Oil :(

With the price of oil spiraling out of control, people are getting upset at the cost of gas which got me thinking, “why is this a big deal?“

First, oil is costing more because of many reasons, such as increased demand for oil throughout the world, the falling value of the US dollar and political turmoil in the mid-east where most of the oil comes from (right?). The value of the dollar is a problem because the price of oil is linked to the value of the dollar by OPEC. The value of oil isn’t really as high as the record oil prices indicate to most of the world, foreign oil just costs more to those of us in the US that have US dollars to buy it.

Political turmoil in the oil producing areas understandably affects the price of oil. Since gas is made from oil, obviously it should cost more, right? Well, actually, over 40% of the United States’ oil isn’t even imported, and you have to look to number three on the list (past Canada and Mexico) to find the leading middle eastern country to provide us with oil at only 9%. It doesn’t seem like gas prices should be affected by this so much in the United States, does it? But, since these factors raise the cost of oil, we can’t do anything about it (except watch the profits of oil companies go through the roof).

So, gas prices are rising, they’re going to keep going up, affecting the cost of air travel, transporting goods which leads to increasing the cost of goods that were transported, like our food or anything else we buy at a store, well, simply, it makes everything cost more. Even more than a stimulus check can offset!

GasPrices

Cost Per Gallon of gas I’ve bought in the past 10 years (yes, I keep track)

You get the idea, gas costs more and it sucks. I think that it is a bigger deal than that, I posit that cheap oil (read: affordable energy for transportation) is fundamental to American culture. Think about it, no other country celebrates the automobile the way we do. Whether it is car shows, racing (yes, even NASCAR), or simply the personal mobility we enjoy with a vehicle to get to work, visit friends or relatives, drive along the beach… we love our cars. It starts when we first get our license to drive, the world opens up to us. A car, truck or motorcycle equals freedom.

driving == freedom

Since 911, flying has become downright terrible, with the rainbow of security levels that conspire to slow you at the airport. Now, our freedom is being eroded further since it is starting to cost more to drive anywhere. People are starting to think twice about making long car trips, which doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but ultimately it means we no longer have the choice to go where we want, we no longer have the freedom we used to enjoy.

One of the solutions I heard on the radio was to reinstate the 55mph speed limit since driving slower will use less gas. This is a stupid idea! Cars are efficient (and safe) at speeds greater than 55mph these days. The roads are safer and much faster to traverse now that we have higher speed limits, we need to put an end to this nonsense.

Instead of crazy solutions, we need to focus on things that will work, such as

timing traffic lights so they cause less stopping and starting. Intelligent timing for traffic lights significantly reduce how much you have to stop which leads to a safer environment for everyone, not to mention reducing your overall driving time and using less gas to accelerate after each stop.

People need to be more realistic in this country about the cars they drive. Most people don’t need the huge behemoth SUVs they drive. In other countries you see a lot of diesel vehicles on the road which are much more efficient than gasoline powered vehicles. Here, there is a stigma against them from the past which makes diesel cars very unpopular, thus hard to find. More people need to drive 50mpg diesel cars, less need to drive Hummers. And the environmental impact of a car full of lead-acid batteries doesn’t make the current generation of hybrid vehicles a good choice either.

Ethanol is not the answer to renewable energy, despite what you’ve heard. It is hard on the environment, it doesn’t contain as much energy as gasoline (the cheaper cost of EA-85 gets negated since you’ll get less mileage with it), and it is only cheaper because of subsidies at the cost of ruining the market for corn grown for food. We need to put more emphasis on biodiesel. Some states require a small percentage of diesel fuel to be biodiesel, this needs to increase, or even mandate 100%. Think of what could be accomplished with the misguided dollars behind ethanol.

It would be nice to reduce the number of cars on the road, but in most places public transportation is abysmal. One of the issues is the population is so sparse in the United States compared to elsewhere in the world, it is very difficult to build a system that can serve huge areas and get people where they want to go that is better than the system of roads. We do need better public transportation, but not at the cost of funding other transportation needs for expanding highways and keeping the infrastructure safe (no more collapsing bridges).

It is not too late, and there is still hope. People need to start doing their part. This November, keep some of these ideas in mind when you’re casting your vote. We need more intelligent policies in Washington. We also need more education to know what what energy sources are going to help and which are going to make some lobbyist or oil tycoon more money. True oil independence is the only way to keep our freedom from withering away.