Whining About Gas Prices

Gas. I’m sure if you have anything to do with driving an automobile you’ve noticed the rising gas prices lately. Here in Minnesota I’ve seen it as high as $1.55, and the best deal I’ve seen is $1.47. Like every other driver I’m grumbling at the high prices. But I have noticed something very interesting–no, disturbing is a better word. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to lower their production because they thought prices were too low. So now there’s a reduced supply and hence, higher prices.

Listening to the politicians try to figure out what to do about this is rather disheartening. Suggestions range from dropping the 4.3 cent gas tax, to canceling the moratorium on off-shore oil drilling, to imposing sanctions on OPEC members, to tapping into the US reserves, and they’re even considering opening a wildlife reserve in Alaska for exploratory drilling. Gas prices are too high, so we go to any length we can to squeeze more oil out of anywhere we can.

Maybe I’m just a sucker, but this seems like the wrong approach. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a little too reliant on oil. Maybe the American love affair with the car is driving us towards disaster. I could be wrong, but it’s just a guess. To throw a horrible shade of pessimism on the whole issue this world will one day run out of oil. At our current rate of consumption scientists estimate that we will run out of oil in 40 years. And I’m not just pulling that number out of nowhere, I’ve heard it from several different sources–even sources that aren’t into this whole environmental kick. The earth only has so much oil, eventually you just run out. What happens then will be very interesting. You think gas prices are rising now, just wait.

Of course if we were smart, we’d wake up to this fact and start figuring out other ways to power our cars. Like the stubborn headed Americans we are, we can’t give up our cars. You’d think we’d get smart and realize that roads, highways, cars, and everything associated with them take up most of our land. Yeah, yeah, they provide a lot of jobs, too (my father’s, for one), but it seems like we’d be a lot smarter to diversify and expand public transportation.

But what’s the standard argument against an alternative to the gas powered car? Nobody wants them. Right now Americans want to buy gas guzzling SUV’s. Why should the automobile makers make alternatives if they won’t make any money on them? It’s a legitimate claim, and one I think it would be a good time to test. A few car companies have production model hybrid vehicles (cars that use a combination of gas and electricity, but don’t need to be recharged. In case you don’t know much about electric cars, they haven’t been too practical yet. Batteries are horribly expensive and you still have to do something with them. Also, you have to get the electricity from somewhere, and burning coal to generate it is worse than gasoline. Hybrid cars use a tiny gas motor to get going and then an electric motor takes over. The electric motor is powered by a battery that is recharged with energy from your brakes. Pretty nifty recycling system.) coming out soon–some as early as this summer. If they were smart they’d use this gas shortage to their advantage.

I guess we’ll see just how interested Americans are in these cars. But it seems to me we don’t have much choice. If our fuel is running out, we better come up with something. Drilling for more oil won’t get us very far. Lowering gas taxes is a joke. And tapping reserves can only last us so long. It’s time we realize how unsustainable our system is, and do something about it. But I know us Americans, we’ll whine about the prices and raise hell until our politicians do something. Never mind that US gasoline prices are some of the lowest in the world–gas sells for an average of $2 a gallon in Mexico, $3.46 a gallon in Japan, $4.50 in France and $5 a gallon in Britain (CNN). We’ll either get our gas prices lowered or just suck up the cost, it’s not like the majority of us can’t afford it. And things will continue ho-hum for a while. Prices may have another leap or two, ‘no big deal’ we’ll say, and then one day we’ll realize just how foolish we’ve been and we’ll be out of oil. No amount of money, ingenuity, or whining will bring it back. Then what will we do? I’ll be buying my bike early, thank you.

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