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High gas prices: the truth that can set us free. Can we handle it?

Posted by suzanne at Mar 12, 2012 10:55 AM |
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No matter how prices spike or plunge at the pump, fossil fuels are bleeding us. Their impact on the climate alone is an epic heist of the planet’s wealth. Add the price we pay in blood and strife to navigate energy geopolitics, and we’re totally fleeced.

High gas prices: the truth that can set us free. Can we handle it?

KC Golden, Policy Director


By KC Golden
Climate Solutions

 

The ritual is familiar now: another presidential primary season, another run up in oil prices, another flurry of national finger-pointing -- a brief encounter with the truth about the consequences of our addiction: fossil fuels are way too costly.

We can expect the price at the pump to cycle down again – suppliers don’t want to gouge us to the point where we get serious about reducing our dependence. But when the price drops, it’s lying.

No matter how prices spike or plunge at the pump, fossil fuels are bleeding us. Their impact on the climate alone is an epic heist of the planet’s wealth. Add the price we pay in blood and strife to navigate energy geopolitics, and we’re totally fleeced.

What’s causing oil prices to rise again now? Growing Asian demand? Iran? Big Oil’s greed? Speculators? Election year politics? Pick your poison; the take-away is the same: as long as we’re strung out on the stuff, we’ll keep taking high costs on the chin. If we square up to this challenge, we can free ourselves with clean energy, cleaner cars, and better transportation choices – available solutions that remain underdeveloped because we shun the truth.

This truth faces an especially steep uphill battle in presidential election years. Reality, insiders warn, isn’t going to get anybody elected. This is conventional political “wisdom.” But is it right?

The data are sparse, since the political market for the truth has barely been tested. But there are encouraging signs that voters are rejecting the most egregious lies. Newt, with his $2.50 a gallon pledge, won’t be the first candidate to go down waving lollipops for voters who can’t be trusted with the truth.

In the last presidential cycle, Senate Majority Leader and presidential hopeful Bill Frist suggested that Uncle Sam write everyone a $100 check to ease the pain of high gas prices. This shameless pandering wasn’t the only reason Frist fizzled, but it clearly hurt his prospects

Then, after McCain had pretty much secured the nomination, came the “gas tax holiday” debate.  Candidates Clinton and McCain supported it. Candidate Obama didn’t. This helped establish Obama as a credible change agent - a leader more interested in solutions than political puffballs. Voters rewarded the truth.

So far in this cycle, President Obama has been more willing to wrestle with the truth than his prospective challengers.  He’s calling BS on “drill baby drill”: “I mean, the American people aren’t stupid… You know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices,” he said in a recent speech.  

But the President is still hedging the big truth – you know, the Inconvenient one. His “all of the above” gimmick conspicuously ignores the IEA’s recent warning that expanding fossil fuel infrastructure would make it virtually impossible to avert dangerous climate change. Burying this truth exposes us to costs far greater – if less politically salient – than $4 gas.      

Oil disrupts democracy and undermines economic security. Carbon emissions from burning it disrupt the climate. Addiction to it threatens deeply held American values of responsibility, fairness, and self-determination -- it hardly matters whose soil it comes from. We’ll pay its exorbitant costs until we free ourselves from it.

Tight supply, and diminishing resources cause expensive oil

Posted by Bill at Mar 13, 2012 09:02 AM
This is a nice essay KC, and thank you for it.

I disagree a bit that the cause of expensive oil is irrelevant to the arguement that we need to seek clean alternatives.

You write: "What’s causing oil prices to rise again now? Growing Asian demand? Iran? Big Oil’s greed? Speculators? Election year politics? Pick your poison; the take-away is the same: as long as we’re strung out on the stuff, we’ll keep taking high costs on the chin.

For the last 8-10 years we have seen a long run-up in oil prices after 2 decades of relatively low and stable prices. What's the main difference now? Mostly that many more countries are using serious amounts of oil, and that supply has flattened due to the fact that we are moving into non-conventional, difficult to produce, remote, and expensive oil: oil in deepwater, tarsands, shale, and politically unstable or unfriendly countries.

A peak in supply, whether humanity plans it or not, will happen soon. Thats just a fact for a non-renewable resource.

I've always felt that climate activists should not only be in the game of explaining that fossil fuels are toxic and destructively changing the composition of our oceans and atmosphere, but that they are running out this century. Doubling down on them with a "drill baby drill" strategy is wrong because it leaves civilization with no plan B or alternative that is scaled-up in time once the last of the fossil fuels are used.

Both these are excellent arguements for renewables, and it seems like the case that oil is near a peak in supply always receives a poor reception by climate activists when it could be a powerful ally.

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