Democrats & Liberals Archives

The End Of An Age

Gas prices recently hit a record high, and industry experts say they’ll continue to rise. Last Friday, fears over the effect of consistently high oil prices gave the stock market its worst day in two years. OPEC raised output quotas, but it’s primarily an accounting adjustment to square official production levels with member nation’s overproduction. And even then, with world oil production at maximum capacity, demand is expected to outstrip supply for years to come. Let’s face it. The end of cheap, abundant oil has arrived.

The G-7 just issued a statement calling on every nation to conserve energy. If I find a picture of them sitting there in cardigan sweaters with their hands on a thermostat, I'll laugh my butt off. The fringe on both sides must be bitterly disappointed that the end of cheap oil was obliquely announced in a fairly boring G-7 statement, rather than trumpeted in the world-spanning VOICE of a giant angel. But life's like that, I guess.

Most companies have not yet passed on higher oil prices to consumers. They're taking a hit on their profit margin to remain competitive as long as possible, but higher prices on petroleum based goods (plastics), transport and travel services, and food (most fertilizers are petroleum based) are coming soon.

It's got me wondering what I should do. So far, the only official call to action on this issue has been by Republicans to pass their energy legislation. Unfortunately, the Bush administration's own Energy Information Administration (EIA) says the bill does nothing to curb our demand for oil or lower our gas prices. Despite tens of billions in taxpayer subsidies to the energy industry, the EIA says the bill will actually increase America's reliance on foreign oil by 85% and have no effect on oil and gas prices.

It's clear that this administration's "culture of responsibility" extends to making every American responsible for our own piecemeal solution to the end of cheap oil. As Vice President Cheney said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." So I guess it's up to us as individuals of virtue to deal with it, while Cheney deals with his personal and partisan responsibilities to the energy sector.

When it came time to trade in one of our family's two cars, we replaced it with a Honda Civic Hybrid. It goes about 500 miles on a tank of gas. If you've never seen one, or haven't seen a hybrid car or truck in a couple years, you may want to take another look.

When it comes time to upgrade my refrigerator, washer, dryer, or air conditioner, I'll replace it with an Energy Star model. The next time a light bulb burns out, I'll replace it with a high-output/low-wattage fluorescent light - they've come a long way from those crappy flickering things I had illuminating my high school classroom.

Also, alternative fuels are becoming a viable alternative to gasoline. There are pilot programs for biofuel and hydrogen cars running all over the country. Write your mayor and city council and tell them you want one in your town too. That's how infrastructure is built.

Personally, I'd prefer some government direction, like John Kerry's proposed "Manhattan Project" initiative to make the US energy independent, but that's a ways off now - if it ever happens. I'd hate to see the country get bogged down in a VHS vs. Beta-Max war over the successor to oil, and without a focused effort the danger lies in doing nothing until we're forced into a solution we don't want, like coal.

Oh sure, we can muddle through. As President Bush's role model, Winston Churchill, once said, "The Americans will always do the right thing... after they've exhausted all the alternatives." But America should be better than that. Anyhow, ready or not, the age of cheap, abundant oil has ended.

Posted by American Pundit at April 18, 2005 8:40 AM