Demand Higher Oil Prices!
by Larry Kinney
Oil prices are rising. But they are still way too low. Mind you, I have no interest in further enriching the giant corporations that pump oil, ship it thousands of miles and retail it, often while exploiting indigenous people and ravishing the earth.
Mother Nature spent many millennia fabricating crude oil from organic material
under high pressure, with plenty of help from that nuclear power station called
the sun. (By the way, we should work to keep all nuclear power stations at least
93 million miles away from our fragile earth.) As a result, a gallon of crude
is the energy equivalent of about two person-months of labor.
Gasoline is an extraordinarily compact form of energy, which is why airplanes
can fill their wings with it and still get off the ground. Yet, here in the
US, we still sell this precious stuff more cheaply than bottled water.
So lets not complain about the cost of the gasoline. Ninety per cent of
the gas we put into our vehicles is spewed out in the form of wasted heat from
the extremely inefficient cars most of us drive. What we need are tax policies
that raisenot lowerthe price of fossil fuels. The additional revenue
could then be used to reduce energy waste, reverse environmental degradation,
and employ lots of young people to put their energies into this constructive
enterprise instead of joining the military.
This is precisely what many of the nations who signed the Kyoto accords are
doing. For example, Japan and most of Europe tax the hell out of energy and
use the proceeds to invest in energy efficiency and renewables. Virtually no
one drives three tons of pig iron that gets eight miles per gallon.
I was in France last summer, where the gas costs more than $6 per gallon. I
took the train from Paris to Poitiers, then picked up a compact rental car I
had ordered on the web where I had specified the lowest price possible. The
car was a Ford hatch-back that seats five. I drove it for ten days on country
roads, in cities and on autoroutes (at speeds of up to 100 mph). It averaged
46 mpg for about 1400 milesonly a bit less than the highly-vaunted new
Ford neither manufactures nor sells that hatch-back in the US. We might ask
why. Could it be that our national energy policy has things exactly backwards
and Ford is making lots of money selling us Explorers? Are not the oil men running
our country well lubricated from profits from the big petroleum companies?
A substantial portion of the $6 a gallon paid for gas in Europe goes to taxes.
What do the French do with such high taxes? Their government-owned national
railway system builds excellent railway networks with high-speed trains that
meet their schedules within seconds. Electricity comes from a nationally-owned
grid that invests heavily in energy efficiency.
Instead of using property taxes, the French use energy taxes to finance education.
As a result, schools are functional. The French grow up to vote for people actually
educated in diplomacy and who understand something of world political geography.
Accordingly, they tend to elect competent public servants instead of self-serving
and misguided cowboys, B-grade actors, brain damaged football players, and shady
To turn things around here, we need to act both locally and nationally. Lets
walk and bicycle more. Lets take public transportation when we can and
drive less. If we must drive, lets drive machines that are energy efficient.
And lets elect public officials who arent afraid to tell us the
truth about energy realities.
Heres one of those truths: its a mathematical fact that we simply
cannot sustain exponential growth in the use of finite resources. Its
absurd to burn fossil fuels at the rates we do when our vehicles are 10% efficient
and oil is needed to keep producing plastics, lubricants and pharmaceuticals.
Another truth is that our buildings and industries are extremely inefficient.
We must adopt cost-effective measures to conserve. The result will be a more
comfortable, healthier environment (indoors and out), plenty of new jobs for
those in the energy efficiency industry, and less demand for our depleting fossil
Our public officialswith our vocal supportneed to levy heavy taxes
on fossil fuel use and enact controls on the fossil fuel industry to prevent
gouging. They must enforce stringent energy standards on the building and automobile/SUV/truck-fabrication
Energy-consumption taxes should be used to mobilize an energy-efficiency industry.
One sector of that industry would be weatherizing every wasteful home in the
US, beginning with those occupied by low-income citizens.
Energy-consumption taxes should also be used to construct nationwide and municipal
mass transit systems that really work. A loaded train averaging over 150 mph
gets the equivalent of 2000 person-miles per gallon burned at the power station;
the best airplanes can do is about 30 person-miles per gallon.
Also, we need to redouble intelligent energy-conservation and alternative fuel
research to develop more efficient ways of going about the peoples business.
If we can manage all of this, we wont need oil from the Mideastand
the ridiculous, immoral military excesses that seem to go with it.
Larry holds a Ph.D in philosophy from Syracuse University. Hes a senior researcher with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project in Boulder, CO. Contact him at <email@example.com>.