Foreign readers may be unaware of the fuel-based entertainment provided last week by the government here in the UK. In response to a possible (not certain, mark you) strike by tanker drivers at the end of April, our sagacious leaders suggested that we all panic buy petrol and/or diesel now (at the end of March). Fearing that this may cause insufficient chaos, they then went on to suggest that we should not stop at filling up our vehicles but should also stockpile fuel in jerry cans in our garages, outbuildings and – for all I know – houses.
Oh, what larks, Pip! Long queues at every filling station (well, those that had not already run out of fuel) and huge amounts of unnecessary anxiety ahead of the holiday period. By now, this whole country must be considered an explosion hazard, so can I suggest if any readers are planning to visit the UK that they take care with naked flames or sparks as the whole country could go up in flames if we’re not all very careful (you might consider packing a bucket of sand or fire extinguisher, just in case). Personally, I’m worried about the forthcoming round-country trip by the Olympic torch: surely a major incident waiting to happen.
As the regular reader will know, my preferred forms of transport are the velocipede and train (depending on distance). I do have a car, but as I only drive around 800 miles a year (as compared to the 4,000-5,000 miles covered on two wheels) I only have to fill-up two or three times per annum (depending on how much I’m willing to trust the fuel gauge). Even then, I resent the whole process: driving is bad enough without the whole inconvenience of having to visit a filling station every six months (normally having forgotten where my car’s petrol cap is located) and worse still, they expect you to pay for the privilege!
Having bought some petrol in February, I should be set until September – and so have been able to watch all the recent excitement as a (rather smug) spectator. If the banana boat drivers (or what ever the maritime equivalent might be) take industrial action, I will be in more trouble – but I’m sure I could find an alternative fruit to fuel my legs if I must. However, I wouldn’t want you to think I am entirely heartless (even if I am) and I do recognise that many are dependent on more frequent visits to the purveyors of liquid alkanes through no fault of their own. I was thus intrigued to see a survey carried out for the Independent which suggested that 4 out of 5 people blame the government for the crisis. This led me to wonder (a) who was the fifth person (William Hague?) and (b) who do they blame?
The crisis also started me thinking about a route to a more sustainable transport system. Given the huge importance of oil as an industrial feedstock, the strictly finite reserves in existence and the very long timescales for the planet to create any new stock it has struck me since I was a nipper as somewhat insane to just burn the stuff. The massive increases in fuel costs in recent years seem to have had only a very modest impact on consumption – and none at all on the number of vehicles – so perhaps we need a new approach. My wizard wheeze is to stop focusing on cost, and instead look at reliability of supply. If the government can keep generating these crises on a random basis, I think the frequent and massive inconvenience caused could provide the push we all need to switch to electric cars (or back to steam!).