Another area where the rise and fall of oil will have a big impact is going to be on climate change amelioration efforts. Reducing carbon emissions is a considerably more hot button issue politically when the price of gasoline is high, ironically enough, because people are more willing to cut down on their use for economic rather than environmental reasons.
As gas prices decline, so too does environmental consciousness and with it political will. If the Obama administration can keep the focus on reducing carbon emissions going, the country should be better positioned once the next oil shock comes, but this will require likely heavier subsidization of alternative energy deployments than may be presently planned.
One thing that that likely will get a major boost this year is the formal establishment of a North American carbon market, likely employing a cap and trade option where carbon credits become warrants (just like stocks) that can be bought and sold on the market. A company can buy warrants if it is likely to need to pollute more, and other companies or organizations can sell such warrants by introducing carbon reducing efforts such as reforestation. While such a system isn't ideal (the European market got off to a very rocky start) its a critical first step. Look for companies such as Victoria, BC based CarbonNetworks to be signficant players in that space.
This may prove critical in the next year. Despite the first "white christmas" for much of the US in some years (likely caused by the extremely quiet sun over the last eight months with no sunspot activity at all), I was a little suprised this year to find geese honking merrily away in the football field abutting our back yard here in Victoria. Visiting geese aren't that unusual - the field makes a natural landing spot for them, and its not unusual to have several dozen of them in the field at any given time during the spring and fall - but Canadian geese are migratory birds. By late December, most geese have made their way as far south as Northern California.
The forecasts from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, aka, the Weather Bureau) for 2009 indicate that overall next year will be warmer than usual for most of the Southeast through the start of the year, then this area will moderate, while the West will end up being well above average temperature wise for until early Fall 2009. The winter of 2009-2010 looks considerably more warmer as well, as it will be well above average from the Mid-Atlantic States west as far as Arizona, and from Minnesota to Florida. Even the Pacific Northwest, which spent much of 2008 being at or slightly below normal temperatures, will not be completely spared, with temperatures above normal throughout the summer.
Additionally, this will likely be a very dry year through much of the US until the hurricane season in August through October. During that period, rainfall will be significantly above normal as well along both the East Coast and along the Gulf Coast. Drs. Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project also predict that there will be fourteen named storms this year, of which seven will be hurricanes and three of which will be major (Category 3+) hurricanes. There is a 63% chance that at least one of those major storms will make landfall. This compares with 13, 7 and 3 for predicted for 2008, while the actual totals came to 16, 8 and 5 storms respectively. Gray and Klotzbach have been successful predicting hurricane seasons for more than twenty five years.
It is thus likely that another Hurricane Ike or Hurricane Katrina may happen again this year, with the correspondent attendant disruptions - especially given that Klotzbach and Gray's predictions indicate about 5% more activity than last year and more than 20% above the average level. From the standpoint of developers in the Southeast US, its beginning to look like planning for workplace disruptions due to severe weather are almost becoming normal, sad to say.