Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Earth First

Gas prices have finally hit and surpassed four dollars on national average, and our president is going on his final European tour to remind everyone that we "are all too dependent on hydrocarbons" (and seriously, who would blame a European leader -any of them- for responding to that gem with a solid punch to Bush's nose?). So let's talk about energy, the crisis, and the affect the whole deal will have on our economy. First, I must say that I am incredibly angry that we Americans had to wait until gas prices became unbearable economically to have a majority of us -and our government- seriously consider alternative fuel sources. Prior to this, it was Willie Nelson riding around in an ethanol powered bus and Prius owners who seemed to actually be taking steps forward -and the Prius people were doing so partially because the car became synonymous with "cool". The rest of us? Well, we killed the electric car early on in that model's lifetime; and although many companies were paying lipservice to finding alternate fuel sources (I can't open my Newsweek without seeing bp advertising that "There's energy security in energy diversity"), it seemed more like a PR campaign than a real attempt at change. Kind of like Phillip Morris sponsoring anti-smoking campaigns. There just seemed to be something incredibly disingenuous about the whole thing.

We have been told for quite a while "we have reached our peak oil production and some oil geologists [believe] that 90 percent of the world's oilfields have been tapped". But America kept on gobbling up energy resources, kept on buying SUVs, and kept our collective head under a rock. Because as long as it wasn't affecting us economically right that second, then we could deny any validity to claims that it would adversely affect us in the future. We could believe that some solution would magically appear at the right moment without us having put money, time, or energy into finding it. And we are paying for our short-sighted idiocy: "When gasoline was selling closer to $1 at the start of the decade, American households were spending some $300 billion each year to drive their cars and heat and cool their homes. They are now spending some $700 billion a year on energy. Household gasoline bills in the coming year will rise about $100 billion -even if the national gas prices stay near $4 a gallon through 2008". And gas prices staying at $4 a gallon now seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the gas prices "are threatening everything from summer vacations to Meals on Wheels deliveries" and are also responsible for the ingredients that make those meals becoming more and more expensive as well. What Americans forgot, or never learned, or didn't find relevant, is that "oil goes into making virtually everything, including steel, aluminum, plastics, rubber, fabrics, transportation ...and food. People don't generally associate food and petroleum, but petroleum is used to make fertilizers and in vehicles used for planting and harvesting, storage and processing, and the trip to the market for the final sale from the freezer in store to the freezer in a home". Great.

I can't blame everything on ordinary Americans' spending habits though; I can blame some of it on their voting habits. Republicans blocked even discussion of a tax bill aimed for oil companies who were making "unreasonable profits". By the way, Exxon made $10.89 billion profit in the first three months of this year. I can definitely see where taxing them -or even talking about taxing them- is a bad thing. And in the past, our government has apparently "created a disincentive for new technologies and new ideas" by doing things like "mandating that so much ethanol is made and that it has to come from corn sugar" thus diminishing the exploration of creative solutions. Doesn't that just take the biscuit?

Now Americans are finally getting into the swing of things, doing things like trading in their SUVs and carpooling to work, and possibly even thinking about buying a hybrid. We drove 11 billion less miles in March 2008 than in March 2007. And maybe -maybe- we've learned our lesson. Because if we had been investing in and investigating alternative fuel and energy options seriously, we probably would not have gotten to the point where food and gas prices are rising to the further detriment of our economy. If we had been serious about voting people into office who would have fought to have the automobile makers actually work toward more fuel efficient vehicles; who wouldn't have made "light trucks" exempt from such laws; or went after automobile companies who began designing other vehicles to fit the "light truck" definition in order to circumvent the regulations for higher fuel efficiency, we would be farther away from this position today. If we begin to cultivate a mindset recognizing how potential negative effects of our actions that may accumulate in our future are important to consider and work to prevent, maybe our current situation will not have been for naught. Unfortunately, I don't believe it has. I think we will do our best to get ourselves out of this situation in the short term, and then continue along with the mindset we have always embraced and has best been summed up by a bumper sticker my father had three cars ago: "Earth First: We'll Strip Mine The Other Planets Later".

1 comment:

jjfs85 said...

I couldn't agree more, Pet. When I leased my Sentra, one thing I payed close attention to was milage. I fill up once every two to three weeks so the gas prices haven't been sper painful for me yet.

I also take public transit to and from work regularly further reducing my gas consumption.