Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gas pains and the freedom of the road

Some analysts think $4-per-gallon gasoline may be a classic “tipping point,” a moment when market forces quickly and irrevocably change people’s behavior.


I think in the case of gasoline a better analog is the addiction model. Have we “hit bottom?” Are we ready to admit that we are powerless over our addiction to cheap gasoline and can no longer live this way?

I’m not so sure.

Certainly, big changes are afoot. GM is moving with unusual speed for a giant corporation to jettison its fleet of gas-guzzlers — it may completely deep-six the iconic Hummer — on the belief that the increase in gas prices is permanent and may go considerably higher.

I drive a truck that gets 12.8 miles to the gallon, so I am no paragon of virtuous, upright living when it comes to gasoline consumption. I wouldn’t give it up; I need it to tow a horse trailer and it serves me well in other adventures. However, I am walking a lot more. That’s great when the weather is like it is today, a little less pleasant in wintertime. I think I’m going to have to get used to it.

It’s hard to break the addiction to cheap gas because it has brought so much to us. Yeah, yeah, traffic is a mess and pollution is a problem (though we’ve managed to reduce it by a massive amount since I was a kid growing up with stage-three smog alerts in the LA area).

But the ability for people to move freely has added immeasurably to the richness of our lives. It’s easy to forget that just a couple of generations ago, travel was out of the question for most Americans. They never ventured far from home.
When my grandfather was a kid, he took a train trip from the ranch in South Dakota to the stockyards in Chicago — and it was a major event in his young life.

Two decades later he was in a car driving from South Dakota to Southern California, part of the great exodus from the Great Plains during the Great Depression.

In just the past few decades, world travel has become accessible to ordinary people, not just the super-rich.
We don’t want to give up the freedom given by the automobile and the airplane — and we shouldn’t. But as prices keep climbing we’re going to have to. If a hurricane knocks out a refinery, if the Middle East explodes, we’re looking at $7-$8 per gallon gasoline.

I sure won’t be driving that truck much.

Drilling for more oil domestically, refining more oil, may be necessary. Oil is the lifeblood of our civilization and if we try to cold turkey it, we’ll probably die. But more drilling only postpones the day of reckoning, of which $4.50/gallon gas is but a harbinger.

It’s time to put our best minds to work on viable solutions — alternative energy sources from solar to wind, to nuclear, to geothermal to hydrogen fuel cells. We need to develop flex-fuel.

It’s no bad thing to park the car and walk or ride a bike — America as a whole could stand to get off and on. But we shouldn’t forsake the wide world granted to us by the ability to move.

We need to wean ourselves off oil, never forgetting that the black gold gave us the freedom of the road.

Jim Cornelius, Editor

1 comment:

  1. If it wasn't such a serious subject, the oil situation would be laughable.

    The fact is the the US has about 200 years worth of oil within 200 miles of it shores and within it's border. ANWR, the Bakken oil formation in Montana/North Dakota and oil shale throughout the Rockies.

    The fact is, that our politicians, from both sides of the aisle, have been screwing this up for years. We need a new age of oil exploration, and now. We need new oil refineries, NOW. We need politicians to stand up to environmentalists that question the displacement of small rocks.

    If we use the natural resources we have in the ground, and balance that with responsible environmental safeguards, within 10 years we should be able to tell OPEC that we won't need their oil anymore.

    The exploration of new oil within our borders alone will help drive down the cost of fuel. Open up the wells; it will certainly convince the Middle East we're serious.

    At the same time, we can also further refine our solar energy collection techniques;learn how to best harness our wind and tidal power; and create more efficient commbustion engines.

    While it's romantic to think that walking everywhere is the answer to our energy issues, the most important thing to so is hold our state and federal officials to task for poor energy policy and make sure they know that we expect them to do better.

    Sisters, OR