Some things, like renal physiology, are difficult. Some things, like Arab-Israeli peace, are impossible. And some things are preternaturally simple. You want more fuel-efficient cars? Don't regulate. Don't mandate. Don't scold. Don't appeal to the better angels of our nature. Do one thing: Hike the cost of gas until you find the price point.
— Charles Krauthammer, Op Ed, Washington Post of 6/6/08
I’m one who tends to keep the locations of the stations that sell the least expensive gas hovering in the back of my mind. If at all possible I’m likely to manage my trips such that I wind up in the vicinity of one of these stations when my gas tank needs a refill. I don’t like high gas prices any more than anyone else, even less than some. So I was surprised when I found myself agreeing with Charles Krauthammer. But in this op ed I think he hit the nail on the head. And if we look around us and hear, really hear the daily news we can see what he says is truthful.
The sad thing is that we didn’t use the difference between what the price was back in the 70’s and this $4.00 tipping point (or perhaps it would have tipped at $3.00 back then) to establish a fund for alternate energy research. We could have used part of that fund to cushion the blow for the lowest income people among us. And we just might have, by now, developed energy sources that we could live with and move toward building a sustainable society.
As it is, folks, we’ve dug ourselves one heck of a hole, what with most everyone stuck in two-ton plus vehicles to transport us to McDonalds and back — often without passengers — and stuck in huge, energy hungry homes that need constant feeding from the grid and fossil fuels, and all this at a time when every economic need we have is riding the oil price escalator.
We could still go in the smart direction, perhaps jacking the price with a tax over a couple of years to, say, $6.00 or more. (Of course, supply and demand may soon put the price that high or more without any taxing help.)
In any event, as a society, we should insist that other forms of energy be allowed to compete for our dollars on a firm basis, without being undercut by strategic reductions in the price of petroleum each time they start to get a toehold in the market . It’s time to turn the bias around and make oil compete at a disadvantage.
But again, and sadly, I guess I have to be pessimistic and agree with Krauthammer. We probably won’t be that smart. We’ll continue screaming for a “gas tax holiday,” that would sidetrack the funds to repair the highway infrastructure so we have to worry about every bridge we drive over. ‘Did the inspectors check this one before the money was cut off?’ ‘Did the engineers do it right or were they in too big a hurry?’ Etc.
Or we’ll demand that we unload the strategic oil reserve onto the market and do away with our emergency supply of oil so we’ll be flat-footed dead in the water if a military emergency arises.
Or we’ll insist on drilling in ANWAR for a maximum of six months to two year supply that can’t possibly come on line for some ten years down the road as we destroy one of the last pristine wilderness areas.
In the face of diminishing supply of easy oil and rising tides of expectations of demand from vast segments of people around the globe, the logical direction for us is to engage in a Manhattan Project sized effort to radically reduce our demand for fossil fuel. I think this is the only way we’re going to get ourselves out of this mess. Yeah, Charlie. Good luck.
© 2008 R. Leland Waldrip