America's Gasoline Dangerously Inexpensive


America's Gasoline Dangerously Inexpensive
Oil's true cost: cheap gas kills the Earth and diminishes society

By Dr. Glen Barry
May 25, 2004

Gasoline in America is dangerously inexpensive, threatening the ruin of society and the environment. Consumers generally have little idea how much fueling their automobile actually costs, or the impacts it has on national security, the environment, their health, and their quality of life.

America's current national outrage over gasoline prices that remain historically low is ill-advised. Car owners must recognize that government subsidies to petroleum companies and users, and environmental, health, and social costs associated with gasoline use, place the real cost of gasoline at around $10 a gallon - or at least five times current prices.

Factors not reflected in the price of gas include the destruction of 60 million year old rainforests and other ecosystems during exploration and drilling, military adventurism to secure supplies, marine oil spills during transport, unprecedented climate change as consumed, and political corruption throughout - to say nothing of crashes, pollution, noise and congestion.

Energy prices, climate change, terrorism and childhood asthma are all symptomatic of the same problem - overdependence upon oil, a polluting and finite resource. And oil is simply not worth killing for - yet this is precisely what is being done in Iraq.

American over-consumption of artificially cheap oil and other sources of natural capital - notably water and land - has fueled a huge and precarious bubble economy that will eventually unravel. Implications of the bubble's burst will depend upon actions taken now to reduce and eventually eliminate petroleum products as the basis of our society.

America and the rest of the industrialized world's prosperity are based upon unsustainable rates of energy consumption. Americans are 4% of the world population, yet consume about 25% of the world's petroleum - much going towards feeding their automobiles. Oil provides transportation, grows our food, and provides warmth and cooling - though there are alternatives.

Europeans and others have routinely paid twice the amount Americans pay for oil. Are Americans so exceptionally noble of mind and character that ever cheaper oil in real terms is our birthright - while the rest of the World must be content as lesser beings using less energy for which they pay more?

Many Americans have become lazy and addicted to mechanized mobility, believing it their right to drive a small room sized vehicle whenever and wherever they wish, and at the expense of massive government subsidies and the natural ecosystems upon which life depends. And as a result, the American government has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil oligarchy - government for, by and of the petro-pigs.

If Americans are unwilling or unable to come to terms with their petro-addiction, they deserve the profound societal ills that will follow the bursting of the petro-bubble economy. If every last bit of oil is to be ripped from the Earth and burned before alternatives are seriously pursued, large natural ecosystems and the global atmosphere will cease to function in the manner they have throughout history. A post-petroleum World will face widespread poverty, persistent environmental problems and a dearth of energy adequate to meet basic needs.

Breaking the deadly addiction of cheap oil will require that consumers eventually see the entire cost of burning gasoline reflected in the price they pay at the pump. Only then will it prove more difficult to ignore the harmful effects that their addiction has to the Earth, society and their children's prospects. Only then will alternative means of energy be competitive and flourish.

Clearly gasoline prices can not immediately rise to their true cost to society and the Earth. But rise steeply they must. An initial 50 cent a gallon increase in the federal tax on gasoline would result in more conservation and decreased oil consumption. Carbon and other energy taxes need not increase the overall tax burden - as income taxes should be reduced by an equal amount.

A steady, incremental incorporation of external costs into energy prices is exactly the stimulus needed to promote conservation, energy independence and renewable alternatives. And a whole slew of other benefits will follow such as less international conflict, more intact ecosystems, and more livable communities.

Though only a few generations old, not many Americans can imagine a non-automobile centered society or community. It is time to take back our cities, by designing people centered communities, where the needs of roads and cars are secondary. Americans must set an international example of moderation in the use of petroleum resources - striving for efficiency - before the rest of the World mimics our gross wastefulness.

Sustainable living is about reducing your energy use: live close to where you work, travel using your feet and bike as a first priority, buses and trains when possible, and a rented fuel-efficient car when necessary. Kill you car while coming alive personally. If America can not learn to live as though oil is dear, our addiction will soon cost us our and the Earth's future.



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Mai 2004

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