Monday, December 05, 2005

Still True Today

The following is a letter of mine published by the Seattle Times in May of 2004, when gasoline had hit the shocking price of $1.50 a gallon (if memory serves):

The tragedy of the current (and likely permanent) runup in gas prices is one of a gigantic missed opportunity.

When market demand—or the byzantine politics of oil—drives prices up, we dumbly open our wallets and say "Well, gee, if that's the way it is, guess we have no choice." And we proceed to pump millions of gallons of this toxic, non-renewable resource into our big, sexy status symbols. While billions of our hard-earned dollars flow ever faster into the coffers of multinational oil companies and the same corrupt governments that finance terrorism against us.

But had we chosen—say, back in 1993, when President Clinton proposed a modest fossil fuel tax—to set aside a few cents per gallon toward research on conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy, we could be well on our way to a future where our insatiable thirst for oil doesn't destroy the environment and make us hostages to foreign despots. Those billions of dollars that are rapidly draining away our national wealth would instead be recycled into our economy, creating millions of well-paying jobs and making us all richer. But instead, craven politicians seem determined to ride the "no new taxes!" horse right off the cliff of economic collapse—and today's high prices make it that much less likely that they'll bite the bullet and do the right thing.

When will Americans get it: cheap gas is not our eternal, God-given right! Emerging countries like China daily compete harder for the limited supply. Shall we conquer them all and tell them "No, it's our oil"? There is no magic bullet (or magic A-bomb) that will bring us back to the good old days. When will our leaders speak these truths to the people? (When the Chief Executive of Ford Motor says that gas taxes should be higher, it's obvious that something is up.)

The longer we wait, the more wrenching will be the adjustment. We should have started 30 years ago. But for God's sake, let's start now!