COLUMN: Pumps run dry but we keep driving

Editor John Arendt wonders if it is time to rethink motorized transportation.

It was a concerning time for motorists last week as gas stations throughout Western Canada, including one here in Summerland, ran dry.

Because of the aftereffects of recent wildfires in northern Alberta and an unexpected shutdown at an Edmonton refinery, gasoline supplies were affected.

The dry pumps reminded us once again how much we as a society depend on gasoline every day.

Commuters on their way to work, parents driving children to or from school, householders buying groceries or running errands and people travelling to or from visits with friends, appointments or special events generally depend on motorized transportation.

When the fuel supply is threatened, even briefly, it affects us all.

The recent gas shortage isn’t the first time motorists have been faced with supply problems.

During World War II, Canada imposed fuel rationing in order to conserve rubber, so more tires would be available for the war effort. Those who remember the war years may remember the ration stickers which restricted the majority of vehicle owners to the equivalent of 11 litres of gasoline each week.

In the 1970s, motorists were hit twice, first during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 and then in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution affected the supply of oil. Some commuters started carpooling. Others travelled by bicycle, on foot or by transit. And auto makers responded with smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.

Canada is an oil-rich country, ranked fifth worldwide in terms of annual oil production.

But even here, it is possible for wildfires to stop or slow down the extraction of crude oil. And it is possible for refinery problems to halt the conversion of crude oil into gasoline.

And, since gasoline and other fossil fuels are non-renewable, there will come a time when we will either run out of easily available crude oil or be forced to use increasingly expensive production methods. When this will happen is a matter of speculation. Some of the more optimistic forecasts suggest this shift — known as Peak Oil — will occur by 2037. Others have suggested we have just a few years before we reach the point where crude oil will become significantly more expensive and difficult to extract.

Some will argue that we in Canada have more than enough crude oil to meet our needs for many generations to come. Only Venezuela and Saudi Arabia have larger proven oil reserves than Canada.

However, the fact remains that we have become extremely dependent on this fuel source.

It’s possible to get around Summerland by bicycle, and it’s possible for someone living near the core of the community to manage on foot. These are my own preferred methods of transportation. I own a car, but given the choice, I’d rather get around without driving.

There are limitations to a car-free or car-light lifestyle. It doesn’t work so well for those who need to commute to Penticton or Kelowna on a regular basis. It doesn’t work for those who need to carry tools or supplies, and it doesn’t work for those who have mobility issues.

Our dependence on fossil fuels continues.

There is some hope with the growing popularity of electric vehicles and the increasing number of electric vehicle charging stations. It’s possible to have motor vehicle transportation which doesn’t rely on conventional motor fuels. Even so, the vast majority of cars and trucks on the road are powered by gasoline.

Something has to change.

When we depend on one source of energy for almost all of our transportation needs, how will we cope in the future with a more extensive gasoline shortage?

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.