Hannah Scribbles

“Mad Max” Isn’t Our Dystopian Future

In Movies/TV, Pop Culture!, The Great Outdoors on April 3, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Could the United States really devolve into a Mad Max society?

Mad Max never goes into the world-building or explains its oil scarcity – it simply is – but director/writer George Miller and producer/writer Byron Kennedy developed the idea following the 1973 oil scare.

In the months leading up to the 1973 oil crisis, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an oil embargo in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel in an ongoing Middle East conflict.  Suddenly, oil supplies to the United States, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom disappeared.

fuel shortages in 1973, 1973 oil crisis, lines for gasoline

A massive oil shortage ensued, with lines at gas stations stretching miles.  Gas prices soared, and car makers were forced to consider making cars with higher fuel mileage rather than the gas-guzzling muscle cars of the previous decade. Many countries, suddenly aware of their energy insecurity, began rethinking their energy policies.

However, once the crisis resolved itself, those same governments pushed energy security down a lengthening list of concerns.  Oil dependency went largely forgotten, and that shows in Miller and Kennedy’s film.

The government in Mad Max didn’t consider alternate fuel sources until it was too late.  With oil scarcity making transportation difficult, essential items such as food skyrocketed in price.  Roving marauders took to the roads, interested in stripping cars for profit as much as they were in finding fuel.  Unable to contain the violence, the government began to collapse.  Anarchy ensued.

If the United States is ever hit with a sudden crisis, we might find ourselves living in a similar world.  Private transportation, food delivery and basic manufacturing rely overwhelmingly on oil supplies.  At bare minimum, an oil shortage could make food prices skyrocket.  Two fuel shortages in the 1970s and a localized fuel crisis following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 demonstrate the need for Americans to consider alternate modes of personal transportation as well as overall energy diversification.

superstorm sandy gas rationing, gas rationing 2012, hurricane sandy gasoline shortageThe problem during Sandy wasn’t a lack of fuel but a lack of access.  Gas stations were unable to pump gasoline to waiting cars.  Lines formed.  New York and New Jersey governors Cuomo and Christie imposed rationing systems, which met with criticism and resistance from aggravated drivers.

Unless he or she is a “prepper,” someone who plans ahead for potential disasters, the average U.S. citizen is unlikely to store extra fuel.  In the short term, Sandy points out vulnerabilities and gives companies incentive to diversify their investments with electric and natural gas-fueled cars.

Sudden catastrophe aside, the United States won’t devolve into a Mad Max society because, as oil supplies dwindle, economic power will shift.  Early price increases during a prolonged fuel shortage won’t hold up to truly innovative minds, those corporations flexible enough to embrace change rather than fight for the status quo.

Bike-walk trails are increasingly being woven into existing urban infrastructure.  The Maria Ignacio Creek Trail in California connects with several other trails to provide safe travel to bike-walk commuters.  Cities such as Hoboken and Pittsburgh added more bicycle lanes to city streets, making the roads safer for non-motorized transportation.

Though full or hybrid electric-powered vehicles are still viewed as an expensive luxury for personal transportation, prices are surprisingly low.  In an article on EV Obsession, green tech writer Zachary Shahan lists 11 plug-in electric cars that are cheaper than new cars fueled by gasoline.  Though not ubiquitous, the consumer who can afford a new or slightly used car can now transition easily to electric vehicle (EV) technology.

Natural gas has taken off as an energy source for heating, electricity generation and residential stove tops.  However, natural gas vehicles are hindered by a lack of existing infrastructure.  While natural gas-powered vehicles are already becoming popular in commercial fleets where vehicles can regularly return to a central fueling point, the technology is reluctant to take off in everyday uses.   Who would buy a car without knowing where to refuel it?

Still, natural gas could become the fastest-growing energy source in the world within 25 years, writes NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten in his 2012 article, The Dash for Gas.

 “The energy trade is an important determinant of the global balance of power, and the shift to natural gas will introduce a new set of winners and losers, bringing greater independence to many countries and reducing the energy leverage that oil producers have traditionally enjoyed,” Gjelten writes.

Change is difficult and unpleasant.  Perhaps that is why social collapse happened in Mad Max.  Perhaps scientists warned of a coming fuel shortage only to be ignored by officials made complacent by past success.  After all, when new information challenges our notions of the world our first act is often to discredit the source.

Since natural gas is itself a fossil fuel, it is not a final answer to energy security.  Electric cars have a fair share of faults, too.  It is human nature to want a simple answer when the truth requires articulation, so it’s fair to guess the real answer is a combination of new technology and conservation.  Relying less on the roads may be the only way to prevent this dystopian film from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mad Max explosions, Mad Max cars, Mad Max oil crisis, fuel shortages in film

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