deregulated consumers' bills went up over 70 percent. Again -- this hits the elderly and the working poor especially hard.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Our electric rates are going up slightly. Interestingly, they are the same or cheaper than in 1977 when we moved here. Meanwhile, while the rates have stayed the same, and then went down because of "competition" (ie people complaining becvause the electric company in the next area is cheaper), the employees' health care benefits went down.

Nothing is free, that's for sure.

I heard on the radio that the wholesale cost of gas in the US is the highest in the world, the taxes are the lowest, which is why our costs are lowest.

Anonymous said...

There won't ever be an alternative form of energy that will even come near to replacing petroleum in our lives. No, I don't mean petroleum will last forever; I mean we will have to make do with less energy.

DVD: The End of Suburbia
Book: The Long Emergency (by Kunstler)

RuthRE said...

I'm reading this right now.

Can't comment on it yet...still reading it....

LutheranChik said...

I really liked that book. Interestingly, my pastor preached a really rip-roaring sermon on the "powers and principalities" today, which he identified as "wolves" in the story.

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