Why high gas prices are a good thing

Posted August 20th, 2008 in Blog 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

[WARNING: a fairly longish post.]

High gas prices have become a central election issue, and some politicians are playing a dangerous game with it. Promising less expensive oil through off-shore drilling and, once again, endless supply if we just keep on drilling is a deception of vast proportions. It is not only not true (actually, it’s a lie because those who say this know it is not true), but it does two other things: it makes the world a far more dangerous place, and it ensures more devastating ecological damage — by way of how we extract fossil fuels and turn them into energy, and then by how our burning of them accelerates global warming, which already promises us great upheaval and suffering in the generations ahead even if we stopped burning these fuels tomorrow.

By the way, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that July 2008 tied July of 2001 and 2003 as the fifth-warmest on record, just another indication that the warming trend continues. The period from January through July ranked as the ninth-warmest globally.

We’ve been lucky here in the upper midwest where the summer has been pretty mild — not a single 90-degree day yet. I am grateful, but I fear complacency locally, while the global trends remain clear and steady.

Anyway, so some of us, no doubt considered wacko by most of the consumer world, cheer high gas prices. Some of us think gas prices should be twice what they are now. Some of us think we should be reorienting our economic priorities to make this transition as easy as possible for the less wealthy among us, especially the poor who are really feeling the pinch of inflation right now.

We created a global economy that makes us depend upon oil for everything we consume. The poor didn’t decide to do that, and they should not have to pay with even more poverty and suffering for the decisions made by the G-8, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the U.S. Treasury, and the oil and gas industry.

Here is one reason why I applaud high gas prices: they are doing what they are supposed to do — reducing demand for oil. Yea! that is good news. It may slow the economy, but folks, that is what we need to do. And out of the demise of that oil-based economy we need to create the new one — not economies of extraction, consumption and profits, but economies based on the actual workings of life-systems, and rooted in justice — not only human-to-human justice, but justice for the entire Earth community.

Here is one example of what I mean, this article from yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, High gas prices cut pollution, a 4% drop in carbon emissions from the state transportation system. And what does that mean overall? It means my state of Wisconsin will reduce carbon emissions from that sector by 1.2 million tons!

Imagine if, as in Europe, we were paying $6 or $7 per gallon!

So, with demand down, so is the price of oil, which means gas prices are down somewhat and may go down further. And there is the devil lurking, just what happend during the oil crises of the 70s. Rather than take the moment to create a whole new energy regimen, we went back to our oil-guzzling habits big time until now our dependence on it for everything is near total. We built an oil-based economy by how we constructed our homes, communities, and transportation systems, by how we globalized production and consumption, and on and on.

Now we find true what ecologists have been saying for a long time — the quickest way to save ourselves is not just the path towards complete reliance on clean energy (the era Al Gore hopes to hasten with his new campaign for 100% completely clean carbon-free energy in a decade), but right now through reduction in demand, sharply cutting back our consumption and using energy far more efficiently.

mountaintopping-coal-river-mountain-watch-chris-mayda-2005.jpgWould that we had the leadership that might, right now, advocate using the opportunity of lower gas prices to raise them right back up through federal and state taxes that would be dedicated solely towards the creation of clean energy (clean MUST include how we extract, which eliminates the most insane oxymoron of all time, “Clean Coal”) and a new nationwide commitment to mass transit, the disappearance from our roads of all vehicles that get less than 50 mpg, and the development of new totally clean vehicles (which probably means not focusing on plug-ins which would need coal-burning for all that electricity to recharge batteries).

Along with that must come tax breaks and credits for low-income people, and subsidies to help them get where they need to go and to do their work.

I dream this world sometimes.

But here is the other reality crashing down on us — and I hope you will pay very careful attention to this. Look at what is happening in Georgia right now and how it interacts with oil and gas pipelines. We in the U.S., my friends, are utterly dependent on foreign oil (about 2/3 of what we consume), and increasingly those sources are in the control not of corporations but nation-states, including Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and others. gazprom-pipelines-russiaprofileorg.png Russia’s state energy company, Gazprom, is becoming a giant in the world economy (see maps of Russia’s pipelines). Now this is power politics, indeed.

To get a sense of just what this means for us and our world, read this article from yesterday’s NY Times, As Oil Giants Lose Influence, Supply Drops, by Jad Mouawad. Giant oil corporations are not now, and will not be in the future, able to find enough supply to meet demand.

Here’s how it begins:

Oil production has begun falling at all of the major Western oil companies, and they are finding it harder than ever to find new prospects even though they are awash in profits and eager to expand.

Part of the reason is political. From the Caspian Sea to South America, Western oil companies are being squeezed out of resource-rich provinces. They are being forced to renegotiate contracts on less-favorable terms and are fighting losing battles with assertive state-owned oil companies.

And much of their production is in mature regions that are declining, like the North Sea.

The reality, experts say, is that the oil giants that once dominated the global market have lost much of their influence ” and with it, their ability to increase supplies.

œThis is an industry in crisis, said Amy Myers Jaffe, the associate director of Rice University’s energy program in Houston. œIt’s a crisis of leadership, a crisis of strategy and a crisis of what the future looks like for the supermajors, a term often applied to the biggest oil companies. œThey are like a deer caught in headlights. They know they have to move, but they can’t decide where to go.

Well, I recommend reading the whole article. It is a good reference that helps put a lie to all the pro-drilling ads, as if drilling what remains marginally in our control can really feed the energy needs of the future. As I’ve said before, it only puts off the inevitable a few years, while threatening more ecological damage to the planet.

Meanwhile, economies like those of China and India will have the big bucks from their growing economies to ensure more and more of that supply for themselves. You see how our planet’s future is not in our hands. Unless we begin serious global cooperation on these realities, we are in serious trouble.

Really think about this. There is so much conflict, so much war, so much political tension embedded in this reality that it is now safe to say that our oil consumption fuels violence, war, terrorism, and great injustice. We are affecting global power dynamics whenever we fill up at the gas station.

The path to a clean energy future is about saving the planet and saving our species from a terrible future. But also, in human terms, it has become laden with moral and ethical content. We no longer have the luxury of thinking that our own personal consumption is not directly related to what is happening in Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Middle East, and our own impoverished communities here in our own country.

It may still be hard for us to acknowledge that cheap oil and gas are sources of profound injustice and great violence; but not acknowledging it does not make it any less true.

[tags] high gas prices, dependence on foreign oil, off shore oil drilling, al gore, gazprom, war in georgia, clean energy, clean coal, reduce carbon emissions, oil, justice, war[/tags]

Photo credits:
Mountaintopping, Coal River Mountain Watch, Chris Mayda, 2005
Gazprom pipelines, Russia Profile.org


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One Response

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    It is good for having the prices of gas and oil going up. At least people start thinking alternative methods once their purse is squeezed. The all these politiciancs shall learn and get what they actually desreve.