Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fuel for Thought

Talk is cheap. Gasoline is not."
--Keith Olbermann

Jon Carroll's column on the subject in the San Francisco Chronicle says a great deal of what needs to be said about the current gasoline price/oil supply/what do we do about it mess. Though there's also the Keith quote above, and his observation that the oil companies claim the high prices are merely a product of supply and demand, which he interprets as meaning they've got the supply, and we'll damn well pay whatever they demand.

After Jon Carroll skewers the posturing politicans in Congress (They are talking bravely of taxing windfall profits, and prohibiting accounting tricks that keep profits high, and -- well, a bunch of stuff that will never happen) and the oil companies( ...did you even try to follow it?We're rolling in money, but we're not actually rolling in money! This is not money! We are not here! Unless you're a stockholder, in which case we are here and this is money.) he next reminds us of just who put these people in charge, and who keeps them there.

One might say to the American people: What did you expect? You voted for a guy who made his money in the oil business. (What he did in the oil business: not so clear.) You voted for a vice president who set energy policy by having secret meetings with oil company executives. You were in favor of a war that was fought to guarantee our oil supply. You cheered when economy-stimulating tax cuts were enacted. You are now paying $3 a gallon at the pump in what Daniel Yergin has called "the permanent shortage," and you feel betrayed? This was an act between consenting adults; it's a little late for buyer's remorse. Not that one would expect the Democrats to do much better. Our political institutions are, in the area of corporate governance, largely irrelevant.

We could quibble with this: that it's not so clear that these guys ever got a majority of our votes, and besides, up here gasoline is $3.50 a gallon. But Carroll definitely nails our responsibility in other ways, at the same time as he offers hope, and provides a plan. Not for the talkers. For us.

In fact, we are the problem. There are no large oil companies without large demand for oil, and we are doing the demanding. If you were running a business where people would apparently pay just about anything to get your product, wouldn't you keep raising your prices? If gas is a large part of your budget, make it a smaller part of your budget.

I understand that it is hard for some people to drive less...But the pain is going to come, one way or another. We can choose to control the pain ourselves, or we can wait untilit gets so bad we have to accept whatever solution is at hand. The sooner you choose, the more choices you'll have.

Four percent of the world's population; 25 per cent of the energy use --that's us. And, maddeningly enough, the world wants to catch up. It wants big cars and bright lights and the wonders of exurban commuting. We've led the way in excess, and now we're going to lead the world in regret.

And noone will feel sorry for us, because we've pillaged and invaded and belittled and overthrown and generally wiped our feet on the rest of the world. I know, I know, it wasn't you. But it's your problem anyway; it's your karma anyway.

We do understand, have always understood, that the deluded narcissists in Washington are not going to help us out. We might be able to help ourselves out. We might form communities of interest, communities of need,and figure out how to share energy expenses. Neighborhood shopping trips;neighborhood carpooling; neighborhood consciousness-raising.

It's happened in race relations; it's happened in women's rights; why can't it happen in energy policy? I do not believe that there's one big solution for this mess. I do suspect that there are a million small solutions.

To which I add, besides amen, that though there is no one big solution, there needs to be a mix of small, medium and large solutions to really get it done. But he's certainly right that we can't wait for leaders, even though we're eventually going to need real leadership. Because even in the most recent period of easy oil, there are people who have been working hard and effectively in developing alternative, clean and sustainable energy systems and technologies. All they need are customers, and investors will soon follow.

Anyway, I urge you to read the whole column, which is here, partly because I edited out some of the funny parts, and I hate it when editors do that to me.

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