Cut oil consumption, sever OPEC’s reins on economy |

Cut oil consumption, sever OPEC’s reins on economy

There’s a lot of moaning and hang-wringing about the current high gasoline prices in the United States, with all kinds of nutty solutions being offered such as using the strategic petroleum reserves or repealing the 4.3-cent tax hike of recent times.

There’s even political attacks on poor ol’ President Clinton for being “asleep at the controls.”

Of course, it’s all foolish.

What most Americans (and probably much of the rest of the world) haven’t grasped yet is that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations now is in control of the world’s economy. Not the U.S, not the Common Market.

The world runs on OPEC gasoline and stopgap measures aren’t going to do much about it. It does no good to groan about OPEC. Those countries who belong to the organization now understand what they didn’t back in the ’70s when this happened before.

They now realize the power that they have and are prepared to use that power. And why not? If you’ve got it, use it or lose it.

And to a large extent this crisis is our own fault.

Last time this happened the nation mobilized to revive old oil wells, figure out how to process shale for the oil it contains, design more gas-efficient autos. When the oil supply resumed, all of that was junked, and now we have SUVs averaging 13 miles to the gallon packing the highways.

While most Americans don’t realize it, we have been living in a gasoline paradise for a long time. Consider gasoline prices in Europe, Japan and other parts of the world. A gallon of gasoline in France, for instance, now is about $6; in Germany near $5.50, in Italy $6.50. And we’re panicked over $2 a gallon!

And the sad thing about it all is that much of the developing world is just coming into the gasoline world. Southeast Asian countries are just beginning to enjoy widespread use of cars.

What to do?

None of the palliatives suggested so far. Cut the recent gas tax? Save 4.3 cents a gallon? What a joke! Use the strategic reserves? And when that is gone in a few months and we have nothing for a real emergency, what next? Stop sending gasoline to Japan? Wouldn’t help; we send gasoline to Japan and receive a similiar amount from the producers. We stop sending, we stop getting.

We could be smart and take the long view. Petroleum reserves have been declining for years (something we were told would never happen; there were always new finds to be tapped). It took millions of years to create petroleum, and we’ll have depleted it in less than a century. So figure on gas prices continuing to rise until it’s all gone.

We could work on reviving railroads, taxing gas guzzlers, developing alternate fuel sources such as electric cars (again, the Japanese are ahead of us there).

But no, we’ll go for the quickie. And the next time this happens, as it will, we’ll be in worse shape than ever. Forget about gas boycotts, blaming greedy corporations. Blame yourself for not thinking ahead. We knew petroleum is a finite resource. So what else did you expect?

As a nation we have been so infatuated with the automobile that we have ignored other ways of getting around. Europeans are so far ahead of us with public transportation it is a laugh. Japan has bullet trains like the French. Meanwhile, our train tracks have been converted to bike paths.

There’s no easy solution. But it clouds the issue to blame politicians or to threaten OPEC nations. There may be an out if the nuclear power industry continues its slow return to practicality. The French and Japanese have been using nukes for years, and those nukes could power electric cars without major pollution.

But rest assured that we face a long-term problem of our own creating. And if OPEC opens the tap and allows more oil to flow into the the market, it isn’t going to reach consumers for months. And we’ll still be at themercy of OPEC.

Anyone for bike paths?

Sam Bauman is editor of the Nevada Appeal’s Diversions section.