A Gas Station!

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There was a building on a relatively busy corner leading out of town that could never stay in business. From the time I was a kid, it kept changing and opening as something else — a restaurant, a trading post, an antique store, a restaurant several times, and probably a few other businesses over the years that I can’t even remember. It seems that no matter what opened there, it would always close again within a few years. Was the location cursed? Was it not busy enough to attract clientele, not a good location, the food repeatedly untasty? Who knows? But it could never stay open for long.

Last year, it unsurprisingly closed yet again. But this time the building was torn down. I wondered why but never got word why a perfectly good building was being reduced to rubble. Why tear down something a new business could move into, if you could only find the right idea? Banks won’t finance a teardown and rebuild for superstitious reasons (curses, ghosts, poltergeists, etc.), so a teardown only makes sense if there is no rebuild. The building took up as much of the land as was practical to allow for parking, so it just made no sense.

Then a few months later they started constructing a new building, further back then the original one. My first thought was why would you bother tearing a building down just to build something that looks to be a similar size on the same parcel of land but offset? This week I got the answer. Where the original building was, they are adding a new structure, with a T-shaped canopy.

A gas station!

Some fool with money thinks this location that cannot make a profit as anything else will be profitable selling liquid death! [facepalm]

So, this time they have purposely opened a business that is guaranteed to fail, its just a matter of when.

I imagine someone with money did math using historical numbers, gas stations in this city typically gross this many dollars in fuel sales, this much in coffee, cigarettes, lottery tickets, chocolate bars, and energy drinks — and given historical patterns, this should be a profitable venture.

We use the past for data because we have no time machine to see the result of a choice we need to make today. However this is a particularly stupid venture. Historical data gives us the illusion of future proofing, if the past is a predictor of the future. That is, if trends hold.

With EVs starting to gain in market share, and the need to get off oil, the price volatility of carbon fuels, climate change, and policy changes that will happen, fossil fuels are dead men walking. Yet we can only see one step ahead. Or more accurately we choose to only look one step ahead.

Creative destruction is a beast that takes no prisoners. From digital photography to MP3 to cell phones (which combine the former) new technology takes over exponentially by proving its worth and overcoming the fear of progress.

It’s easy to forget this, but the advanced technology we take for granted today was new and revolutionary not so long ago. Examples are here.

While we cannot predict the future we do have knowledge of how technological progress occurs, and we know how EVs are superior and that once people get in them, they don’t go back. But whoever envisioned and financed this new gas station is no futurist or anthropologist. They are using the familiar to try to profit from the future. And failing badly.

So, the question here is how long till this gas station venture fails? Will fuel contamination (which is common on land that houses gas tanks) mean huge cleanup costs someday? Who will pay them? Will taxpayers be footing the bill to the remediate land the from this failed venture?

And finally, what is the end game? An EV charger maybe, once fuel sales drop off? Hopefully they can run electrical lines to it and turn it into an EV charging station (its close enough to a residential area to be somewhat convenient). They may have to tear it down again to get the design right even though they just tore down and built this monstrosity in 2020…

However, this is only one small example of the larger issue, one gas station on the outskirts of one city. On a national and international scale, the same thing is going on, Canada’s Justin Trudeau is trying to buy votes in a province that relies on oil for its financial viability by building oil pipelines. This will be a stranded asset paid for by taxpayers (and won’t even get him the votes he thinks it will since he is not a conservative). In the USA, the Republican leadership is propping up fossil fuels as well (so much for letting the market decide lies), and ditto for the Australian right wing reality deniers. Worldwide we continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $5.2 trillion dollars a year. So almost no one is actually letting the market decide, we are choosing to fund our own destruction, for no reason except that we are not ready to save ourselves, which is already possible and modeled.

The worst part of all this is that its completely unnecessary. If we chose to, we could simply transfer all those subsidies to renewables and build production factories for EVs/wind/solar/storage. We could create even more jobs than fossil fuels give us — to defeat climate change.

So, beyond this one new gas station, we will have a planet littered with stranded assets. Some were built decades ago and will have paid for themselves but have had some useful life lift, some will be in the middle of their operating life. And since we can refuse.

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Barry A.F.

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one (3x split) Tesla share.   A link to all my articles

Barry A.F. has 68 posts and counting. See all posts by Barry A.F.