Last weekend I got an e-mail from a former student, a twenty-something who now makes less than thirty-something a year. She had been bored the other day, she told me, and so drove from Wyandotte to Port Huron, a hundred miles or so, just for something to do. And I thought – wait a minute. Is the current price of gas as much of a crisis as we are all being led to believe?
The fact is that when you allow for inflation, gas at the pump is really not very much more than in was in 1981, and it is less expensive than it was last September. Don’t get me wrong; the rising price of gas has made a big difference in many family budgets.
But consider this. In Europe, gasoline now averages more than six dollars a gallon. And I haven’t seen any pictures on CNN of Germans or Belgians of the French rioting over gas prices. On the other hand, they don’t drive vehicles the size of a mastodon. The earth is running out of fossil fuel; we have known this for a long time. And what are we doing about it? Well, we are using up the world’s petroleum faster than ever.
Back in 1983, when we had U.S. Marines stationed in Lebanon, our country was consuming about 15 million barrels of oil a day. Today, that figure is approaching 21 million barrels a day. Less and less of that supply comes from domestic American oil fields. These days, we import more than sixty percent of all the oil we use. We are a nation of gasoline junkies. We know this; our leaders know it, and yet we seem unable and unwilling to do anything about it.
Actually, that isn’t true. We have done something; established a permanent military presence in the Middle East. Vice President Dick Cheney, an oil man’s oil man, promised three years ago that Iraq would be pumping three million barrels a day by the end of 2003. That never happened; production is less than half that now. Yet even if it had, that’s not the long-term solution. Nor is trying to persuade us to take the bus to work. Not happening.
Americans love their private cars, and they will cling to them almost no matter what. But there is a way to cheaper alternative fuel and I know what it is: Big Government. That’s right. Big Government, possibly married to Big Corporations. The twin evils we love to hate. Ignore the propaganda: They can get it done. When we figured out the Nazis could build an atom bomb, Washington spent billions and did it first.
When corporate tycoon David Sarnoff wanted to create television for the masses, he hired legions of scientists and made it happen – and then put them back to work to invent color television.
Our government could do precisely the same for alternative fuel. Otherwise, we can go on mortgaging our souls to Exxon/Mobil and the Saudi royal family. It’s up to us. And as we used to say –
Not to decide, is to decide.