I occasionally get forwarded one of those emails from some unwitting friend calling for a one day boycott of gasoline. They say something like: “Don’t buy gas on May 30th to send a message to the oil companies that we won’t stand for higher gas prices.” My universal response has been to tell my friend that if they want gas prices to go down, stop driving a car entirely, buy a bicycle, don’t use any fossil fuels if at all possible. A one day boycott is a laughable concept on its face as it doesn’t change the behavior of the companies that are being targeted. Even if everyone agreed not to buy gas tomorrow, they’d simply go today or the day after tomorrow causing a bump in sales on the days around the “boycott”.
The issues surrounding energy policy, however, run so much deeper. Those of us in the reality based community acknowledge that the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing the last few years is likely tied to global climate instability. We also see the pollution caused by our dependence on fossil fuels resulting in increased incidence of asthma, allergies, and other conditions and diseases. We see that nuclear power is not the answer because it leaves behind poisons that cannot be gotten rid of and the risk of catastrophic failure is just too high. There is also the little problem of our dependence on fossil fuel’s effect on our foreign policy. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq is, in large part, driven by the desire to control the world’s second largest oil reserve. Afghanistan is important, not because it has oil, but because it stands between rich natural gas and oil fields in Turkmenistan and the the Arabian Sea and has been in talks with Unocal since the mid-nineties to create a pipeline to export these resources. Not to mention national security problem of being so dependent on oil producing nations, many of whom coordinate their actions through OPEC.
The current policies are driven by entrenched interests, consumer demand, the state of our transportation infrastructure (ie. lack of alternative transportation modes), relative price of fossil fuels when the above named cost are externalized (nationalized), etc. Obviously, a one day boycott won’t do a darn thing in the face of these factors. The question then becomes, “What can we do about it?”
For all the reasons I’ve listed and more, it is imperative that we make the transition to a clean and renewable energy system as soon as possible. Our economy is currently at the mercy of those who control the oil spigots. If OPEC chooses to tighten supply, prices not only spike at the pump, but on everything that uses oil or gasoline in its production or transportation to market…which is to say, nearly everything. If it is our national policy to attempt to gain control of the spigots to prevent said economic disaster, then we pay for it in blood and treasure. The true cost of oil, between the wars to gain/protect access to it, the environmental impacts, the government purchased automobile infrastructure and the direct subsidies to the oil industry is hard to estimate. I’ve seen estimates all over the map, but according to a comprehensive study done in 1998 by International Center for Technology Assessment:
The majority of people paying just over $1 for a gallon of gasoline at the pump has no idea that through increased taxes, excessive insurance premiums, and inflated prices in other retail sectors that that same gallon of fuel is actually costing them between $5.60 and $15.14. emphasis added.
And that was in 1998, when gas was just over a buck! If you simply use an inflation calculator to help determine today’s range, it’s more like $7.73 to $20.89. That doesn’t include the change in the price at the pump of about $3 a gallon. So, perhaps an estimate of between $10.73 and $23.89 would be a more accurate range, the average of which is $17.31. If we knew that it costs us over $200 to buy a full (12 gallon) tank, how would that impact our driving habits? How would it compare with alternative fuel vehicles? Would Amtrak start looking like a better option?
And what about our power plants? Our whole system is set up to burn fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas or use nuclear as a “clean” alternative. While the coal companies want you to believe in “clean coal”, there really is no such thing. Mining the coal certainly hasn’t gotten any safer. Natural gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is linked to dozens of cases of water contamination. Nuclear, as I’ve stated already, is both perilous and poisonous. The radioactive waste is simply too toxic and the power plants too dangerous.
The interests allied against us are strong, determined and entrenched. They have pockets deeper than the Mariana Trench and the inertia of a sedentary, complacent, uninformed American public and the system that already exists. We will need to be equally determined, and while we do not have the resources of the fossil fuel companies, we do have a more powerful force, the power of the people.
It is well past time for us to take action. To force our politicians to stand for us, the majority of the people who feel the myriad harms of the current system. We need real leadership from Mr. Obama. We need to call upon the President to take a bold new step, as President Kennedy did in his 1961 address to congress launching the original Apollo Program. He must enunciate a broad vision of a future free from dependence on fossil fuels and propose an aggressive timeline for moving us toward a clean energy future, a new Apollo Program. If he will not willingly take this step, it is time to bring the force of our collective voice to him. We need him to realize that this is not just a matter of pollution, climate change, disease, war and national security, it is a matter of justice.
Cross Posted on Daily Kos