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Bitching About an Unsustainable Lifestyle

By Kevin Osborne · April 27th, 2011 · Porkopolis

An acquaintance of mine who is a “friend” on Facebook recently has gotten into the habit of snapping a photograph with her cellphone while she’s filling up the gas tank to her SUV every few days, then posting the photo online with some snarky comments.

In one instance, it cost her $72.28 to fill the tank; another time, even with a 10-cent per gallon Kroger discount, it still cost $63.24.

Like many motorists, this person is angry about rising gasoline prices. As of April 26, many spots around Cincinnati were selling the stuff for an average of $3.92 per gallon — although the price ranged from $3.65 to $4.09 depending on where it was bought, according to the website cincygasprices.com.

The average price compares to $2.72 per gallon one year ago, or an increase of $1.20.


My Facebook pal — who I won’t name out of courtesy and to save her possible embarrassment — recently urged her online followers to take part in a national Post-It Note campaign at the gas pump designed to show outrage at the spiraling prices that she had read about somewhere. In her words, “Every time I buy gas, I leave a sticky note on the gas pump which says, ‘How’s that Hope & Change working out for you?’ I encourage all of you to join me in my little adventure.”

If you can’t tell, my acquaintance is a conservative Republican and she’s blaming President Obama and his energy policies for the rising prices, and borrows a smart-ass barb from everyone’s favorite half-term governor, Sarah Palin.

(By the way, this acquaintance opposes Cincinnati’s proposed streetcar system and generally is against mass transit. Go figure.)

This isn’t the first time that American motorists have been in this predicament.

Back in 2008, during the waning months of President George W. Bush’s administration, U.S. gas prices reached their highest point in history (so far), then plummeted sharply over the course of a few months. For those with short memories, gas reached a high of $4.11 per gallon in July 2008, at a time when crude oil was selling for $147 per barrel.

After that year’s financial meltdown and its subsequent impact on speculators, however, the price of oil fell dramatically. By late December, the average gas price dropped to $1.64 per gallon, with crude oil selling for a little more than $40 per barrel.

And all it took was the near-collapse of the global economy to make it happen.

For comparison, the crude oil price on the day I’m writing this column is $112 per barrel.

The current one-year forecast estimates it will be at $129 per barrel in April 2012, but even experts concede that could fluctuate wildly based on factors as varied as the economy, political upheaval and the weather.

In reality, the main reason for the current spike in prices is the wave of political unrest and revolution that’s sweeping many parts of the Arab world. First in Tunisia and Egypt, and now in places like Libya and Syria, the specter of regime change and who might ultimately control oil fields are making energy companies and speculators nervous.

2008 also is notable as the year Palin coined another of her cheap quips, “drill, baby, drill.” It referred to the belief of Palin, presidential running mate John McCain and other conservative Republicans that if we only loosened environmental regulations and allowed more domestic oil drilling, all of our problems would be solved.

That’s a lie, baby, lie — and McCain and most of the other advocates know it. (Although maybe Palin doesn’t, bless her simple-minded little heart.)

As author and social critic James Kunstler wrote in his 2005 book, The Long Emergency, the world is fast approaching the peak in oil production, after which it will decline due to depleted supplies. Thus, as oil and natural gas become increasingly difficult to obtain, prices will skyrocket and eventually force major changes to industrialized society.

While this process is underway, development is increasing in nations like Brazil, Russia, India and China — the so-called “BRIC nations.” As consumers there try to emulate U.S. lifestyles, they’re using more energy and buying more automobiles, exacerbating the problem.

Untapped oil reserves within the United States have been vastly overstated, Kunstler has written, but even if the oil is produced, not only won’t it last long but it will go on the open global market, meaning it might benefit other nations.

“One meme circulating around the Web these days is that the U.S.A. has the equivalent of ‘three Saudi Arabias’ in the shale oil fields of North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana,” Kuntsler recently wrote. “That is not true. A lot of this magical thinking focuses on the Bakken fields of Dakota. We’re currently producing less than 400,000 barrels a day out of Bakken and the projected maximum 10 years from now is around 800,000.

“We use 20 million barrels a day in the U.S. running suburbia, Walmart and the U.S. military. By the way, Bakken shale oil requires extensive rock fracturing operations — ‘fracking’ — which means a lot of horizontal drilling, which means a lot of steel pipe. It is not just a matter of sticking a steel straw in the ground like we did in Texas in 1932.”

Kunstler added, “The ‘drill, drill, drill’ gang is under the impression that North America has vast unexplored regions where oil is just begging to be discovered. This is not true. The New York Times reported after Obama’s (March 30) speech ... that the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast contain 3.8 billion barrels of oil. Really? Hello! The U.S. uses over seven billion barrels of oil every year. Does the Arctic National Wildlife refuge contain between four and 11 billion barrels (U.S. government estimate)? Great, that averages out to about a year or so of U.S. supply. And I’m not even against drilling there, only against the idea that it represents a meaningful ‘solution’ to our problem.”

Put another way, it’s not going to make much of a difference.

We’re so dependent on oil that we’ve seen Vice President Joe Biden in January refuse to call Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak a “dictator,” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton say she considers Mubarak and his wife “to be friends of my family.”

It’s a sad state of affairs, indeed, when America’s love for cheap gas and the personal automobile trumps the quest of oppressed peoples in other nations who are seeking basic freedoms and a say in how they’re governed.

Here, then, are the two basic, primary reasons that many people in the Arab world dislike the United States: 1) Keeping a U.S. military presence near areas many Muslims consider holy in Saudi Arabia beginning in 1990 as part of the Gulf War, a presence that only ended once we invaded Iraq and established a foothold there, and 2) Installing repressive regimes in Middle Eastern nations and giving them aid — including cash and weapons — to maintain stable access to oil and artificially keep its price low.

(A third, ancillary reason is our support for Israel no matter what it does. There is no sign of even-handedness or moderation in our foreign policy in regard to the nation, which is glaring to its neighbors.)

So, after once having a U.S. president say some Arabs “hate us for our freedom,” we’re trying to deny theirs because we like driving too much. Pathetic.

Frankly, the only real, permanent solution to rising gas prices means changing the American lifestyle.

Among other things, that means driving less, whether you own a traditional or hybrid vehicle; using public transit more; flying less, whether for pleasure or business, and using teleconferencing more; and buying more locally produced goods and services, especially food.

Oh, and sell that damn SUV.

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