From my position next to the ice machine, I watched cars pull into the convenience store parking lot, cruise slowly past the pumps and then merge back onto North Druid Hills Road. The motorists didn’t stop because the Shell station didn’t have what they needed on Thursday night: gasoline. All over Atlanta, anxious drivers gambled, hoping the gas in their tanks would be enough to fuel their search for more fuel and keep their motors running while they waited for a turn at the pump.
Friday morning at a gas station on Buford Highway, I saw a man fill a dozen or so canisters and load them into the bed of a pick-up truck. Later that afternoon, traffic was snarled on Spring Street. The BP station across the street from the Varsity had gasoline and cars were stacked up to get it. A police officer was on the scene to keep order.
Local news coverage of the gasoline shortage included predictable comments from understandably frustrated motorists. They said the situation was “ridiculous,” “outrageous” and “crazy.” Their feelings of helplessness were summed up in one woman’s frank declaration. “There’s nothing we can do,” she said. “We have to drive.”
I agree with all of these comments, though for a different reason. It is ridiculous, crazy and outrageous for us to expect gasoline to remain cheap and plentiful, even after we’ve been presented with clear evidence that it is neither. As we move further down the Peak Oil timeline, wild swings in price and availability will likely become the norm. It’s easy to understand: As oil becomes more scarce, the disruptive effects of political turmoil, weather and even rumor are amplified.
But, do we really have to drive? For a lot of folks, that’s clearly the case. In many communities, compulsory car use is required. Driving is the only way residents can get in or out of their neighborhoods. We should use Atlanta’s current predicament as a warning. We must modify our behavior, our expectations and our built environment now to contend with the realities we will face in the coming years.
Yet I’m afraid we may be too shortsighted to recognize how Atlanta-style problems could easily be visited upon us. The guys standing in front of a Savannah convenience store yesterday evening seemed unconcerned. Talking and laughing, they paused occasionally to take sips from their soft drinks then placed the cups back on the hood of truck, which stood at the curb with its motor running.