There are several threads going on right now in the GD forum relating to whether any automobile fuel can be developed that would be an effective substitute for petroleum-derived gasoline. Maybe it can and maybe it can’t, but it occurs to me that we could reduce the problem, to a limited extent, by providing alternatives to automotive transportation itself.
For local travel, this would involve mass transit – subways, light rail, buses. (The way most American suburban areas have been developed since World War II, mass transit probably can never be made a practical option, but that’s another discussion.) For long-distance travel, we might do what the Europeans do: Use trains. But at present, our national rail network is extremely primitive compared to Europe’s. We could remedy that: If we (that is, our federal government) could build a national network of interstate highways, in principle we should be able to build a national network of state-of-the-art high-speed rail lines. Say, one line along each interstate highway corridor. Why not? If the Europeans and the Japanese can do it, we can do it! It would take some of the pressure off the highways and the airlines alike. High-speed trains are electrically powered – which means the power source can come from practically any kind of plant that produces electricity, whether it is coal-fired, gas-powered, nuclear, or hydroelectric. This would greatly lessen our national dependence on imported petroleum.
But what would building such a network involve? How much money would it cost? And how could we overcome the political obstacles? I live in Florida. A couple of years ago the voters approved a referendum on a constitutional amendment requiring the state to build a high-speed rail line linking Tampa, Orlando and Miami. And even after that vote, Governor Jeb Bush is still trying to block the project. His ostensible and quite plausible reason is that it would cost the state too much money. (Our state would have a much bigger, healthier budget if we had a state income tax, but no Florida politician will even mention that, it’s political suicide.) However, a person of cynical inclination might suggest that Jeb’s family’s involvement in the oil industry might play some role in his opposition. And we would be facing the same vested-interest opposition all over the country – from the oil industry, the auto industry, possibly even the airline industry. Can anybody see a way around this?