Who Hijacked Our Country

Friday, July 25, 2008

Energy Crisis: America at a Crossroads

This isn’t our first energy crisis. The first one was during the winter of 1973-74, and there’ve been a few since then. But this one seems more permanent than the others.

Along with skyrocketing gas prices, we’ve got record high food prices, a housing crisis and a credit crisis. Everything seems to be coming to a head.

Past energy crises seemed to be part of a cycle. Everyone just waited for gas prices to go back down so they could rush out and buy an even bigger SUV; and everything would be “normal” again. I don’t see that happening this time.

Whatever is causing this fuel crisis — oil companies creating a fake “shortage,” treehuggers wrecking the economy by preventing drilling in wildlife sanctuaries — it’s here to stay. Even if we start a massive drilling frenzy yesterday, it’ll take at least five years (probably a lot longer) for this to affect the oil supply. Maybe we could spend that time expanding the solar/wind/ocean sources we’re already using. And just to be non-partisan, I think the Democrats’ plan for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is every bit as shortsighted and boneheaded as the mass drilling spasm that Republicans want. We need to go through that unbearable excruciating withdrawal process NOW, and not keep begging the pusher for just one more fix.

We’re in for a rough several years no matter what we do, so we might as well seek a real solution instead of another band-aid. It’s time to start making some permanent changes that we should’ve made 35 years ago.

As much as gas prices suck, there are already a few silver linings. People are doing less driving and they’re starting to own fewer cars per family. Traffic deaths have decreased in the past few weeks because of our reduced driving. Mass transit, bike-riding and carpooling are up; driving by yourself to work is down. If these changes become permanent, urban sprawl will decrease (this won’t happen overnight) since it’s no longer lucrative to live out in the sticks and commute to your job 80 miles away.

People are doing more of their shopping locally. They’re actually patronizing their own rinky dink downtown mom-and-pop stores instead of driving twenty miles to the mall. A lot of tourist industries are doing fine. They’re getting more visitors from neighboring towns and fewer people who’ve driven or flown across the country; it all evens out. Last week’s annual Lavender Festival (it’s not what you think) in Sequim, WA had a record number of visitors. Local officials think it was at least partially because of high gas prices.

There have been all kinds of small but positive changes like this. Among other things: There have actually been reports of police officers getting out of their squad cars and — better sit down for this — walking their beat instead of driving.

Maybe, just maybe, these changes could become permanent. And maybe the banking/credit collapse will cause people to spend their money more carefully — differentiate between needs and “wants” and spend accordingly. (Go ahead, ask me what I’ve been smoking.)

Everyone laughs at Al Gore’s 10-year plan for getting off the oil grid. It probably isn’t attainable in ten years but it’s something we need to strive for. Since we’re already using solar energy, windmills and kinetic power from the oceans — not to mention methane and recycled waste — how far-fetched is it to just expand what we’re already doing?

T. Boone Pickens, the infamous corporate raider from the 1980s (and probably the inspiration for Gordon Gekko), is setting up the country’s largest wind farm in Texas. Has he turned into some sort of pot-smoking nature boy in his old age, or has he recognized another lucrative investment? I suspect the latter.

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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Blogger Carlos said...

The only way we're going to get off of oil is if we start making wholesale changes to the status quo politician; that mean from both parties.

I saw an interview with a car dealer a month or so ago. He said he hoped oil prices would keep rising. His reasoning? Higher gas prices will force automobile manufactures to shift to more fuel efficient vehicles (as they're already starting to do).

I thought about that for a moment, and then concluded in my own simple kinda way, that it was a perfectly logical argument. After all, necessity really is the mother of invention. And Plato weren’t no Dubya neither, so there ;-)

July 25, 2008 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Carlos: I think it makes perfect sense for car dealers to hope for high fuel prices and more fuel-effecient cars. Same with car manufacturers for that matter. If they can figure out what the public wants, then it's just a matter of making and selling the public what they want. Detroit keeps losing money because they're insisting on pushing huge gas-guzzlers on the public, no matter how impractical they are. They're gonna have to start learning, or they'll keep getting outsold by Toyota.

And this whole issue definitely cuts across party lines. Both parties are beholden to the oil industry and other huge donors.

July 25, 2008 at 6:03 PM  
Blogger American Hill BIlly said...

Good read. Washington State was one of the fewer places that still had "Mom & Pop" stores. It is, in my opinion one of the better areas of the country; in all regards.

From what I've read, and people I've talked to. It is my unfortunate opinion, I don't think the cycle is coming back. I think we are looking at the start of some bad times.

Awe who knows. I did find that ebay has auctions for those bicycle motors.

Peace and Freedom

July 25, 2008 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

AHB: I think you're right; I think this is a sea change and not just another cycle. These changes (oil and food prices, credit crunch) are inevitable, so we might as well do what we have to do.

July 25, 2008 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

I get the feeling at least a third of the rise in oil prices is due to speculation. They'll go down a bit and give us some breathing room.

I do think most people are finally getting it. Usage of mass transit is way up and when they start selling reliable gas-electric hybrids they're gonna sell like hotcakes.

I'll even take T. Boone at his word. There's nothing better than watching market forces actually make life better.

July 25, 2008 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

J: I don't know much about the whole speculation issue. I was in favor of that bill that would make the trading process more transparent, so regulators could see who's hoarding and speculating. Republicans defeated it of course.

Like you said, more people seem to be getting it. Finally.

July 25, 2008 at 8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anthony Fuller said...

The plan presented by Pickens is brilliant. While you suspect he is looking for more money, I would argue that he isn't, nor does he need it. The man is 80 years old and already a billionaire, so I find it easier to trust someone pushing something that will not even show a return on investment until after he is long gone.

Drilling, Wind, Solar, Coal Fire, Hydrogen - all are steps we should take. Inactivity is the only way we can fail..well, inactivity and Ethanol since the costs far outweigh the benefits.

July 26, 2008 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

That really must be some good stuff. You have to tell me where you found it. ;-)

Since we're on that subject, you're right about one more fix. Some generation at some point is going to have to suck it up and bear the brunt and since everyone is always concerned about posterity - unless their propaganda is just that, but that would be too cynical, huh - it should be us. Sooner is better than later.

July 26, 2008 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Anthony: I'm glad about what Pickens is doing, whatever his motives are. This will give some legitimacy to renewable energy sources; hopefully we can lose the stereotype that only ponytailed hippies are interested in renewable energy.

Ethanol is definitely a loser, unless you're a corn farmer in Iowa.

Randal: Yup, it might as well be this generation that starts to fix this problem. Better sooner than later. As far as leaving the whole mess to the next generation: you'd think all those "Christian" groups would be concerned about this, since they're always blabbing about "for the children." I guess it's OK if "our children" inherit a polluted overpopulated planet embroiled in depressions and civil wars, as long as they don't have to see any dirty pictures on TV.

July 26, 2008 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger Carlos said...

Fixed the Dumbass in Chief link Tom.

Dumbasses In Government

July 26, 2008 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Shea said...

I think that, all non wealthy people, are screwed,

July 26, 2008 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Carlos: I went back and looked. I think I've read about that Dumbya speech, where he talks about "Wall Street getting drunk" and Laura being the decision-maker.

Shea: Oh well, being a serf might not be as bad as we were afraid of :)

July 26, 2008 at 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for what Anthony Fuller said about Pickens being a billionaire:
I have never seen already being a billionaire stop one from trying to make more money, as much as they can and ANYWAY they can. One of the reasons more Million and Billionaires don't go to jail for doing crimes is because the public can't fathom why a rich person would want to steal.

That being said, that is one of the many reasons why I don't trust rich people to do the right thing and that includes corporations.

History shows there were shortages and dire predictions of depleted energy in the 40's 50's and 60's.

They usually went away when "guess what?" Congress gave the Oil Companies a Welfare check and then the spigots opened.

There is good reason to believe that this time may be different with all the talk of a changing world order and the US can't always get what it wants anymore.

Right now I don't believe it. I think when the Oil companies get their leases gas prices will creep down and consumers will breathe a sigh of relief and will forget why they were mad in the first place.

Just like in the 70's Oil Embargo where the lines disappeared the DAY they announced it was over (gas travels fast eh?) and the Taxpayers footed the bill for the Alaskan Pipe Line.

Anybody remember that? It was supposed to solve all of our energy needs!

My Solution (though not perfect) is to have a energy space race where we concentrate all of our resources like in the 60's-70's to come up with the new technologies.The Taxpayer will have to foot the bill but I think it can work and can be done with just two changes:

1. This is a American project! No flooding the Country with H1B Visas so that corporations can bypass American talent for cheaper foreign labor nor outsource it to India or anywhere else.

2. Unlike the space race, any new technologies that come this will not be developed on taxpayers expense - only to turn around and have it sold cheaply to the companies - then have the products sold to us for full price as if they paid for the R&D themselves.

Business always says R&D is the most expensive part of a product and if the taxpayer pays for it - then he should not have to be charged like he didn't (which is why I had problems with California's Stem Cells bill because I feel what ever comes out of it the public will be charged the same sky high prices as if it were a privately developed drug)


July 26, 2008 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: I didn't know these energy shortages and dire predictions went back that far. But that cycle sure does keep repeating itself. There's a shortage, the government gives the oil industry what it wants (more drilling permits, larger subsidies) and the shortage suddenly disappears.

In other words Big Oil has the same stranglehold over our government that other large industries have -- pharmaceutical industry, insurance industry, the Pentagon and all of it's contractors. The public pays the expenses and assumes all the risks, and a few people at the top make all the money.

It's definitely time to come up with a space race type of program to develop and expand renewable energy sources.

July 26, 2008 at 8:22 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

There is no oil shortage, this is just an industry that has gotten a free pass from the current administration to rob the American people pennies on the gallon.
We don't need to break our dependence on foreign oil, we need to break or dependence on oil period.

July 27, 2008 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Lew: That's exactly it. We need to become un-hooked from our oil addiction. Middle Eastern governments, Exxon -- they're all a bunch of crooks and scumbags. The only way to break free of their stranglehold is by not being dependent on their products.

July 27, 2008 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Adamgv said...

Those who raise gas prices are already killing our children. Take back our country! Acquire the Red Alert Newsletter.

July 27, 2008 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger Ricardo said...

These alternative energy sources could indeed be lucrative if the big corporate powers that be could use their heads for once. Granted investment in infrastructure may hurt but in the long run, it's a chance to be a leader in uncharted waters. This is how businesses grow and expand after all. Unfortunately the system will cling to oil until the very last drop is drained. That should be fun.

Speaking of police. I'm seeing more and more undercover cars that the CT state police are using to pull people over. That's fine I guess, but must they use Chrysler 300's and Massive SUVs? This seems wasteful to me and it annoys me to no end that my tax dollars are going to them getting the biggest gas guzzlers on the planet. The 300 gets about 14 miles to the gallon. They drive these things all day and let them run all day. It's just such a stupid investment. Just stick with the Crown Victoria's. Gas guzzlers also but likely not as bad as the 300. Have you seen that beast?

July 28, 2008 at 12:38 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Ricardo: If only there was a way to cordon off the sun and wind, so that corporations could control the supply -- we would have been solar- and wind-powered 50 years ago. Maybe T. Boone Pickens' wind farm in Texas will start a trend. There's also a huge wind farm in Oregon that I just read about. We're going to have to make this change sooner or later; might as well be sooner.

I don't think I've seen any Chrysler 300s or huge SUVs being used as unmarked cop cars. Sounds pretty stupid. Let 'em use a Dodge Neon; that'll hold its own in most police chases, as unglamorous as it is.

July 28, 2008 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger DivaJood said...

Recently, I asked for permission to work from home permanently - and was declined! We have the technology, we have all the things we need for our office to be 100% remote, but the boss declined. And that is one more reason why it is difficult to get off the grid.

BTW, I am leaving this company, to work from home for another company.

In addition to buying locally: visit farmer's markets rather than supermarkets. Purchase IN SEASON fruits and veggies.

July 29, 2008 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Divajood: Well, that sucks about your boss not letting you telecommute. Telecommuting is a good solution -- less traffic, less fuel being used. These inflexible bosses will have to change with the times. Glad you found a better company to work for.

Yes on farmers' markets and buying locally. I live in a small-medium sized town that's fairly remote, and we practically live out of the twice-a-week farmers' market and a nearby health food store where all the produce is local. It's more expensive than supermarket prices, but those prices have gone way up because of the cost of shipping the food.

July 29, 2008 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Jen Clark said...

It's so refreshing to read a positive outlook post for a change. I agree with you whole heartedly. My boyfriend and I actually don't have cars anymore. It's been 4 months and we haven't missed driving for a second. We're also in better shape from walking to do our grocery shopping.

You've got to take the good with the bad, right? Thanks for pointing out some of the good.

August 2, 2008 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Jen: I agree, these high gas prices are a positive thing; they're a necessary evil anyway. If prices don't come down, I think people will start making some permanent changes that need to be made.

August 2, 2008 at 6:55 PM  

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