This leaves us with NON-GROWTH WORK as the only category of output energy we can significantly reduce to keep pace with declining input without reduced population or an immediate reduction in life style. This brings us to the main thesis: gasoline rationing.

   The mechanical definition of energy is the ability of some thing to do work, where work is simply a force acting over a distance. Distance is the most important term here because it implies movement or travel. If we use our personal stored energy (from food) for the work required to crawl, walk, bike, or run from point A to point B, at least we have an obvious result, we’re in a different place, B. Our energy (to do the work) consumption is apparent regardless if we really needed to get to B to survive. If we use another quantity of precious energy to get back to A or go in circles, we literally have wasted energy going nowhere. This is the same energy which could have been used to grow food, for defense, to build something, or forestall contraction and decay. Indiscriminate travel is a very suspect use of energy. Only the travel to acquire food or fuel is essential for system survival.

   Only in the profligate fossil-fuel energy age do we have the luxury of the masses riding in a 4,000-pound chariot, traveling seventy-miles an hour, with extra heat and entertainment. Up to the last months of 2008, American drivers had been burning gasoline at the rate of four-hundred million gallons ... per day! This amounts to one-eighth of world oil consumption and an outflow of American wealth for foreign oil of over a billion dollars per day as long as oil prices hovered about one-hundred dollars per barrel.

   We use more energy to travel a few miles to the supermarket than is in the food we bring home to feed a family of four for a week. In our overall energy balance, the EROEI in this case is clearly less than one which contributes to system decay.

   In the last few years, oil and gasoline prices climbed to record highs as production of all related petro-products began to level off. Our future-growth-dependent economic system ground to a screeching halt. Debt- based growth and expansion based on a continued energy surplus could no longer continue. Other forms of energy could not substitute for the peaking production and consumption of oil.

   As long as market forces control the price of gasoline and prices are high because of production shortfalls all over the world, the wealthy can still out-bid the poor. But high gasoline consumption also affects the price of other related energy-intensive needs like food, diesel, jet fuel, and heating fuel. Finally, now with the cessation of growth and the economic collapse, there is a temporary surplus of oil and gasoline for the first time since the eighties when plentiful world oil replaced waning U.S. supplies.  The result is an unprecedented price collapse exacerbated by the speculative machinations of the commodity markets, in turn leading to turmoil and further curtailment of world oil production.

Truly, we have started down the second half of the oil age. This is a classic chicken and egg question. Which came first and was the cause: the housing bust leading to debt-based financial collapse or the peaking of world oil? Since new housing and debt-based growth, like all real system internal growth, cannot occur without energy. It would appear that waning energy and sharply higher  prices were the basic problem.  Do we have to wait a few years to prove this in hindsight?

   There are many other possibilities to reduce discretionary energy consumption (NONGROWTH-WORK) commensurate with the leveling and imminent decline of TEMPORARY-FINITE fuels, but none are as obvious or excessive as the American love-affair with the automobile. Even gasoline at under two dollars per gallon is too expensive if the economy has ceased to grow leaving out-of-work consumers with no cash for gas and cars that use way too much.

   We are now experiencing a snowball effect and learning just how much of our economy depends directly on the automobile. New car production (also debt financed on the premise of continued growth) has suddenly stalled. The travel and tourist industry are suffering. Indirectly, highway taxes and suburban home demand are in serious jeopardy.

NEXT: Specifics: Internal Growth, Storage or Contraction

Gasoline Rationing . . Are You Kidding?