When I was stationed in France in 1954 during the Korean War I was shocked that gasoline prices there were $0.85 per gallon when U. S, prices were around $0.21. Since the Europeans were paying essentially the same price per barrel of petroleum on the world market as we were, why were their gas prices at the pump so high?
The Europeans had realized after World War II that petroleum was a finite resource. They also realized that Persian Gulf oil supplies and prices could be manipulated by Middle-Eastern potentates for their own purposes. For this reason European governments developed a strategy of imposing high taxes on consumer fuel prices to force people to use public transportation, to drive smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, to ride bicycles and (heaven forbid!) to walk more. As a result there were no two-block-long lines at the gas pumps in Europe during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. But we elected not to use governmental initiatives to force energy conservation and we are paying for it. At present we are the only industrialized nation with no energy policy worthy of the name.
Republicans blame President Obama for the latest rise in fuel costs when it is mostly caused by Iran’s stepped-up nuclear intentions and increased demand from Japan and China. The recent recurrence of violence in the Gaza Strip hasn’t helped matters either. And this is the President’s fault?
Some Americans believe that the “self-corrective” free market could work out this energy problem to everyone’s benefit. That’s quaint and naïve. I was long ago sold on the idea that the capitalist free-market economy was the best system for providing the best quality socks, underwear, cars, toasters and root canals to the most people at the best prices. But the free market operates on incentives, and it has few incentives to conserve finite resources or to protect the environment. This must come from the people through their government.
The answer to our energy problems, I believe, is a redesign of our life styles to use less energy and to develop new alternative energy sources. But congressional Republicans have consistently blocked efforts to seriously explore either strategy.
There is another factor at work here that the main-stream media doesn’t always bring out, probably for good reason. Many of the GOP’s biggest contributors are heavily invested in oil, domestic and foreign. Running as deep as some of their off-shore wells are the Bush dynasty’s four-generational ties to oil. And where did Dick Cheney make his millions? While we’re on the subject of oil, how did it figure in George W.’s Iraq war? But that’s another topic.
We Americans seem obsessed today with talking about rights. But have we ever asked ourselves what right has a nation with only five percent of the world’s people and two percent of its oil reserves to consume twenty-five percent of the world’s energy and twenty percent of its oil? I won’t mention that we also produce forty-five percent of its carbon gases - I’m waiting.
George B. Reed, Jr. is retired from AT&T and a former history teacher in the Hamilton County school system. He lives in Fort Oglethorpe and can be reached at email@example.com or 706-858-3501.