The End of the Old Oil Order

Posted on March 10, 2011 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.

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