First Posted: 1/10/2009
To my great joy, and yours too, probably, gasoline prices in recent months have taken a historical dive in terms of how fast they have fallen. After last summer and early autumn I was ready to consider trading in my car for a couple of horses and a buggy.
Like many of you, my family had gotten to the point where we were doing everything we could to eliminate trips. My wife and kids made one visit to the library every week, instead of three. We were better about making grocery lists because we werent going to drive back out for something we forgot. And, we were careful about what activities we became involved with simply because we didnt want to commit ourselves to something that would mean extra driving.
Then, gasoline prices starting dropping. And dropping. And dropping some more. Next thing I knew, we were paying $1.59 a gallon, then $1.49, and as low as $1.43. While visiting some family up the road in Roanoke, Va., I even found it for a slow as $1.37 a gallon. My relatives there have since paid even less.
Now gasoline prices are climbing again. A couple of days ago I filled up my car and paid $1.69 a gallon and felt bad that I had to pay so much. Three months ago I would have felt I was getting it for a steal at that price.
Funny how our perceptions change so rapidly.
One thing that hasnt changed, though, is the fact that were still beholden, as a society, to other nations because of our reliance on oil. In October, OPEC (formerly known as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) cut worldwide production to boost demand (and their profits). The organization did the same thing again in December. Russia, the second largest producer of crude oil in the world, also announced in December it would slice output to raise prices.
Thirty years ago then-President Jimmy Carter began formulating an energy policy that would make the United States less dependent on foreign oil. Unfortunately, no president of either party has since cared to address this issue in any meaningful way. Five months ago, with gasoline and home heating fuel hovering around $4 a gallon, everyone was screaming for some sort of action.
In an already struggling economy, those gasoline prices were almost crippling to our nation. Who could afford to eat out when driving to the restaurant cost more than the food? Who could afford new clothes, or new video games, or electronics, or any number of other goods, when it cost $70 or $80 to fill a gasoline tank? While I believe many of the problems in our economy are much more deep-seeded than simply having to pay more for gasoline, I know having that much money flowing out of our collective pockets and into the coffers of oil companies and oil-producing nations didnt help matters.
Now, with gasoline and home heating prices relatively inexpensive, no one really seems to care. I know my family is as guilty as the next in not remaining as frugal as possible when it comes to gasoline usage, as we were in, say, August. Ive even read some accounts that sales of autos such as SUVs and trucks gas guzzlers you couldnt give away six months ago have begun to creep up again in some markets.
Why do we have such short memories?
While this might be seen as addressing a national issue something I rarely like to do in this column its really a local one. Its local here, in Mount Airy, just as its local in Nashville, Tenn., Atlanta, Ga., and Omaha, Neb. Individuals everywhere have to remain committed to saving on gasoline use, even now, to keep prices low.
And, individuals have to remain committed to holding our governments feet to the fire to develop a national energy policy that reduces our dependence on oil.
President Barrack Obama will be taking office in just a few days. Already, senators and representatives in Washington have taken office. Representatives on the state level have already been sworn into office, or will be so in coming days.
We need to demand these people offer leadership in real, concrete ways toward forming a new national energy policy. One that eliminates, or greatly reduces, our use of oil. And, we need a solid long-term solution, not just a series of band-aids. Drilling off the coast of North Carolina, and in Alaska, would be a band-aid, and a small one at that. If every drop of oil reserves in United States territories could be magically transported from underground and be refined and stored for use with the wave of a wand, you know how long all that oil would last us?
Thats right, just three years.
The United States is already the third largest oil producer in the world. Other than Saudi Arabia, our country produces more than double the amount of oil of any other OPEC nation.
We use three times as much as we produce, so, finding new sources of oil really isnt the answer.
What is? I dont know. More solar and wind power, perhaps. Alternative automobile fuels, maybe. More reliance on nuclear and clean-burning oil. Maybe something most of us dont even know exists, yet. A combination of all of that?
But, we need to get there, and the only way to do that is for each of us, individually, to decrease our use of gasoline and oil, and for our government to lead the way in developing new sources of energy.
I just hope we dont have to get back to $4 a gallon for gasoline before someone else agrees.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected]