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Kicking Ass For Gas Junkie Nation Threatens Violence Ford! Fix

Kicking Ass For Gas Junkie Nation Threatens Violence Ford! Fix image Kicking Ass For Gas Junkie Nation Threatens Violence Ford! Fix image
Parent Issue
Month
January
Year
1991
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

Control over oil supplies and prices, now and in the future, is clearly the reason the U.S. has committed 430,000 troops to the Middle East, a buildup approaching that at the peak of the Vietnam War. This control is important because oil is the lifeblood of the world's transportation network and is a major industrial fuel for both developed and developing countries. The Persian Gulf area is so critical because it contains over half of the world's known oil reserves and completely dominates the oil export market. The ability to control global oil policy is one of the last remaining pillars ofpost-war U.S. economie hegemony and it should come as no surprise that the government is willing to project massive military force to retain this power. The U.S. is, as advertised, the world's oil pig. Since the world consumes about 22 billion barrels of oil per year, the U.S. accounts for almost 30 percent of global consumption with only 5 percent of the world's population. Even compared to economie powers such as Japan and Germany we use f ar more oiï per capita. Though the U.S. is the second largest oil producer in the world (behind the U.S.S.R.), it still imports one-half of its oil needs, about 3 billion barrels annually or 12 barrels for every woman, man, and child in the country. The U.S. was blessed with large oil reserves, but our collective appetite overwhelms them. According to the latest government estimates, the U.S. has 28 billion barrels (a barrel equals 42 gallons) of proven oil reserves and a projected total reserves of another 100 billion barrels. The U.S. consumes over 6 billion barrels of oil per year, with 4 billion barrels used for transportation. Since it is not economically viable to transform the entire oil barrel into gasoline and diesel fuel, calculatíons show that if the U.S. were to stop importing oil today, proven domestic oil reserves would not even provide enough gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to opérate all the cars, trucks, and planes now in the fleet over the rest of their useful lives. If projections of total reserves proves to be correct, the U.S. would run out of oil within 20 years absent oil imports. There are, of course, major economie consequences of v our dependence on imported oil. With oil prices that have ranged between $15 and $35 per barrel during the 1980s, the U.S. has k spent $40 billion to $80 billion annually for imported oil. Just in the five months since Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. has spent an additional $20 bíllion over and above what oil cost before the conflict. This is a direct transfer of wealth outside the country. Capital exports of this magnitude have necessitated higher interest rates to attract outside capital and this in turn has dampened economie activity and increased the federal budget deficit. The U.S. is in the unenviable position of borrowing money from foreigners to buy oil from foreigners. The U.S. has gone from the world's biggest creditor to the world's largest debtor nation, all within a decade. Imported oil has played a critical role in this historie transformation. Howdid (see OIL ADDICTS, page 2) (FROM PAGE ONE) the U.S. become so addicted to oil? This is a complicated topic which can only be briefly addressed here. For decades, govemments have consistently adopted policies which have promoted oil consumption and discouraged oil conservation. Foremost among these has been a "cheap energy" policy as the federal government has provided corporate tax subsidies for oil exploration and drilling while maintaining only minimum excise taxes on oil consumption. Gasoline pricing is an instructive example. State and federal gasoline taxes in the U.S. total about 30 cents per Ion, the lowest in the world, while such taxes in most other industrialized countries range from $1 to $3 per gallon. This leads to some interesting comparisons. U.S. consumers typically pay $3 per gallon for soft drinks (which, after all, are just water, sugar, and carbonation) and $6 per gallon for orange juice, but only $1 or so for a gallon of gasoline that took Mother Nature millions of years to produce. A person can drive 10 miles to work or shop for a total gasoline cost equal to thatof acupof coffee.or lOOmiles togo to a baseball game or movie and pay more for the ticket than for the gasoline that it took to get there. It is not surprising, given how cheap gasoline is, that few people really care how much they use. Suburbanizationinthe 1950sand '60s also contributed significantly to oil dependence. Government encouraged this urban exodus by subsidizing singlefamily dwellings through mortgage and income tax policies, building extensive road networks, and refusing to establish rational land-use policies. Rather than choosing to live near work, friends, and downtown shopping areas, people went as far as they had to "to get away from it all." As both symptom and cause of suburban sprawl, oíd transit systems in large Eastem and Midwestern cities were allowed to deteriórate and "newer cities" in the South and West never even gave transit a chance. So, except in a few select cities, most commuters now have no choice but to drive to work. And the passenger railroad network that once served rural America so well has almost completely vanished. Of course, large corporations lobbied for many of these policies, and in some cases brutally intervened such as when a consortium of auto, oil, and rubber companies conspired to buy out and dismantle streetcars in Los Angeles and other cities in the 1940s in order to créate an absolute reliance on motor vehicles. The disappointing reality is that, whether concerned or not, most people use much more oil than they should. The economy is now structured in such a way that individuals have little real choice in how much oil they use. Although there is still an element of personal sibility (people should buy the most efficiënt vehicle they can and drive as few miles as possible) a viable solution to society's oil addiction can only occur within the context of long-term public policy changes. Of course, the best solution to this addiction is to simply use less oil. Since 63% of the oil used in the U.S. is for transportation, this means major changes in how we get around. New cars should be required to be much more energy efficiënt - cars that get 50 miles per gallon (mpg) are feasible and would only be a little less useful in terms of acceleration, driveability, and cargo capacity than those that get 25 mpg. Gasoline should be heavily taxed to discourage excessive driving and encourage the purchase of eff cient cars. The revenues of a $ 1 or $2 per gallon tax could be rebated both to lowand moderate-income citizens through income tax credits and used to build and opérate better transit systems. Transit in congested and polluted downtown áreas could be absolutely free to encourage use. Such policies question the almost spiritual relationship that many Americans have with their cars, however, and few politicians are willing to teil voters that they want to make driving more expensive or "less fun." Fortunately, there is a more politically palatable way to reduce gasoline consumption - the use of nonpetroleum automotive fuels. Cars could still be large and powerful, but at least they wouldn't be wasting a resource that must be imported. There are a number of such fuels: methanol (wood alcohol), ethanol (grain alcohol), natural gas, electricity, and hydrogen. With the exception of electricity, all of these are excellent fuels for the internal combustión engines used today; electric vehicles would use a large battery pack to replace the engine. These fuels can be made from a wide variety of feedstocks available in the U.S., such as biomass, natural gas, and coal, and could directly displace imported oil. Prcxlucing these fuels domestically might increase the cost of driving (to the equivalent of $1.50 or $2 per gallon of gasoline) but gasoline should and will cost this much any way and there will be other economie benefits such as jobs, a lower trade deficit, and protection from the oil price shocks that can wreak havoc on the economy. The use of nonpetroleum fuels also offers great potential to reduce the motive contribution to both urban smog and global warming. And the government would have less reason to go to war over oil. Each of these nonpetrolem fuels has advantages and disadvantages relative to each other and to gasoline. As uid fuels, methanol and ethanol would require the smallest changes in vehicle design and fuel distribution and would provide the best overall vehicle performance and utility. Thus, they are the leading candidates for private passenger cars. All major automotive manufacturers are now developing "flexible-fueled" vehicles that, with just one fuel tank, can opérate on methanol, ethanol, gasoline, or any combination of the three. Such vehicles could be made available to the general public within three years. Natural gas must be stored on-board the vehicle either under very high pressures or at very low temperatures in order toprovidesuffïcientenergy.which adds complexity and cost to the vehicle. Nevertheless, natural gas vehicles will likely be used this decade in central fleet applications where limited vehicle range and more complex refueling are not concerns. Electricity and hydrogen, the best fuels from an environmental standpoint, are both still in their infancy and at least 10 to 20 years away from commercialization. The primary banier to implementation of nonpetroleum fuels is not technological nor economie, but political. Automakers, fuel producers, service stations, and consumers would all have to cooperate for a successful transition to new fuels, and the only way to make that happen is for the federal government to establish specific requirements. But with our extensive transportaron system designed around oil, the oil companies will strenuously object to any attempt to break their monopoly. This was evident in the recent Clean Air Act debate in which the oil lobby targeted and defeated an administration proposal to introduce new transportation fuels. American troops are in the Middle East to protect U.S. control of world oil policy. American citizens should object to this justification on its face and to the petroleum addiction underlying it. Breaking this oil addiction will require visión and leadership at the federal level to overeóme the pol itical influence of the oil lobby. Poised on the brink of war, the government has no one but itself to blame for its predicament. The issue now is how to ensure that that this scenario won't repeat itself over and over again in the future. Jeff Alson is Assistant to the Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Emission Control Technology División. Alson has studied alternative automotive fuels for 1 0 years and coauthored "The Case for Methanol" (Scientific American, November 1989). The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the EPA. ■■■■■:;;■■:■ ■'.,:;■ : : ■,:,;■■■ ■:#

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