France Gets a Foretaste of a World After Peak Oil


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"It's like apocalypse time," to quote a friend, on the situation in France. While much of the world ponders what can be done to avoid peak oil, instability of our transportation systems, and breakdowns of national security, France is making a trial run. If you have been watching the news, you know that the disruptions in France stem from protests against the government's proposal to raise the retirement age to 62. But for people living and working in France, the effects could be a foretaste of the world when oil runs out. Having an unavoidable commitment in Paris this week, this author can report the experience first-hand. It is not a promising picture.A plane to Paris is the preferred travel option for a business trip. But news out of France reported total cancellations of some airlines, and 30, 40, or 50% disruption of traffic arriving and departing from France's major airports. A key factor was the scarcity of fuel, as refinery workers strike and fuel depots were blocked by protesters. Colleagues in Paris reported television footage of passengers wandering forlornly down streets towing their luggage...unable to get transportation from the airport. Clearly, booking a flight would be an invitation for trouble.

A train from Berlin to Paris is an all-day affair. But better to book a train and guarantee arrival for urgent business, than to have a flight canceled and then struggle against the crowd trying to rebook their travel plans as airports rack up red messages on departure boards. But on this front the news is hardly better: train cancellations rival air travel for the chaos prize.

That's it then: the decision to experience the strikes in France from ground level is made. The best option is to drive. Our group packs a few extra jerrycans in the trunk, and sets off across Germany, fueling up one last time just outside the French border.

Problems are evident as soon as the border is crossed. The roads are remarkably quiet, free of traffic. The cars that are on the roads are traveling at a stately pace, conserving fuel rather than minutes. We pass gas station after gas station -- closed. Between the border and Paris, we saw only three stations with fuel available. None of them offered diesel. The only whiff we got of the heavy-duty fuel was a sign with LED letters advising motorists of the availability of diesel 29 km (18 miles) in the wrong direction.

And just what is so important, that it cannot wait until after the situation calms down? Well, think about what you did last week. Deadlines must be met, business must go on. How would your week have been different if you could not rely on your car, the train, or air travel? This time, the chaos is temporary; but it does not require much imagination to see that when fuel runs out, the economy and daily life we know will quickly collapse. Now is the time to start making better plans.

More on Travel Disruption:
Grounded Under the Volcanic Ash: Eyewitness Report of the Chaos in Europe
Gas Stations of the Future: Waste Land?
What to Do When You Can't Move About Without the Internal Combustion Engine

Tags: Air Travel | Car-Free | Diesel | Peak Oil | Trains