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March 10, 2011

The End of the Old Oil Order

by Nicole Schlosser

It seems that the era of cheap oil has ended. As events over the past few weeks have made clear, we all need to either resign ourselves to paying significantly higher prices to fuel our cars, or switch, at least occasionally, to alternative transportation, including biking, walking, taking the bus or rail.

There’s finally more acceptance of this as a reality. It’s even leaching into entertainment, with younger actors in an AMC serial drama portraying an older era, being proponents of high-speed rail and walking the walk by taking public transportation to work, despite being able to afford other options. Two lead actors from the hit television show "Mad Men" throw their support behind high-speed rail in a humorous new online video posted Wednesday on

The actors and U.S. PIRG, a national advocacy organization, developed the video in conjunction with the popular online video site as a way to reach new audiences and build excitement for high-speed rail projects around the country.

Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell, and Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane, born in 1979 and 1978, respectively, according to, are true to their characters on the show, playing Madison Avenue ad men in 1965.

The short scene draws many parallels between then and now, which are both funny and disturbing: Japan embracing and still being far ahead of us on high-speed rail; all the ad dollars spent on telling the American consumer how “sexy and powerful” cars are; using traffic and parking hassles as selling points; and comparing them to airplanes. Toward the end, Harry delivers a great line when assuring Pete he doesn’t have to worry about selling rail to the public: "But, honestly, I think you can relax on this whole thing. I read that in 40 years, gas is going to cost almost one dollar a gallon.”

If only that were true. With all the uprisings happening in the Middle East, a primary source of the world’s oil, we may have finally seen the end of cheap and easily accessible petroleum, says professor and author Michael T. Klare. The “old oil order,” as he puts it in an article published by and grist, is dying.

While cheap oil “has made possible the automobile, the aviation industry, suburbia, mechanized agriculture and an explosion of economic globalization,” Klare writes, and  “a handful of major oil-producing areas launched the Petroleum Age — the U.S., Mexico, Venezuela, Romania, the area around Baku (in what was then the Czarist Russian empire), and the Dutch East Indies — it's been the Middle East that has quenched the world's thirst for oil since World War II.”

So, if we lose our primary pusher for our cheap fossil fuel fix, what’s next? Will it be high-speed rail? Personal Rapid Transit? Far into the future, when we’re all fossils, and the entertainers of tomorrow make a “video” set in our current era, will eco-conscious actors still be mocking the fact that we can’t give up our cars? Or, will we finally have evolved a few steps ahead, with the joke being that high-speed trains is one of those antiquated ways of yesterday?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Are public tweetings in your future?" here.

Nicole Schlosser

Senior Editor

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  • Daniel B[ March 11th, 2011 @ 10:16am ]

    Excellent article. My worry is that it will be more than an up-hill battle over the next 6 years. The House is set to bring their Transportation Bill to the Highways and Transit Sub-Committee any week now, likely within a few weeks.....could be very downsized and petty.

  • Jim[ March 11th, 2011 @ 11:22am ]

    If I have to resign myself to accept high oil prices then the transit industry should resign itself to paying higher wages to its workers so they can afford it and the higher cost of living associated with it. Unless we all can work from home. Affordable and accessable transit is one way go.We should demand nothing less.

  • Gary D[ March 11th, 2011 @ 5:07pm ]

    Interesting that alternative energy autos were not considered as an option, or increased use of existing infrastructure thru car/vanpooling - rather stick to the mantra of HS rail, even though it's tremendously expensive, would consume vast amounts of resources (including petrol)to build and operate, and be useless in most places for commuter travel - not to mention people having to drive to/from the train, since most of suburbia can't be serviced by transit.

  • Jason[ March 12th, 2011 @ 8:40am ]

    You might or might not be right about oil prices, but this is not Europe (thank God). Your whole perspective is wrapped around a presupposition and perhaps a personal desire to see us be like Europe. Personally, I don't take my cues from the mainstream media, Hollywood and most definitely not from the White House. I am just as much a responsible steward as many, but I revere our freedoms way more than a dream for high-speed rail. I admire what Rick Scott did in Florida and I am NOT a nutjob. Why? Because I'm bent on hurting poor shmoes who need from A to B on the train? Of course not. I admire people with spines to protect the tax payer's money even at his own personal peril. Truly, if we can all take off our cynic's hat for a moment, what would Rick have to gain by saying no to $2.4 billion? Would high-speed rail be nice? of course. I'd love it. But are we doing it responsibly by borrowing more money from Communist China? I say no. I say let's continue to tighten our belts, get leaner and meaner and become more grateful for our remaining freedoms...and start concentrating more on taking those back, than trying to emulate Socialist countries.


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