The provincial government has instructed our local municipalities to prepare for a massive population boom, but the influx could well be stalled by the “peak oil” scenario.
As the hills begin to blaze with colour and the harvest gets under way, there is an unhappy undercurrent gathering momentum beneath the autumn celebrations: the rising price of oil.
In “Over a Barrel,” Jeff Rollings examines the potential impact of those price increases on life in our countryside – on commuting, on farming, on tourism, and on the pocketbooks of almost everyone.
Indeed, the theme of rising oil prices spills over into some of our more traditional autumn stories. As students return to school, Iain Richmond assesses the changing politics and finances related to school busing. And he discovers that rising fuel prices have increased the cost of transporting our kids to and from school by as much as 20 per cent.
And the theme comes up again in our annual review of the autumn art season, which this year includes profiles of the Hills of Erin Studio Tour and the restoration of the Alton Mill. But in those cases the news may not be all bad. Artists and others who count on the tourism market are betting that the cost of travel will have our urban neighbours looking for cultural and recreational activities closer to home – and that the Headwaters region is well positioned to receive them.
Still, as the nights grow chill, the outlook may grow bleaker. As Roy Bryan of Bryan’s Fuel tells Jeff Rollings, “People don’t realize that the cost of home heating has also gone up over the summer, while no one was using it. They’re in for a shock come winter.” Prices began rising last year and, for the most part, people rolled with the punch, but this year may well push some people beyond the tipping point. Roy Bryan adds, “I’m worried about this year. It’s always the marginalized who struggle, and of course they’re the ones who can’t afford to upgrade [to a more heating efficient system].”
The long-term impact remains to be seen. The provincial government has instructed our local municipalities to prepare for a massive population boom, but the influx could well be stalled by the “peak oil” scenario. As Jeff Rollings points out, rural people use more oil than city dwellers. If there isn’t a concerted effort to reduce our consumption, instead of a population boom there could be a population flight. The upside? Our countryside may stay green in spite of us.