PEAK TRAVEL: When the world gets a little larger because we lived it a little smaller.

This article originally appeared in Spoke Magazine. It was penned around the same time as the previous article I posted ‘The Globalization Of Contentment’, and you’ll see why.


One hundred years ago the idea of traveling around the world was something only attainable by the uber elite – or sailors or soldiers sent overseas to plunder the colonies – but rapidly throughout the twentieth century, and particularly since the 1950s when the jet age dawned, travel has become a recreational reality for people from all walks of life. In fact, in the last half century more people have been moved to more parts of the world than in all the years of human history that preceded it. Anyone with a credit card and access to an on-line ticket booking agency can go almost absolutely anywhere in the world; and they can get there quicker than it took their grandfather to walk to school or the coal mine.

Over the next two decades, they way and frequency with which we travel abroad will likely proceed down one of two very different paths. The cheery forecast, shared by most of the large tourism companies whose business is to make bankers and stockholders optimistic about these things, is that travel will grow exponentially in the next twenty years, turning the global village into a global metropolis. Boeing and Airbus, the world’s only important manufacturers of large commercial aircraft, say that world air traffic will triple by 2030. Imagine three times more screaming babies and three times as many flatulent unwashed hippies choking the cabins of the sky.

All of this growth is predicted on one decisive variable: the uninterrupted supply of affordable oil. Even if the Middle East is kept stable enough to prevent a disruption to the global fuel supply, or if new sources are found and plundered in the wilds of Alaska or even the Otago gold fields, there is still chance we may have to turn attention to discussing the future-travel model number two.

It doesn’t take a genius with a PHD in resource economics to understand the concept of “peak oil”, which is that gas and oil are finite resources subject to depletion. However, for the most part of the twentieth century we have acted as if these resources are infinite.

Some people, like the International Energy Agency, say we may have already reached peak oil production, whilst others predict we have at least twenty years before this will occur. Either way, it is a pretty dire outlook. Commentators then say this will lead to rapid societal disintegration and be accompanied by collapse of the international banking system, which is entirely dependent upon the increased prosperity of an oil-based economy. This will lead to more civil disturbance, countries plundering other countries for resource wealth and bankers disappearing into a cloud of smoke bombs like a carnival magician. Sound familiar?

Anyway, if this really kicks into gear then a winter vacation to Bali to pick your nose on the beach for a week is going to seem a bit frivolous, if not unfeasible. I mean, you might be a bit busy planting vegetables, living in a tent, burning your house for warmth or fighting off bandits who want to steal the canned meats you squirreled away before Pac ‘n’ Save was emptied out.

You can choose to believe this dark painting of the future, or one a little less Road Warrior, but still peak oil is a reality that could mark the decline of the golden age of travel. If the cost of aviation fuel goes up to a state that makes travel cost prohibitive less people will be able to travel. Then the falling numbers of travelers will force more airline companies to cease operating. All in all our perception of a small earth will be shattered and we will go back to seeing the world as a mass of forbidding terrain that is expensive to to see and much harder to move within. Perhaps travel will revert to the domain of only the most brave and hardy explorers and adventurers. Or perhaps Zuckerburg will set up FaceBook Travel where we can virtually travel to see our friends on-line. Or perhaps that what is happening already?

In 2011 alone I have traveled to ten different countries to ride my bike, which has resulted in me burning more aviation fuel and creating more harmful emissions than ten generations of my family combined. Am I burning up more than my fair share of oil? Am I making more of a mess of the earth than others? Of the types of travel that contribute to global warming, jet travel contributes the third-highest amount of CO2 emissions. One statistic from Alternatives to Globalization states, “a two-minute takeoff by a 747 is equal to 2.4 million lawn mowers running for 20 minutes.” Takeoff, of course, is only one portion of the quantity of fuel jets require. An average of one ton of CO2 emissions are released for every international flight. Does this make me a bad person? Perhaps, but at least I’m not a bloody hypocrite with a One Less Car sticker on the top tube of my expensive bicycle that was imported half way across the world.

Mountain bikes are a vehicle for travel. They can show you a new world in the same old patch of woodland at the end of your street that you have know for years or they make you want to pack up and see more of the world. There is an endless list of places to go and to not feel the constant pull towards these places is something I cannot fathom. I’m not apologetic for using my bike to see more of the world, appreciate the differences of the local within the context of the global, or to learn a lot about myself along the way. I might be contributing to speeding up the inevitable peak oil paradigm but how I see it is I have to get what I can whilst I can and do all I can in the meantime to help slow the worlds inexorable swan dive to resource exhaustion. Going tubeless or patching tubes rather than throwing them away is one way of offsetting my burden. It’s not much, but it is a start.

[note: I hate that I ended this article that way. What a mercenary and careless attitude towards the matter, and a slothful writing style.]

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