Monday, December 8, 2008

Words You Haven't Heard Said Before...

The late, great comedian George Carlin had a segment in one of his old routines, on the album "Toledo Window Box," called "Words You've Never Heard Said Before." Some of them were classics like:

"Hand me that piano."

"Please saw my legs off."

"Do what you want to the girl, but leave me alone!"

I was thinking about these words this morning as I drove into work (yes, I drive to work during the winter, but often take the bus and ride my bike during the summer). I noticed the "Expensive Gas Station," and the "Really Expensive Gas Station" near my place in Arlington were offering up a gallon of regular (unleaded that is, not the old-fashion leaded regular gas we knew and loved growing up) for $1.82. This makes me think the cheap gas stations I normally patronize probably have it for 15 or so cents a gallon less, but I haven't filled up in two weeks.

As I write this, NYMEX has a barrel of crude going for $43.96, up considerably from its Friday close of just under $41 a barrel. But do our American shark-memory minds (swim, swim, kill something and eat it, swim, kill something and eat it, swim) remember when oil cost $147 a barrel in July and we were paying more than $4 a gallon for gas?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

So here's where I utter the words you've never heard before: Gas is too cheap.

I'll say it again for those of you too stunned by the previous statement for your brains to form a synaptic connection and retain the memory: Gas is too damn cheap.

I got used to paying more than $3 a gallon. It made me change my habits. It made all of us change our habits. I drove less and took the bus, Metro and rode my bike more. I even walked places. OK, I didn't walk that much, but I did walk some. When gas hit $4 a gallon it really made me think about my transportation options.

And now, here we are in December with OPEC fighting among itself saying "Yes, we're going to cut production," but none of the member nations are willing to cut their own production. Iran and Venezuela have bet their national futures (and the political futures of their leaders) on selling as much $100-plus crude as they can. But, despite today's bump in the price of a barrel, CNBC was talking just this morning about $25 crude.

To this I say, sure, let the price of crude go down, but we, as consumers, shouldn't be paying less than, eh, $2.00 or so for a gallon for gas. Here's why: all the talk about alternative fuels and "green" technologies dies a hard, fast death in America when we can fill up our gas tanks for pocket change.

What does this mean? No more Tesla Motors (or its cheaper alternative the Chevy Volt), wind power, solar thermal, wave power or bioenergy. Kiss 'em all goodbye as long as we can gas up our SUVs without a bank loan (although, I've heard these can be kind of difficult to get these days).

Hell, I'd be willing to pay up to $2.50 a gallon if I knew the extra coin was going toward research to help the junkie (us) clean up its act and get off the oil pipe.* This is a country that figured out how to put a man on the moon (and return him safely) in about 7 1/2 years, I'm sure the same level of national effort could be applied to our dependence on oil. This is especially true since the government now has the auto industry by the short and curlies.

"You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."
-Al Capone. We should use that gun to force them to make cars that make sense.

While I've never been one to call for higher taxes on anything, perhaps, just this once, I'd be willing to go along with a tax dedicated to making my '01 Accord an outmoded antique.

*There'd also be the extra added benefit of fuckin' over Ahmadinejad and Chavez, which I'd gladly pay an extra $10 or $15 a month to see (more during the summer when I'm traveling).


Lisa said...

We could significantly diminish the power of oil-producing countries by drastically reducing our consumption. I don't understand why we don't adopt this as a strategy.

Lemmonex said...

You sound exactly like my friend who works on transportation issues. The whole system needs an overhaul--more public transportation, as well as a good PR campaign. People still think of public transport as crowded and smelly. Until something changes, people will drive if they can. Public transportation should not be a last resort.

Anonymous said...

We may finally have a national leader who has the political capital to call for national sacrifice (Carter called for sacrifice but had so little equity that it mattered not) for the first time since JFK and that amazing commitment to place a man on the moon. I can only hope that Obama displays some testicular fortitude and demands a significant increase in the gas tax.

By the by, as a country we also had a moment of national unity and will to sacrifice after 9/11. But we were advised to go shopping.

Arjewtino said...

Good point. Maybe gas IS too cheap. I find myself already changing my habits and driving more 'cause I figure, what the hell? I can afford it.

FoggyDew said...

Lisa - It's always fun turning the tables on people who hate you. "Thanks Hugo but, ya see, we just don't need your oil anymore. Enjoy your revolution. Sucka"

Lemmy - Amen Sister! Preaching to the converted (who still drives, ahhh, sorry). My dad spent the first 30-plus years of his career building bridges and roads, the next 20 solving mass transit problems. I guess this means I have to move into the District so I can take Metro more often.

Ref - We will see, my friend, we will see. Just as long as he doesn't ask me to sacrifice any of my rights. You know the ones I'm talking about.

Perhaps, instead of a demand, a request to the people and an explanation about how it will help us all in the long run. One of the sticky side-effects of reduced consumption is when the government taxes the items consumed. Higher taxes means less revenue means higher taxes means less revenue...Like the city of Charlotte asking everyone to reduce their water consumption in the face of a drought. The people did, by 30 percent. Now they're having their water rates jacked because the water utility is short of cash.

FoggyDew said...

Tino - I got in the habit of not letting my gas tank get below half because it was less painful paying for a fill-up. This morning? Yep, heading toward E.

Don't know if I did more driving over the past two or so weeks, but I may have...I really should do as I say...

f.B said...

i'm confused about the cyclical nature of this. step 1 - consumption. step 2 - price of a barrel plummets as the economy drops and consumer ability to spend on its desire/demand collapses. step 3 - no demand means price stays low. step 4 - we realize how low the price now is and want more (demand creeps up). step 5 - we're right back where we started; at consumption.

we're going to have to do something to flatten the price of a barrel... but that will probably require making demand in that market a non-issue. only way that works is with alternate fuels