President Bush’s declaration that “America is addicted to oil” is an astonishing pronouncement coming from an oil man. It is also astonishing because he and congress gave the oil companies billions of dollars of subsidies while the oil companies reaped record profits and we paid record prices at the pump.
The big question is why Bush’s sudden about face? Especially from an administration that stood so adamantly against conservation of energy, against raising fuel mileage requirements on vehicles (CAFÉ standards), and who authorized tax savings to purchasers of gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks.
The world’s oil supply was projected to dry up in about thirty-five years, but now that China and India have greatly increased their demand for oil, the world oil supply will run out much quicker. When this happens, our entire way of life will drastically change. We have no alternative energy replacement and the Bush Administration is in a quandary as to what to do. In Bush’s panic to keep America awash in oil, his best idea is to trade nuclear technology for oil with India; a deal that could undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and send the world into an arms race.
The US oil supply peaked in 1971; world supplies will peak around 2010. Global demand is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next 20 years. According to James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, “the world is now using 27 billion barrels of oil a year. Of the one trillion barrels of the world’s remaining supply, if every last drop could be extracted, the entire endowment would last only another thirty-seven years.” More demand and dwindling supplies will skyrocket the price of oil.
When oil gets scarce and prohibitively expensive, the American way of life will suffer. Air travel will be prohibitively expensive causing the tourist industry to crash. Think about how dependent you are on your automobile. Can you walk or take public transportation to the grocery store and to work? It will become too expensive to transport food from distant locations so isolated housing developments will have to rely on local farmers for food and developers are still building isolated developments on farms. Coal will be the likely replacement for oil, however, the machinery used to extract coal is petroleum powered. If we don’t plan now, our extraction equipment will be useless when we need it most.
Since oil and coal are an environmental hazard both in the extraction process and consumption, we should shift the billions of dollars of oil company subsidies to funding alternative energy research. It makes no sense to subsidize a dead-end industry, especially one that is currently rolling in its own money.
During the 1980s the oil industry knew they had a finite supply. So why, in the past few decades, has we lived like there is no end to oil? Contrary to conserving oil, we moved far from cities into sprawling developments and corporate centers requiring an automobile to do almost everything. Many commuters have an hour’s drive to work. Not only do we have auto choked highways and consume mega-volumes of gas, we paved over irreplaceable farmland that we will need to grow food to feed isolated communities.
So much of our technology depends on oil that transportation is only one effected aspect. Most homes rely on oil for heat and also goods made of plastic, an oil byproduct. Many synthetic materials are oil derivatives, as are some cosmetics and medicines.
The oil crunch will hit the wall long before the supply runs out; probably in the next few years. We should immediately ration gas and find ways to drive less; dump the gas hog and get a car with high gas mileage, and take public transportation whenever possible.
During the 1990s a study showed that the average suburbanite made eleven trips per day running errands. Plan and consolidate your trips. Most importantly, a moratorium on building housing developments and corporate centers in the hinterlands should happen now. We need to target development in towns and cities with existing transportation hubs.
We need to demand and hold our do-nothing-but-bicker government accountable to implement an alternative energy program with the fervor, drive, determination, and funding that we did during World War II creating the atomic bomb or like we did in the race for space with Russia. If we fail to see and respond to this pending crisis immediately, a dire price will be paid by all.
© 2006 Richard D. Whiteford