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U.S. oil companies posted record profits last quarter. Over the course of three months, Exxon alone made $45 million an hour. Seeing a direct correlation between these profits and the fact that we were all, not too long ago, paying about $4 a gallon for gas, several politicians came forward to accuse the industry of price gouging. Oil Company execs, dragged in front of a Senate sub-committee looking into the possibility last week, claimed indignantly that no such thing had happened. During the hearing, they also denied being involved in secret meetings with Dick Cheney before the war, ostensibly discussing how Iraq’s oil fields would be divied up. Apparently not believing them, Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, now wants to call them back in, this time under oath, to testify as to “their involvement with Vice President Cheney’s secretive energy task force.” And, Senator Frank Lautenberg has asked that an inquiry be opened to look into whether or not “these oil company CEOs broke the law by making false statements to the Congress.”

I personally don’t care that gas was $4 a gallon. I think that it should have been $4 a gallon a long time ago. I suspect that, if not underwritten by our government and its multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded hand-outs, and aided by our military, it would cost at least that much. The idea that we see inexpensive gas as a birthright in this country pisses me off. It’s not cheap, and, more importantly, it’s not going to last forever. If we were sane, we’d tax the hell out of gas (let’s say, increasing the tax by fifty cents a gallon for ten years) in order to drive people to conserve, and we’d invest that money in research and development — in programs like The Apollo Alliance – creating jobs in the process… But we aren’t sane.

We’re fighting the right people when we go after Big Oil in the Congress, but we have absolutely no idea why we’re fighting them. We think it’s because they gouged us at the pump. The truth is, it’s much worse than that. It’s worse than screwing us at the pump, and taking our tax dollars, and even being complicit in the planning for the war in Iraq. Worse than all the rest of it is the fact that they’re still letting us believe that the system can last as it is. It cannot.

(If we’re to survive into the future, we need to push (with tax credits and other incentives) urban living, mass transportation, alternative energy, telecommuting, and concervation.)

Here’s a pertinent clip from author James Kunstler. Read it and weep…

If the American public could stand the truth, we would stop calling it the Iraq War and rename it the War to Save Suburbia. Of all the things that Bush and Cheney have said over the last six years, the one thing the Democratic opposition has not challenged is the statement that “the American way of life is not negotiable.” They’re just as invested in it as everybody else. The Democrats complain about the dark efforts by Bush and Cheney to cook up a rationale for the war. Guess what? The Democrats desperately need something to oppose besides the truth. If they would shut up about WMDs for five minutes and just take a good look around, they’d know exactly why this war started.

When the American people, Democrat and Republican both, decided to build a drive-in utopia based on incessant easy motoring and massive oil dependency, who lied to them? When tens of millions of Americans bought McHouses thirty-four miles away from their jobs in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Dallas, who lied to them? When American public officials adopted the madness of single-use zoning and turned the terrain of this land into a tragic crapscape of strip malls on six-lane highways, who lied to them? When American school officials decided to consolidate all the kids in gigantic centralized facilities serviced by fleets of yellow buses that ran an average of 150,000 miles per year per school, who lied to them? When Americans trashed their public transit and railroad system, who lied to them? When Americans let WalMart gut Main Street, who lied to them? When Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a suburban villa in farthest reaches of northern Westchester County, New York, who lied to them?

You want truth, Progressive America? Here’s the truth: the War to Save Suburbia entailed an unavoidable strategic military enterprise. Saving Suburbia required that the Middle East be pacified or at least stabilized, because two-thirds of the world’s remaining oil is there (and in case you haven’t figured this out by now, Suburbia runs on oil, and the oil has to be cheap or we couldn’t afford to run it). The three main oil-producing countries in the Middle East, going from west-to-east are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. We had serious relationship problems with all of them at various times, and they with each other, leading at frequent intervals to a lot of instability in that region, and consequently trouble for us trying to run Suburbia on cheap oil (which they sold us in large quantities)…

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  1. chris
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I know…and yet. Just as my cousin was irate at those irate when California had their brownout a few years back. Thought at first to be terrorism, and then faulty wiring? And ultimately the reshuffling of available electricity to create a pseudo short supply by Enron. Yes, I know there was a fire at a substation but that would have been readily amenable had Enron not controlled the amount of electricity available to pump up their sales.

    Well, then where and how do we live? NYC just voted in a huge transportation bond act. Let the rest of the US follow suit.

  2. ChelseaL
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    “If we were sane” …we’d be working harder to get all cars to run on vegetable oil. And getting massive campaigns under way to wean Americans away from inefficient vehicles. Your way, gasoline quickly becomes another exclusive commodity for the rich. Or, at any rate, an undue hardship for the rest of us.

  3. Teddy Glass
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    But as long as fuel stays inexpensive change will not happen. At least that’s what we’ve seen over the past few decades.

  4. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I love the idea of biodiesel, if I had the money, I

  5. Kari
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget that production of plant material for biodiesel comes with its own costs – soil erosion, sedimentation of streams, production of herbicides and their eventual leaching into streams and groundwater, fossil fuel needed to run farm machinery and the resulting air pollution

  6. Original Letter Writer
    Posted November 18, 2005 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    James Kunstler has it right and so does Mark. Gasoline prices at the pump should be more than $5.00 a gallon, but the profits shouldn’t go to big oil like they are now. The real costs to the environment should be factored in and taxes should bring it up. This will never happen as long as we live in a Mc-democracy and people keep on with their short term mentality. Nationalize the oil industry, and then at least oil and government would be out of the closet and on equal terms!

    In my city of Seattle, the voters approved a monorail 5 times and on the sixth vote pushed by Mayor Nickels after he withdrew permitting, it got voted down. They plan to take the tax money they’ve raised for the project and build – guess what? Roads. They want to pave over the whole state. It sucks.

    The real war is between Red and Blue, Urban vs. Suburban, those who want a clean environment and cooperation in the world and those who want an American Empire to provide them with a life of convenience. Oh tragedy!

  7. terry
    Posted November 19, 2005 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I’m not so sure about a monorail. Remember what happened on The Simpsons? Apparently those things attract possums.

  8. Posted November 19, 2005 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    A while back, I worked on a project with a transportation engineer from the University of Michigan. He had developed a transportation game that he was bringing to Boston to play with the elected officials. I was responsible for getting the game boards printed and mounted to boards. They were 4 x 8 feet each and there were about 12 of them. There were a bunch of static cling vinyl game parts that I cut for them, similar to Colorforms. It was a bit clunky, but the idea was beautiful. All the variables effecting traffic flow were presented and could be adjusted to see how it affected other parts of the system.

    Since then, I think about that game on occasion when I sit at traffic lights or in traffic on I-5. Intersections and grid lock are the biggest consumers of fuel. The engines are running, but the cars are not moving.

    The Hybrids shut off when they are coasting or at a stop. If every car did that, it would make a big difference. Another great idea for preventing idling at intersections is the roundabout. Rather than having timed traffic lights, a large circle is placed in the intersection. Vehicles are forced to slow down to 10 mph and move around the circle in a counterclockwise motion. All turns become right turns. Pedestrians and cyclists using crosswalks are easier to stop for and the traffic “flows” through” a “reducer” rather than being shut on and off like a valve.

    I liked the idea of a monorail a few years back. After seeing the logistics- twice as long from point a to point b as bus service, limited access points, very limited volume, and 11 billion dollars over 40 years! – it became apparent that it was a bum idea. Sound Transit will have a light rail operating with service from (almost ) SeaTac to North Seattle by somewhere around 2010.

    The initiative(s) to do away with the monorail passed and the initiative to keep the gas tax for road improvements passed. In response to the comments on the Monorail by OLW, the mayor had to get permission from City Council to not allow permitting and city council agreed with him unanimously. The money generated for the project was an excise tax on vehicle licensing. The monorail committee spent all the funds secured to date on buying property for the Green Line and on their expensive salaries and consultants. We will have to pay the excise tax for 3 more years just to pay off the debts they have already incurred.

    The gas tax is to fund road improvements. The only thing I have seen that may qualify as additional roads is the expansion of the 520 bridge from 2 lanes to 3 or 4 in each direction. I would guess that most of the people who drive through that pinch point each day would be in favor of widening it. The other major road improvement is the Viaduct. It is not only a tragedy waiting to happen, but it also is a physical barrier between the Port of Seattle along the Duwamish and the railyard and roadways on the land side- forcing squadron of semis todrive a circuit that clogs Spokane street. There is also the clusterf*** at the i-5 / i-90 interchange in downtown, but I don’t know how anyone could even begin to solve that one. And then there is the problem of falling rocks at Snoqualmie pass blocking the road and killing people…

    ..so back to my original point. Traffic needs to flow. I agree with Mark that the cost of gas is not representative of the true cost and should be higher. I think it would be nice to see people using something like a wiki to develop open source transportation tools similar to the game mentioned above rather than spending millions on expensive, inefficient committees and consultants to run an idea into a dead end.

    Separate but related: I am interested in comparing and contrasting Robert Moses and Alfred Beach. The battle they began is still playing itself out a hundred years later. There are likely to be many lessons in there.

  9. mark
    Posted November 19, 2005 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I had heard the argument that reliance on biobiodiesel would require non-sustainable farming practices, but I had not heard OEC’s argument – that even if we did farm every piece of ground available to us it would only produce a drop in the bucket. (Does that include ocean farming?) Regardless, it looks as though it’s going to require a crazy quilt patchwork of solutions to meet our needs. There isn’t, in other words, going to be just one thing that can replace oil

  10. mark
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Was there ever any question that our big oil companies would get in on the action in Iraq.

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