News Flash: Gas Prices Will Continue to Rise! Stop Whining and Start Acting!
Peter Schwartz, PhD., a local Cal Poly Professor of sustainability calculated that the true cost of a gallon of gas, when you factor in extraction, refining, the environmental impacts, transport, associated human and health impacts, and every other estimatable cost, is around $12/gallon. As we approach this true cost, people will be forced to reconsider how they are utilizing energy resources.
Because we have manipulated the market for so long and fought wars for "energy security", the U.S. has enjoyed falsely lowered fuel prices for half a century. This cheap gas market allowed the expansion of suburbia, the cheap transport of goods and services, the rise of the unparalleled American car culture, a booming vacation and travel market, and an incredible number of other unsustainable luxurious activities. It has also allowed us to waste an incredible amount of energy and resources because they have been so cheap. We have built grandiose, inefficient stick houses with poor insulation, installed energy-sucking appliances, and we drive down the street in our image-conscious, 12mpg SUVs, all choices based on what many people call the "free market", but what is in reality a subsidized, racketeered, bastardized version of capitalism. The oil subsidies unto themselves are incredible, with an estimated $17.8 billion in tax subsidies and between $38 billion and $114.6 billion in government program subsidies, according to an article on treehugger.com.
Many conservative economists, would like us to "stay the course", saying that this "free market" will direct where our money goes, ie: as consumer demand for renewable energy, efficient and electric cars, and sustainable business increases, we will see more of these products available. Although they are correct in basic theory, their entire paradigm of capitalism has been so twisted by political deals, unfair trade agreements, the aforementioned fuel subsidies, and a lack of accountability for the impacts of industrial production, that the basic tenets of the conceptual free market no longer apply. If not for these modifying factors falsely lowering the prices of certain goods and services, opening access to unsustainable development, as well as the effect of psychologically based marketing to sell us wasteful, often toxic products and foods, we would have likely been well on the way to being sustainable 30 years ago with the first energy crisis. If we had been paying European energy prices as we should have been, we would be living efficiently in closer communities, with less waste, public transportation, and more local food production, the very direction that we need to move in immediately if we are to decrease the looming effects of our self-induced climate change.
I recently saw a few minutes of Glenn Beck on a near-sighted, unthoughtful rant on why we should start drilling in Alaska to get us more cheap oil. This is the same lunacy that brings us the gas tax holiday and the "economic stimulus package", maneuvers that don't even prolong the inevitable, they don't even actually help anyone, except that they make some of the more oblivious public feel like something is being done. For us to actually make any progress, each individual must first take responsibility for their energy use and carbon footprint: If you haven't dumped your SUV yet, do it! Change your lightbulbs, install solar, bike more, compost, start your garden, stop buying things from China and overseas, buy local, organic foods, consume like you give a damn!
We also need to pass sweeping changes in legislation, here are a few examples:
1. Immediate moratorium on new coal-fired or nuclear power plants with required emissions-reducing equipment on all existing plants.
2. Home and industrial efficiency requirements to meet LEED certification on ALL new construction and a program to require and assist in efficiency retrofitting on existing homes and industrial buildings.
3. Increased support for renewable energy research and infrastructure with
4. Standardization in electric vehicle battery and/or charging units to allow for swappable battery packs and the deployment of universal charging stations.
5. Better subsidies for residential solar and electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles with significantly increased fees/taxes on non-industrial/non-farming vehicles getting less than 25mpg (this should quickly increase to 30+mpg)
6. Integrated waste management systems with greywater recycling, green waste reutilization for biomass digestion and composting, extensive recycling programs, and increased tariffs for waste and refuse.
With significant conservation initiatives and continued development of existing renewable energy technologies, we can negate the need for new coal power plants, we can avoid drilling in the arctic, and we can decrease some of the effects of climate change. I doubt that any of our current legislators have the courage to make many of these changes, so it is up to us, the citizens, to first do our part, then support our leaders in taking the steps needed to protect our society, our people, and our environment.