Demand Higher Oil Prices!
by Larry Kinney

Oil prices are rising. But they are still way too low. Mind you, I have no interest in further enriching the giant corporations that pump oil, ship it thousands of miles and retail it, often while exploiting indigenous people and ravishing the earth.

Mother Nature spent many millennia fabricating crude oil from organic material under high pressure, with plenty of help from that nuclear power station called the sun. (By the way, we should work to keep all nuclear power stations at least 93 million miles away from our fragile earth.) As a result, a gallon of crude is the energy equivalent of about two person-months of labor.

Gasoline is an extraordinarily compact form of energy, which is why airplanes can fill their wings with it and still get off the ground. Yet, here in the US, we still sell this precious stuff more cheaply than bottled water.

So let’s not complain about the cost of the gasoline. Ninety per cent of the gas we put into our vehicles is spewed out in the form of wasted heat from the extremely inefficient cars most of us drive. What we need are tax policies that raise—not lower—the price of fossil fuels. The additional revenue could then be used to reduce energy waste, reverse environmental degradation, and employ lots of young people to put their energies into this constructive enterprise instead of joining the military.

This is precisely what many of the nations who signed the Kyoto accords are doing. For example, Japan and most of Europe tax the hell out of energy and use the proceeds to invest in energy efficiency and renewables. Virtually no one drives three tons of pig iron that gets eight miles per gallon.

I was in France last summer, where the gas costs more than $6 per gallon. I took the train from Paris to Poitiers, then picked up a compact rental car I had ordered on the web where I had specified the lowest price possible. The car was a Ford hatch-back that seats five. I drove it for ten days on country roads, in cities and on autoroutes (at speeds of up to 100 mph). It averaged 46 mpg for about 1400 miles—only a bit less than the highly-vaunted new hybrids.

Ford neither manufactures nor sells that hatch-back in the US. We might ask why. Could it be that our national energy policy has things exactly backwards and Ford is making lots of money selling us Explorers? Are not the oil men running our country well lubricated from profits from the big petroleum companies?

A substantial portion of the $6 a gallon paid for gas in Europe goes to taxes. What do the French do with such high taxes? Their government-owned national railway system builds excellent railway networks with high-speed trains that meet their schedules within seconds. Electricity comes from a nationally-owned grid that invests heavily in energy efficiency.

Instead of using property taxes, the French use energy taxes to finance education. As a result, schools are functional. The French grow up to vote for people actually educated in diplomacy and who understand something of world political geography. Accordingly, they tend to elect competent public servants instead of self-serving and misguided cowboys, B-grade actors, brain damaged football players, and shady lawyers.

To turn things around here, we need to act both locally and nationally. Let’s walk and bicycle more. Let’s take public transportation when we can and drive less. If we must drive, let’s drive machines that are energy efficient. And let’s elect public officials who aren’t afraid to tell us the truth about energy realities.

Here’s one of those truths: it’s a mathematical fact that we simply cannot sustain exponential growth in the use of finite resources. It’s absurd to burn fossil fuels at the rates we do when our vehicles are 10% efficient and oil is needed to keep producing plastics, lubricants and pharmaceuticals.

Another truth is that our buildings and industries are extremely inefficient. We must adopt cost-effective measures to conserve. The result will be a more comfortable, healthier environment (indoors and out), plenty of new jobs for those in the energy efficiency industry, and less demand for our depleting fossil fuels.

Our public officials—with our vocal support—need to levy heavy taxes on fossil fuel use and enact controls on the fossil fuel industry to prevent gouging. They must enforce stringent energy standards on the building and automobile/SUV/truck-fabrication industries.

Energy-consumption taxes should be used to mobilize an energy-efficiency industry. One sector of that industry would be weatherizing every wasteful home in the US, beginning with those occupied by low-income citizens.

Energy-consumption taxes should also be used to construct nationwide and municipal mass transit systems that really work. A loaded train averaging over 150 mph gets the equivalent of 2000 person-miles per gallon burned at the power station; the best airplanes can do is about 30 person-miles per gallon.

Also, we need to redouble intelligent energy-conservation and alternative fuel research to develop more efficient ways of going about the people’s business.

If we can manage all of this, we won’t need oil from the Mideast—and the ridiculous, immoral military excesses that seem to go with it.

Larry holds a Ph.D in philosophy from Syracuse University. He’s a senior researcher with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project in Boulder, CO. Contact him at <>.