Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The price of gas and our oil addiction

The nation sometimes reminds me of a man I knew many years ago.  He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for most of his adult life – if adulthood starts at 16 when he said he started smoking.  At 65, wheezing and dizzy, he went to the doctor and said, fix me.  The doctor prescribed a bunch of medicine that he promptly retrieved from the local pharmacy.  He then went home, took the medicine which helped him breathe easier.  But, he just continued to smoke.  He died a few years later.

America is moving in the same direction when it comes to the gasoline driven society we live in.  Gas prices are on the rise and everyone is upset.  (I am also affected because my job requires me to drive from business to business all day long.)  Recent polls illustrates that we are changing our political allegiance based on the rising prices.  We think that Obama has done little to keep gas cheap and think the republicans will do a better job.      

All of that is going on while we do nothing about our addiction to oil. 
The price of gas is driven up by conditions around the globe that we can’t control.  Syria is in a deep crisis.  Israel and the people of the Gaza strip are throwing bombs back and forth over their borders.  Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons and it could spark even more violence.  The revolutions in North African countries have destabilized the entire region.  China has grown so large economically that its demand for oil is increasing dramatically.  All of this is placing pressure on sources of crude and supply lines.   

Making it worse is that we have no alternatives.  Our communities are designed to have a car for every person.  Mass transit, especially here in southeast Michigan, is dismal.  To develop the needed alternatives, we need investment.  But, it isn’t coming because the price of gas is staying below the threshold to bring more money into the alternative fuel markets. 
If we just bring down the price of gas, which I am not sure we can anymore, it would be all better.  We can drive our cars a little longer and die.

Many of the most conservative politicians are suggesting that we drill for more oil here at home suggesting that it will bring down the price of gas.  But, sources tell us that we are.  More oil is being developed in the country than ever before, yet prices are still high.  Listen, just because we drill for oil here, it doesn’t mean oil companies will pass on the savings.  Even if it is cheaper because we produced it here, doesn’t mean they will sell it for less than the market price just like all the other sources do. 
Dare I say this, what we need to do is both let the market price of oil rise and encourage investment in alternative fuels.  Even though I drive all day long, oil prices need to rise.  Once the price threshold for alternative fuels is reached and sustained, new sources and markets will develop.

But, we also need to be prepared at the threshold price to move quickly to alternative fuels and markets.  The community must encourage investment in alternative fuels and develop other forms of transportation.  If we don’t, there will be a crisis.  Gas lines will be back, shortages will hurt third world economies and unemployment will rise again.  Economies and communities that find themselves in crisis mode risk failure and war with those communities that share their desire for the scarce resource.      
Successful communities innovate, not when they find themselves in crisis, but ahead of the crisis.  We need to take an honest look at our oil addiction and the market so we can move in a direction that averts crisis and places us on a path to a more secure future.

I just wish the man at the beginning of this blog had.  He was my grandfather and I could have had many more years with him in my life.