September 26, 2005

The Case For Keeping Gas Prices High

Cynthia Tucker has an interesting column, which argues that the politicians efforts to reduce gas prices are, in fact, misguided:

What a spectacular failure of leadership.

The last thing this country needs is to keep gas prices low -- thereby encouraging American consumers to keep up our greedy consumption of fossil fuels. Our addiction to petroleum has kept us hostage to the Middle East. We pay them billions in petrodollars, and some of that cash inevitably ends up in the hands of people who want to kill us.
Let's not forget that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 came not from Iraq but from Saudi Arabia. Yet we continue to do business with the Saudis, though it is perfectly clear that they still support the fundamentalist clerics who spread terrorism. We're junkies -- "oiloholics," as The Economist, a prestigious newsmagazine, called us -- who will do anything to keep the supply open.

A furious storm season -- Katrina, Ophelia, Rita -- offered the country's political leaders the perfect opportunity to allow gas prices to drift upward. (The nation is led by Republicans, supposedly free-market conservatives, after all.) That would have encouraged conservation and invited serious support for research into alternative fuels.

But politicians up and down the line, from the White House to Congress to state capitols, have chosen to pander to their constituents instead. Rather than confront the hard truth -- that a sustained campaign against terrorists will demand sacrifices from all of us -- our leaders pretend that we can keep doing things the way we've always done them. The House and Senate passed an energy bill two months ago, but the closest they could bring themselves to promoting conservation was a proposal to extend daylight-saving time by four weeks, starting in 2007. They demanded precious little in the way of increased fuel efficiency for cars and trucks.

Even if our petrodollars didn't enable terrorists, there'd still be good reason to start a serious national initiative to wean us off fossil fuels. They are running out. Some geologists believe that oil production will peak in the next few years. And at least one respected geophysicist has suggested that China and the United States will eventually go to war over dwindling oil supplies.

Ms. Tucker makes an interesting point. Historically, very few politicians have been interested in taking measures to relieve us of our oil dependency. The only time that politicians are typically forced to confront the issue is when their constituents demand that they do something. The extraordinarily high gas prices have posed a perfect opportunity to focus politicians on what needs to be done.... However, as Ms. Tucker notes, politicians are attacking the wrong problem. The politicians are attempting to lower gas prices as opposed to solving the long term problem of oil dependency by encouraging development and use of alternative fuels and conservation.
I understand and, for the most part, agree with her conclusion that the only way for there to be meaningful change is for the public to be frustrated enough with gas prices that it demands that the politicians solve our long term problem of oil dependency.
Is it too much to ask for politicians to solve both? In other words, let's work on getting oil prices down in the short term and increase research and development on alternative fuels? From a consumer perspective, my family's cost of living has dramatically increased. Of course, we are not alone.
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