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An unanticipated bottleneck

An unanticipated bottleneck

In the World Without Oil game, we predicted that a sudden rise in oil prices would cause a bicycle shortage. But I don’t think we adequately envisioned the crisis in bicycle repair.

Behold a sign of the times: the times being 1973, that is. The photographer, ubrayj02, explains:

“The price of gasoline in the U.S. rose dramatically in 1971. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 sent gasoline prices through the roof in the United States. The rise in gasoline prices got many Americans to start riding bikes in numbers never anticipated by bicycle manufacturers and retailers. The result? A shortage of bicycles in the U.S., and a repair queue at most bike shops that could last several months. This hand made sign, from B&H Cycles in South Pasadena, was hanging in their store window during the oil embargo. This sign is now housed at the Bike Oven.”

So add bicycle care and repair to gardening, cooking, hypermiling, community organizing, and the list of other skills that give a great return on investment in the world without cheap oil. Photo by ubrayj02 via Flickr.

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Photo by Ken EklundCircumstances have conspired to create an explosion in backyard gardens. I heard this first anecdotally about a month ago from my friends in New York City, who reported that the nurseries near their farm in Vermont were just about out of everything. And now it’s hitting the newswires.

The backyard garden may conjure up patriotic memories of the Victory Gardens of World War II, but as the article notes, the last time that Americans really got serious about gardening was the Oil Shock of 1975. And sure enough, backyard and urban gardens were a central theme in the World Without Oil game – and local food and guerrilla gardening [1] [2], too.

It’s easy to see why – A garden turns some dirt, some water, some seeds, some weeding and some sun into food – the most efficient solar power device known to man. And as many WWO players cautioned, it’s good to start now: gardening is a skill that takes years to acquire – best not to count on a lifesaving bounty your first (or second) time out. Photo of the Farmers Market in Union Square, June 2008.

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.
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