Peak oil is a looming crisis for the world, as current oil fields lose productivity as they empty, as world demand for oil grows with additional nations approaching the oil consumption rates per capita that made the United States wealthy, and as newly found and developed fields promise new sources of oil – at one fourth the rate that oil is being consumed today.
The Peak Oil crisis is hitting now, as demand outstrips – now and forever – the ability to produce oil, on a day by day basis.
The risk: Shortages and rising prices for energy
Whether or not the climate change movement’s contention that burning fossil fuels returns carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that was removed ages ago – unbalancing the content of the air we breathe, and that traps more heat against the Earth that in decades and centuries past – we are facing shortages and volatile prices for oil and other energy sources.
The personal, private automobile is one of the symbols of America’s wealthy lifestyle. The car runs on gasoline, or diesel fuel – oil, that is – or increasingly, electricity from coal-fired power plants (which are still being built, even as Peak Coal approaches). One way to lessen the impact of short supplies of oil, and increasing energy costs, is to – reduce commutes.
Instead of investing heavily in exquisitely energy intensive roadways, or rapid or mass transit, one way is to abandon the concept of commuting to work, to school, or for shopping.
Many urban areas contain housing “communities” – regions, some vast in size, built by a single or small group of builders or investors, some at significant distances from stores, employers, worship centers, and schools. Other cities have seen vast shopping centers and other shopping districts “consolidate” – and expect the community to travel tens of miles to shop. Employers build offices and factories and other business facilities in areas remote from where most of their workers live. I think a “commute” tax on employers is needed, to gain understanding about how far workers commute each day, and the community infrastructure burdened by employers not being engaged with the community, and not taking responsibility for how much commute each employer imposes on that community.
But today the idea is – recognize the impact of letting “city planning” stray, and encourage long commutes – and the attendant costs of providing and servicing the infrastructures and private and public vehicles needed to support the commuting lifestyle.
Social engineering through taxes
What I recommend, is an excise tax, a Residential Excise Tax on the purchase of an existing residence or materials, land, and attendant costs of building a residence. The tax would be calculated for every residence purchased that isn’t located on, or adjacent to, a farm.
The Residential Excise Tax (RET) would be 2.5 percent on the accumulated and total cost of purchasing a residence the first year, increasing by 2.5 percent per year, to an eventual (20 year) target of 50 percent of the cost of buying.
The RET would be forgiven if the following conditions are met:
- Schools. Public school (grades K-12) within one mile walking distance
- Stores. Grocery and hardware stores within one mile walking distance, or qualified combination grocery/hardware store
- Sufficient employment. That is, the total of all employees employed and working within one and a half miles (1.5 miles) is greater than one half (0.5) of the population within one mile of the residence.
- Sidewalk. Whether or not the property borders a street, if the property includes any land surface, it includes a sidewalk for general pedestrian traffic in the direction of general traffic (vehicle or pedestrian) flow, that connects to sidewalks on adjoining properties.
- Parks. Parks, play areas for children, and green zones within 1.5 miles, containing at least 1 square yard of area for each adult living within 1 mile of the residence.
- Retirement. Or, the residence might be sworn to be a retirement residence where no commute or school is required by any resident. The retirement exemption would need to be re-sworn every year, and the first year that a resident commutes to work or school, the RET is due on that year, and the Retirement exemption would be set aside. For the Retirement exemption, all above requirements must be met, except Sufficient employment and Schools.
The Residential Excise Tax might be tailored to also encourage supplemental local food production, by requiring every resident have access to a minimum of space for a garden. Customary certification that water is available for the next century before the residence may be occupied should certainly be required. Certification about whether sufficient electricity can be provided might be worth implementing.
An alternative to calculating the sufficient employment factor might be to impose a factor relating distance to employer for each adult in the household, though that would be subject to abuse (fraudulent claim of distance to employer, fraudulent employer identification until after the RET is paid, etc.). These concerns would be covered by the Employer Commute Tax above.
The intent is to make the choice to live near one’s work cheaper than otherwise, or at least put a halt to the practice of planning communities requiring commutes of more than 20 minutes, or distances too far to walk, for work, shopping, and school. Secondarily, as energy costs rise, the current practice of living way over ‘thar, and working way over ‘hyar, will become increasingly a factor destabilizing employers, communities, and the lives of workers. Limiting the long commutes to the decidedly more wealthy will, in the future, leave fewer people stranded by an unsustainable planning bias toward accommodating big developers.
Communities have to understand the burden imposed by developments, by employment, and by centralized schools, shopping, and employers.