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Wed, Oct. 16

Russ’ Recycle Bin<br><br>Once again, it’s up to us ... <br>

First, let me say this piece was actually inspired by recent conversations I’ve had with my father — who, with my mother, lives on the outskirts of west Phoenix. As I complained about the rising cost of visiting them regularly from my Flagstaff home, we began an intense round of complaints about the situation, who to blame, and what should be done. He reminded me of how the whole of the United States banded together shortly after the 1970s oil embargo — compliments of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Companies. A child then, I can now only vaguely remember gas lines and car pools.

His main question was, “We beat them before, so why don’t we see any of our leaders taking charge and rallying the country to do it again?”

It’s a valid question, since any high school economics student can tell you that the bulk of gas prices are a direct result of simple supply and demand. Many of the groups and officials I talked with while preparing this piece — including the United States Department of Energy — agree that reducing demand in conjunction with using alternate energy sources is the one and only way gas prices will be kept relatively low.

So why isn’t anyone at the White House saying that?

I wondered, and immediately began to lay blame on our stumbling president — after all, what are puppet politicians for, anyway?

But seriously, folks, many already know that Bush is more than heavily connected to the oil industry and is using the recent “gas crisis,” if you will, as a reason to drill for oil in Alaska — an idea that the United States Department of Energy has already stated won’t work. The oil there will only reduce our dependency on foreign oil by three percent.

At the same time, some groups are pushing congress to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards to 40 miles-per-gallon over the next 10 years. However, the current administration is ignoring that, saying it would cost automobile manufacturers too much money, resulting in job loss.

But wait! The original CAFE standards were introduced in 1975 in response to the gas crisis then and represented a substantial mpg increase at that time. Did the automobile industry go belly up? Of course they didn’t.

To add insult to injury, while the rest of corporate America suffered from a down economy, the nation’s top five oil companies raked in a whopping $60 billion in net profits in 2003 — a 250 percent jump from 2002.

Meanwhile, the grass doesn’t appear to be that much greener on the other side of the fence. Democratic personality-zero John Kerry proposes diverting the oil normally purchased by the U.S. for its strategic reserves directly to the market in hopes of depressing prices at the pump. Opponents, however, say doing so will have little to no effect, citing former president Bill Clinton’s selling of 30 million barrels from the strategic reserves while he was in office. The result was a measly one-penny drop in pump prices. At one point, he’d even had the ridiculous notion that adding another 50 cents to the current 30-35 cent tax on each dollar of gasoline purchased would force consumers to seek out alternate sources of energy. Perhaps, but not before bankrupting the tourism industry.

Contrary to the experts, the Bush camp has blatantly stated a number of times that conservation won’t work, even calling it a “naive” idea. Many speculate that OPEC, proud of its monopolization of the oil industry, would simply raise the price of barrels to compensate for a lack of demand.

That excuse doesn’t hold water, though. If we severely cut back on our demand for oil, OPEC may indeed raise the barrel price, but not for long. There is a certain point to which OPEC oil would cost too much — even for the U.S. — forcing us to start using our already-existing alternate-fuel technology and rendering OPEC useless.

Think of it with this analogy: If a guy on a street corner is selling a barrel of apples, and people start buying apricots instead because his apples cost too much, one of two things will happen. He will either lower the price of his apples, or start selling apricots. OPEC doesn’t have apricots — only apples.

The fact is, folks, of course conservation works. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying through his or her teeth, or doesn’t understand simple economics. After doing research for this article, I spoke with my father again, who reminded me all of the above non-conservation excuses are the exact same ones we heard from opponents in the 1970s.

Though the Bush administration’s policy on fossil fuels and how to lower gas prices is just as backwards as some of John Kerry’s ideas, our current and future leaders may not have to take all the blame.

Part of it — a large part — is us.

Admittedly, we Americans are a wasteful lot and generally don’t practice much conservation.

According to both the U.S. DOE and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, America’s near-laughable love affair with insanely over-sized sport utility vehicles is a big part of the problem. The current CAFE standards exclude vehicles over a certain weight — a measure whose original purpose was for commercial hauling vehicles, such as delivery trucks. Car manufacturers, however, have purposefully created SUVs that are so heavy, the CAFE standards don’t apply, allowing them to guzzle unlimited amounts of fuel.

Aside from the businesses and ranchers or construction workers that actually need such a vehicle, most SUV owners on the road have one because of one disgusting thing — fashion. Everybody’s got one, so I have to have one, too. These same people will tell you that they buy them because of safety — horse-hockey!

If you want safety, buy a Volvo or a Saab or a good, solid American car with a decent safety rating — they’re cheaper and won’t require nearly the same amount of fuel.

Now, having said all that, I own and drive an old 1979 Lincoln — what most would call a gas-guzzler. However, it’s a classic — which puts me into a relatively smaller category of drivers — and you will rarely see me driving it over 65 miles per hour.

Follow my example, folks. Lower your speed, both on the highway and in town, and you’d be amazed how far a gallon of gas will go.

If the only real answer is to both conserve and use alternate energy sources, and our leaders are going to continue ignoring the solution, pointing us in the wrong direction, then we must take it upon ourselves to be the America we’ve been told about.

Slow down, keep your ego in check and don’t buy an SUV unless you truly need one. Write to your legislators urging them to be real leaders on this issue. We did it before, we can do it again.

In the meantime, unless gas prices do come down, my fiancé and I may have to plan our honeymoon for the local Burger King, but at least we won’t have an SUV that’s too big to get past the drive-through.

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