Monday, November 14, 2005

November 12, 2005

Addicts v. Dealers

We really are a hopelessly clueless people. Proof of that observation was televised live yesterday on C-SPAN as a dozen Senators berated oil company CEOs on our behalf for making too much money selling us gasoline.

Why is that proof we are stupid? Let's see. What say instead of of oil company execs the grillees had been big time crack dealers? And the grillers representatives of Crack Addicts of America.

Senator Goodsmile: "Mr. SlingThing, can you explain to this committee how you sleep at night? How do you justify the prices you charge for a substance our constituents need to carry on their daily lives?"

SlingThing: Man, I don't cook it, I just serve it - ya know what I mean? The street sets the price dude, not me. I believe you guys call it "the supply/demand pricing mechanism. I'm a capitalist, dude. I got responsibilities to my people. Got a problem with that?

(While watching that dog-and-pony show yesterday I had an image of the oil execs swearing, "I do not believe oil is addictive." But that didn't happen because Alaska's oil company pimp, Sen. Ted Stevens, who chaired the hearing, refused to allow his friends to be put under oath.)

Anyway, the whole thing was a disgrace. I mean, come on folks, those oil guys are not the core problem. We are. We have gotten ourselves hooked on stuff made from dead dinosaurs, the quintessential finite resource! How smart is that?

Nevertheless, there we were yesterday cheering on those empty-suit Senators we sent out to beat up on the our suppliers because they are making too much money off our energy drug of choice. I almost (I said "almost") felt sorry for the oil execs. As senators scolded them the look on their faces reminded me of the look you get from a puppy when you shout, "NO, no no.. outside. You poop OUTSIDE!"

Look, those guys are just doing what the mercantile universe created them to do – make as much hay as they can while the sun shines. And spare them lectures on "social responsibility." Only one thing controls how much people like that make – demand. Yeah, yeah, I know, supply plays a key role too.

News Flash: They control supply. We control demand. They have no conscience. We have no self-restraint. It's your classic pusher/user dynamic.

The oil companies did not create those enormous profits alone. Our demand for their product was the Yin to their Yang.

"Oh but they are gouging," you whine. To which I reply - DUH! No kidding. My, my but aren't you the deep thinker. And just how might they get away with "gouging" someone who is not consuming bucket loads of their product? Hmmm.. funny how that works.

Look, these guys know the day is rapidly approaching when the only sound coming out of their oil fields is the same sound you get when your straw hits the bottom of a milkshake. While we go our merry way consuming their oil products, they're already trying to figure out how to corner the market on emerging alternative energy sources. They're smart that way. We're dumb that way. In the meantime they're going to maximize the profits they can make on their dwindling supply of dead dinosaur juice.

I really don't give fig how much money those jerks make. In fact I hope they raise gas prices even higher because that's the only way some of us are going to get the message. I am already seeing some of the biggest gas addicts changing their ways, or at least trying. My local want ads are filled with late model SUV's and Hummers for sale by fools hoping there are still just enough fools out there to bail them out of their gas guzzler. I hope they're wrong, that no one buys their SUV and they are forced to donate them to the Polly Klass Foundation to sell for scrap.

We are not only stupid but hypocritical too. For example, I live just outside the Northern California little wine country town of Sebastopol. The place crawls with granola crunching, Birkenstock wearing folk who pride themselves on their social and environmental values. The town leaders officially declared Sebastopol a "Nuclear Free Zone." Not that anyone ever tried to bring nukes to Sebastopol, but a sign at the edge of town now warns them they better not try. While nuclear-free the town isn't bug-free. They also banned the use of garden pesticides within city limits. (I don't know about you, but I've had more problems with bugs than nukes. But I digress.)

Many of the folks who live here now are former city folk who moved to the country to connect with Mother Nature. While it doesn't snow here and paved roads will take you anywhere you need to get, the first thing most of them did was buy a big-ass, four-wheel drive SUV. I couldn't drive through my little town without getting stuck behind enormous SUVs festooned with bicycle racks and kayaks and/or skis strapped to roof-racks sporting bumper stickers declaring, "NO BLOOD FOR OIL." Helloooooo..... Disconnect, disconnect.. cognitive dissonance alert..... anyone in there?

Yet there are glimmers of hope. In recent months something has changed. Crunchy Town is suddenly knee deep in Toyota Prius hybrids. And local motorcycle shops report demand for Hogs is down and sales of thrifty European-type motor scooters way up. Maybe, just maybe, a sign we are prepared to begin taking the cure.

That's good, because the cure for our energy problems will not be found in thumping on oil company executives to make their product more affordable. Until an alternative energy future matures we will have to continue doing business with the oil pushers. What don't have to do is continue consuming their product at the same level we do now. We need to wean ourselves off the stuff, slowly, but steadily. Hybrid cars are a good start. They remind me of devices smokers use that filter more and more nicotine out of cigarette smoke until they no longer crave the stuff.

But we can do a hell of a lot more. City folk should use public transportation or, as they do in Europe, drive a motor scooter to work. (Which reminds me... European women, zipping through city streets to work, brief case balanced on the floor boards of a shinny little Vespas are – to my thinking – so sexy! Okay, sorry... too much information.) I'm decidedly unsexy, even when riding my little Honda scooter, but I sure feel cocky when I pass gas stations and wave at all those folks pumping tens of gallons into the bellies of the their four-wheel beasts.

We can also begin weaning ourselves off the local utility company by using the money we saved not buying a new SUV to go solar. Whenever I fly over a city I look down on all those sunlit rooftops beneath, each of them is a parasite, sucking power off a utility grid. With solar panels on those rooftops those homes becomes energy producers instead. Not only can the right kind of solar system provide its own energy needs, but can pump any surplus produced into the grid. In the Southwest and West, where the sun shines more often than it doesn't, billions of watts of energy rains down on rooftops. Today it all goes to waste. What an unconscionable waste.

And yes, yes, I know the all about those "pay back formulas" that supposedly show it takes many years to recoup the cost of a solar-electric system. First, that's not true. The formulas used to calculate solar pay-back rates don't factor in the full social and environmental costs we all pay in many ways for the fossil fuels utilities burn to produce energy. (Oh, and if you did those calculations last winter, do them again this winter. I suspect even those phony pay-back formulas will cough up some pretty impressive pay-back rates this time around.)

Anyway, lay off the oil pushers. Let them make a bit more money before they join the horse and buggy industries. Just make sure that this time we don't allow them to corner our next sources of energy. The sun is free and hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. if we let Big Energy corner those markets after the screwing they've given us on oil, well, then we deserve to be milked like a herd of cows.