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Wake up, America … and stop looking for a scapegoat

May 21, 2008

Rising gasoline prices are all over the news … multiple times a day, at least in the United States. People are getting so upset that Congress decided to question oil company executives about it.

“You have to sense what you’re doing to us – we’re on the precipice here, about to fall into recession,” said Sen Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) “Does it trouble any one of you – the costs you’re imposing on families, on small businesses, on truckers?”

This sounds very nice and populist … he’s looking out for the little guy. I like Durbin and I think he generally is looking out for the general public (even if they don’t know it or appreciate it). This is an oversimplification — selling gasoline barely makes a profit (selling crude oil, on the other hand…). To say they are ‘imposing’ a gasoline price is plain wrong. Firstly, crude oil and gasoline are two different, yet obviously linked, products for sale on the market. The crude that company X produces isn’t necessarily the same that the same company refines or that the same company sells to you. Depending on where it’s produced, where the infrastructure is, etc., company X’s crude might eventually end up as gasoline in China, while, here in the States, the gasoline you purchase from company X, was once crude from a different company. Secondly, this is a global problem of supply/demand that goes far beyond the United States. Less than 10% of the world’s petroleum is produced by these major corporations — the vast majority is from the so-called ‘petrostates’, the national oil companies around the world (joint ventures among public and state-owned companies complicate these figures for sure; I honestly don’t know how, please comment if you have a reference).

So, maybe we need a completely different way of doing commerce … I don’t know. Let’s talk about that — but, this interrogation by Congress does nothing except help them save face with a frustrated public that wants to point to a single or small group of people. An enemy with a face. That’s the easy way out. Yeah, blame that guy. It’s all his fault. This is classic American blame-placing … “Hey, it can’t possibly be my fault!! It’s the government! Corporations! Conservatives! Liberals! Commies! Gays! That guy down the street! I hate that guy!”

I would argue that we have a culture of consistent blame-placing on anything but ourselves. So, am I giving oil companies a free ride? Of course not. I am more than happy to attribute a lot of our problems to major corporations … no doubt about it.

Maybe I’m being mean, but gas prices are high? Tough sh*t. We are going to have to deal with it. I’m convinced that the only way American energy consumption will change — and I mean really change — is if it hits people in their wallets. This is unfortunate, and maybe I’m just pessimistic.

So, how do we deal with it? Sure, let’s talk about ways to tax those producing, how it should work, what the impact would be, whether or not that revenue can be transferred to non-hydrocarbon technologies, and so on … but let’s also talk about the side that is consuming . It’s not a dichotomy. It’s not all or nothing. It’s complex. I know Americans don’t like complex and nuanced problems. And I know they certainly don’t like to collectively* look in the mirror and get real about consumption.

Wake up. This is real.


* ‘collectively’ is the key term here … I know there are plenty of individuals who have come to this realization


9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2008 12:54 pm

    Hear, hear!

    I have friends in England who are utterly – and correctly – astonished by how much we drive in America, and how little we use public transportation. The state of our public transportation might have something to do with it, but that definitely doesn’t excuse us.

    I was bitterly disappointed to find out that Toyota once made an entirely electric RAV4, but discontinued it because of “lack of interest”. Hey! I’m interested.

    Unfortunately, I’m also not in any position financially to avail myself of cleaner technology on that scale. I especially won’t be once I start grad school. CF bulbs I can do, but not cars. I’ll bike as often as I can, but something tells me that’s not going to work too well in a Buffalo winter.

  2. Matt permalink
    May 21, 2008 1:18 pm

    It’s so called Environmentalist who have put us in this position of rising energy costs. Any solution has been shot down by propaganda. Check out this article don’t drill for oil and no nuclear power. It’s ridiculous what there doing to us.

  3. May 21, 2008 2:35 pm

    Brian, I agree with your post entirely – and placing blame here and there doesn’t accomplish a thing. Producers won’t produce if consumers don’t consume. Corollary: just because something is produced doesn’t mean you have to buy it!

  4. Alec permalink
    May 21, 2008 3:02 pm

    I love reading your posts on oil. It’s all the information that I’d like to know but I’m too lazy/busy to research.

    I agree that we use waaaay too much oil here in America. Just a few interesting things that I’ve picked up from somewhere (I don’t have the sources for these):

    The largest consumer of Diesel is the US Armed Forces. They have to power all their equipment and ships somehow, right?

    We could cut out consuming tens of millions of barrels of oil every year if we quit producing plastic bags (the kind for WalMart, etc).

  5. May 21, 2008 3:41 pm

    Matt says:

    “It’s so called Environmentalist who have put us in this position of rising energy costs.”

    I completely disagree. In fact, the whole point of this post was that placing blame entirely on one “side” does nothing. But, I guess you missed that.

    First of all, the article you link to claims we are going into a global cooling period (by linking to a blog post that cites Monckton, nice try). Right off the bat, this whole viewpoint is suspect. Secondly, and more importantly, that article strikes a very bizarre anti-energy conservation tone. What is up with that? What happened to ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’? So, demand should increase infinitely only to be matched by increased supply, no matter what the consequences?

  6. May 21, 2008 3:56 pm

    You know, it might be fun to start a new google earth game where people can pick a random spot on the planet, and somebody keen (like us) can tell them the oil prospectivity and exploration history.

    For Australia, this wouldn’t be too hard, since the data is fairly well available (leases come with strict reporting requirements). Not sure about the rest of the world.

    Although environmentalists may increase prices by restricting supply, they also reduce demand, which lowers prices. So every time you see somebody riding a bike to work, that person is making your gasoline cheaper.

  7. May 21, 2008 8:34 pm

    Indeed, indeed. On the one hand I am happy to see more attention (or at least lip service) paid to being “green,” but on the other, it’s very depressing that virtually every green solution that I see being marketed has more to do with getting people to buy something new or different than it does with changing patterns of use.

    I know for me, I drive little, and most of my driving is for leisure, so the price of gas matters less to me – I just do my hiking & birdwatching closer to home, or suck it up.

    It’s a bummer for those who bought into the suburban “dream” of a 2500 sq ft home and a 50 mile commute, but IMO that’s not a sustainable community arrangement.

  8. May 21, 2008 8:51 pm

    Adam … good points. A problem I’m currently facing is my work is out in the ‘burbs, but I’d rather live in an urban place because I can walk to the market, cleaners, movies, etc. … but, then I still have to get myself to work 5 days a week. Right now it’s combo of commuter train/bus and driving. This is a conundrum because if I were to move near work and cut down that commute, then I’d be in the ‘burbs and have to drive everywhere. But, I am aware of the conundrum … I suppose that’s something.

  9. May 22, 2008 9:37 am

    Perhaps I’ll put a post together soon … but to address the American resource nationalists that will begin to piss and moan that only if we were allowed to drill ANWR and the OCS, then everything would be okay … if you use the numbers from the USGS resource assessment (2000), those reserves would give us another couple decades of oil at our current rate of consumption. I might have to re-look at these numbers, but my guess is that they’re not too different. Sure … a couple decades would be useful, but does absolutely nothing for the long term. I have a feeling will end up developing those areas anyway, but it is certainly NOT the answer to our energy problems … not by a long shot.

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