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Gains pains? Time to think positive

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By Walt Reichert

With gas prices on the rise, grumbling is becoming a national past time.

One of the most inane I have heard goes something like, "There's plenty of oil. Those companies are just exploiting us!"

Plenty of oil? Time was, we Americans thought there was plenty of forest, plenty of buffalo and plenty of passenger pigeons. And plenty of whales to produce whale oil - the fuel commonly used before we discovered black gold.

It only makes sense that oil is in limited supply and will eventually run out and we better start getting used to it. After all, how many dinosaurs have you seen falling into a tar pit lately?

I would suggest that instead of dwelling on the pain at the pump, we start envisioning the future without our near-complete reliance on oil and see the benefits of a world with more limited supplies of gasoline. Here are just a few:

More open space and farmland. Cities have sprawled all over what was once farmland because the government built us interstates and gasoline was cheap. Now as commuters are questioning the wisdom of living 30 miles from where they work and start looking to move closer in, builders and developers may switch from building subdivisions in open fields to rehabbing older urban dwellings and building more up and less out. There would not necessarily be less development, just development of a different kind than what we've had for the past 50 years.

Revitalized downtowns. Services will follow people and if people start to move to downtown areas to be closer to work and to be rid of a car -- or to have to use it very little -- grocery stores, department stores and other amenities that used to be part and parcel of downtowns will move back. Many buildings in downtowns, including in downtown Shelbyville, sit partially empty and would make perfect living spaces. In fact, several of those will be on display during the Up the Downtown Staircase put on by the Shelby Development Corporation on Tuesday, June 24 from 5-7 p.m.

Self-sufficient towns and villages. In times past, small towns had grocery stores, hardware stores, clothing stores, gas stations and other amenities, including their own schools. But as small towns withered with the growth of suburbia, rural dwellers were forced to drive more to do their shopping, go to school, etc. Goods and services may move back to small towns if they know the residents would rather shop there than make the 30-mile drive to the big city, or the big city suburbs.

Efficient public transportation. In Germany, where gasoline sells for about $9 per gallon, it is faster to get from one city to the next on a train than it is by automobile. We have talked a good game in America about developing a public transportation system, but until the recent spike in gas prices, have not had the will to do so. We would also develop better biking and walking trails.

Better health. Fewer cars and less driving would mean less pollution. It would also mean healthier people because more people would walk and fewer would drive. Cars are just one of the reasons Americans are so sedentary, but they contribute to our enormous problem with obesity. In fact, if you really want to find a nearly limitless supply of energy, consider that stored in America's belly fat. If we could melt all of that down, we could tell the Mideast potentates to go hang themselves.