Monday, December 14, 2009


US Cities Cut Services in Austerity Move

Budget cuts are forcing municipalities to reduce their energy consumption in areas that people would never have expected. For example, American cities are supposed to be well illuminated by street lights to make them safe for drivers and deter crime. But “Indiana cities pull plug on streetlamps to save money” describes how cities in the Hoosier state are making do with darker streets. And New Yorkers will likely have to make do with scaled-back bus and subway service as detailed in “MTA committee approves budget cuts that slash NYC subway, bus services.”

This is more serious than it might seem. Industrial Man expects that we’ll be using at least as much if not more energy in the future as the global economy expands. Instead, we are scaling back because energy is now too expensive. Of course, there may be a last spurt in which, for a time, streetlights are turned back on, and idled buses and subways are brought back into service, but what we’re seeing here is part of an emerging long-term trend in which energy use keeps declining, which will induce the crumbling of socioeconomic systems that assume high energy consumption.

We must distinguish what is happening here from “saving energy,” which means that societies will maintain the same services using less energy. For example, streetlights and buses would be made more efficient. What’s happening here is that those services are just disappearing.

This will require some adjustment on our part (OK, that is an understatement). When we flick the switch, we expect the lights to come on. What happens when they don’t? Indeed, what happens when all the streetlights go out? What happens when more buses and subways stop running? It’s pretty scary when you think of the implications and ramifications.

Today a few streetlights and buses. And tomorrow?

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