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You Think Oil's Going Down? Think Again

And the more we use now, the more it will cost tomorrow. We're already seeing changes in business and consumer patterns that are likely to get more pronounced as this happens. "Anywhere it isn't essential, people will switch away from oil," he says.

Some examples of change that we're already seeing:

  • General Electric (GE - Get Report) is investing heavily in hybrid engines for cars, trains and even tugboats, as GE's Tim Richter discussed earlier this month as a guest blogger on MyGreenElement.com.
  • U.S. auto makers like General Motors (GM - Get Report) and Ford (F - Get Report) are tripping over themselves trying to catch up with Japanese auto makers like Toyota (TM - Get Report) and Honda (HMC - Get Report), and even European companies like Volkswagen, when it comes to fuel-efficient technologies and designs.
  • Venture-capital investors are pouring "billions" into battery technologies for all those hybrid engines, Heal says.
  • Boeing (BA - Get Report) is using plastics and carbon composites to create lighter planes like the upcoming Dreamliner, which it says will use 20% less fuel than comparably sized commercial planes.
  • The air-travel industry is becoming more bifurcated. Business-class only service, like that from KLM and Lufthansa, will become an increasingly important niche as economy-class travel becomes a periodic splurge rather than a God-given right for middle-class vacationers.
  • As old oil-generated power plants age and fall out of use they'll be replaced by nuclear, wind, water and other power sources.
  • People are getting out of their car and onto buses and trains. Public transportation ridership hit 10.3 billion trips in 2007, its highest level in 50 years, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
  • Heal says that the biggest change he's seeing is in the future business leaders of America who he teaches at Columbia Business School:

    "There were always a few students, two, three, four percent of the class, who were interested in the environment, but for the most part, if I brought up climate change I'd be greeted with yawns," he says. "Now hands go up and they ask a lot of questions." Compared with just five years ago, he says, students are more "aware and concerned."

    He adds, "I think that when they get into senior management positions, it will have an impact."

    No one can say where oil prices will be by then, but if Heal is right, and I have a feeling he is, they are sure to be higher.

    Eileen P. Gunn writes about the business of life and is the author of "Your Career Is An Extreme Sport." You can learn more about her at her Web site.
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