It’s always entertaining to watch people at gas stations. Many get out of their vehicles and shake their heads in disbelief and anger at gas prices.
The most curious part of this mannerism — I’ve been guilty of it, too — is the look of shock. It is as if this problem is still fresh and we never saw it coming.
The fact is, though, that we need to break away from our dependency on oil for obvious economic reasons.
I recall being taught as early as elementary school the differences between renewable and non-renewable forms of energy. This was at a time when global warming was mocked as environmentalist fear-mongering and the inflation-adjusted price of gasoline hovered around $1.50 per gallon.
I distinctly remember the 1992 presidential election. At the mere age of 7, I remember Ross Perot for his large ears rather than his policies, but the lessons learned at that early age stuck with me nonetheless. Christmas came a month later, and with it the gift I had been waiting for, a Power Wheel. (If you’re unfamiliar, Power Wheels are small battery-powered electric vehicles for children.) This provided hours of entertainment, but also, more importantly, an introduction to energy-friendly transportation. The technology for alternative-fuel vehicles was available well before I began whizzing around in my own tyke-sized electric car.
Though gas prices fluctuate in part based on consumer demand — the higher the demand, the higher the prices, that is — little has been done to alleviate demand, even given the availability of alternative technologies. Most recently, politicians have emphasized increasing the oil supply rather than implementing well-devised policies to lower demand. President George W. Bush, along with Republican presidential nominee John McCain, rallied to lift the executive ban on offshore drilling.
Unsurprisingly, it has been well received by the public. It has been well received because of frequent fundamental oversights by the public and its elected representatives. It has been well received because instead of pleading for real solutions, the public cries for lower gasoline prices.
It is no surprise that Americans support drilling, given our historical myopic emphasis on temporary personal wealth. The sickening fact of the matter is that offshore drilling is a dismal failure even when it comes to alleviating pain at the pump. The most optimal result — and I’m being gracious with the figures here — would be the addition of 100,000 barrels of oil to the supply every day after 2020. This amounts to one one-thousandth (0.1 percent) of the total oil supply. The infinite wisdom of esteemed public officials led them to propose a solution that will take more than 11 years to have an effect and may do nothing to lower prices.
It isn’t fair to blame elected officials for producing failed policies that pander to short-term public interest. After all, if the majority of their constituents support a plan doomed for failure, then it’s democracy in action. Until higher standards are set for policies and policymakers, the same ill-thought-out proposals will be drawn up.
It’s easy to pass blame on the officials, and it is comforting to deny any personal wrongdoing in the energy crisis. However, the unfortunate reality is that it’s nearly impossible for most people to deny a personal relationship with and dependency on oil. It’s fair to say, however, that this is a relationship from which most outside of the oil industry wouldn’t mind a divorce.
It will come with forced and necessary changes. The American dream of a white picket fence for each family may need some remodeling. Suburban landscapes may be forced to eventually develop into more centralized urban centers, and drives to work may be reduced from their average of 24 minutes to a lower, more accommodating figure. It is no longer advantageous for politicians to prey on the emotions of the American people by labeling environmentalists’ claims as sky-is-falling rhetoric. The current economic case against oil dependency is more succinct than that, and it’s our own damn fault for not doing anything about it sooner.
Daniel Dunn is majoring in history.