Well, where do we go from here?
The answer, for millions of Americans, is not very far if the oil barons and commodities speculators have their way. The cheap gas culture that has driven the nation’s economy and fostered unprecedented mobility may be over for good, leaving a major wreck along its vast network of superhighways that could take a decade or two to clean up.
That’s how long before the glut of gas guzzling vehicles finally is replaced by anything approaching the necessary efficiency to reduce significantly the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuel. In the meantime, the once dominant U.S. automobile industry will be lucky to survive and all those who live off it will face innumerable hardships, including the commuters who sought cheaper housing miles away from their work and can’t afford to replace the 20 miles to a gallon "beaters" in their driveways.
How do we overcome this mess?
We could ask President Bush. After all we elected him to protect us from tragedies like this and all he did was find a way to exacerbate the problem with a hugely expensive, resource-depleting war in a part of the world where most of the discovered oil resides.
The situation can best be explained by noting that the Saudi royal family that controls the largest reserves on the globe told him to go pound sand when he went to them hat in hand and asked for an increase in production. But then so have the oil company moguls whose revenues set a new record daily and have one excuse after another why they have no responsibility for the pain they are causing.
Failing to get an answer from this White House one might think of turning to Congress. Isn’t that the body most Americans count on when things really get tough? What? You think they’re interested mainly in just talking a crisis to death in overly dramatic hearings that rival the domestic oil industry in lack of production? How can you say that just because they listen to every special interest except yours?
We just learned that big time hedge funds and Wall Street banks hungry for oil profits have almost the same detrimental influence on gas prices as China. It should surprise no one that the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, which oversees such things, has helped bring about this disaster over the last decade by waiving rules that allows investors to accumulate large quantities of the future oil supply. Nor should it come as a jolt to learn that Congress has known about this for sometime, conducting one of those infamous hearings into the matter as recent as a month ago, apparently without consequence.
It’s bad enough that with only a few exceptions in major cities, the light rail systems that could relieve the pressures went the way of the dinosaur a long time ago as we bought into the gasoline engine-rubber tire conspiracy built on less than one dollar fuel. The long distance rail lines are but a few and completely inefficient except along the East Coast and in major hubs like Chicago. For that travel Americans have become flyers. That is until now when the cost of jet fuel has begun not only to drive up the price of a ticket but also to force a severe cut back in available service. Continental Airlines just pared a number of cities from its flight schedule and announced cuts in both personnel and the number of flights. The fuel cost of gas for the carriers has doubled in a year.
I guess we could ask the environmentalists whose never-give-an-inch policies have made it difficult to tap our own vast reserves or build new refineries. If you are old enough to remember when the last refinery was built, you’re middle aged. There is enough oil in shale to meet the nation’s needs for three hundred years, but the price of a barrel of oil never seems to be enough to make extracting it profitable in a country which is supposed to be the most technologically advanced in history.
Where do we go from here? Not much further than to work, the grocery and church and out to eat once in awhile for an increasing number of us who can’t avail ourselves of public transportation. Certainly for a whole lot, those plans for a leisurely summer driving vacation with the kiddies in the SUV are on hold indefinitely.
So whom do we look to for relief — the next president? Stay tuned.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)