Localize Now

…or live to regret it?

A short while ago, I drove down Route 17 to Middletown, NY, in order to meet my daughter at the train station there.  Route 17 is being “upgraded” to Interstate 86 at a cost of who knows how many gazillions of taxpayer dollars.  According to the New York State DOT website, the construction budget for the sections of road between Roscoe and Middletown is just under $165,000,000.  That includes $96,626,000 to build a bypass at Parksville, no doubt devastating that village’s restaurants, gas stations and other businesses, and cutting the State’s tax revenues from that soon-to-be-shuttered community.

“What were they thinking?” I wondered as we drove along.

Why are the bought-and-paid-for idiots who spend our money dispensing hundreds of millions of it for yet more paved highway that in a few short years no one will be able to afford to drive on and which the State will be unable to maintain?  Global production of oil peaked in 2008 and we are now bouncing along on a very bumpy production plateau, at the end of which is not “energy independence” but a cliff.  Like Wile E. Coyote, we are going to shoot out over that cliff and pedal frantically in mid-air for as long as we can –– until we can’t.  When we hit bottom, we’re going to find ourselves in a much simpler, less energy-intensive world than any of us have experienced in a very long time, a world in which shoe leather will be more valuable than a set of wheels that you can’t afford to run.

Don’t believe the hype about shale gas replacing imported oil.  You’ll notice that the drilling companies run trucks, bulldozers, drilling rigs and compressors on diesel fuel, not shale gas.  It is liquid fuels that make our economy go.

The drillers operating in Pennsylvania are all losing money on the gas they produce.  They keep at it to keep their stock prices up while they try to arrange for a pipeline to take the gas to Boston where it can be liquified and sold to the allegedly expanding economies of Asia.

Unfortunately for that plan, the Chinese and Indian economies are contracting, in step with the markets in the US and Europe.  Let’s also remember that the State and Federal governments are broke and running on borrowed money––on debt.  Projects like the insane conversion of adequate Route 17 into economy-destroying Interstate 86 are funded with bonds, which sounds respectable and responsible until you examine it.

The State agency issues bonds which “investors” buy and on which you and I pay the interest (mostly to the same banks that are still on taxpayer-funded life-support).  When those bonds mature, the governments (who have no money with which to repay the principal) “roll over” the bonds into new bonds on which you and I continue to pay the interest.  But, since the day when the original bonds were issued, more money has been borrowed in the form of additional bonds, on which you and I pay the interest as well.  One day, the amount of interest due on all the accumulating bonds  will exceed all the income earned by everyone in the state or the country and, on that day, the whole Ponzi scheme collapses.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that Europe is currently imploding for exactly this reason: unrepayable debt.  The only reason that the United States is not also falling apart is that, for now, we are perceived as a safe haven by those who are fleeing the Eurozone.  The dollar is still the internationally accepted reserve currency which everyone needs to buy food and fuel.  One day soon, however, the interest payments on the loans to our government will exceed our income and then we’ll be busted, too.

We are clearly in a serious predicament.  Our politicians, alas, either don’t understand or don’t acknowledge the seriousness.  They lie or inadvertently misinform about energy, about money, about debt.

So what can we do?  Let’s go back to Wile E. Coyote, bruised and angry at the bottom of the cliff.  Like Wile E., we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and (perhaps groaning with pain and disappointment) go on with the rest of our newly very simple lives.   What we really need for a decent life is suddenly very clear: not a smart phone and American Idol but food, shelter, clothing, family, friends, and a community within which to find, produce, grow and nurture those same things.  In Franklin, as in every community in the modern world, we have all grown more separate, more selfish, more isolated in our homes and our private concerns.  We need to stop fantasizing about a future that, no matter how much we wish it would be, will not be like the easy past.  The sooner we simplify our lives and relocalize our economies, the easier will be the inevitable transition.