Friday, March 30, 2012

Running On Empty...

Willkommen, Alterna-Thinkers!

Rising gas prices are causing right-wing political wags and Fox News whackadoos to besiege the President in the hopes of undermining his support against an inevitable (and almost assuredly unpalatable) Republican rival.

I think this is hilarious.  Do these yahoos really believe that Obama gets up every morning and says, "Y'know, positive approval ratings are such a drag.  I bet if I jack up oil prices that would really piss people off!"

In the U.S., 76% of the price is determined by crude oil cost, with only 12% going to production and another 12% going to taxes.  If anything, we Canuckleheads have more to gripe about, since a whopping 30% of our total is soaked up by taxes with 52% determined by cost.

So why is the cost of crude oil climbing so high?  Simply put, only a finite amount of dinosaurs had the decency to croak in convenient places thus allowing us to retrieve their liquidy (not to mention incredibly valuable) carcases with ease.  And as if that's not bad enough, we've also foolishly sold emerging nations on the (North) American Dream, which involves having a car in every garage.  It's a classic case of dwindling supply and skyrocketing demand.    

A slew of factors are killing us here.  First off, we're pretty much picked all of the low-hanging fruit.  Up until the 1950's, the United States, not Saudi Arabia, was the world's leading producer of oil.  But we can't accurately refer to oil as "Texas Tea" anymore, since we've sucked the state completely dry. McCamey Texas, once the poster boy for oil production in all of those vintage newsreels, now looks like a ghost town.

The same goes for places like Baku, Azerbaijan and Maracaibo, Venezuela.  Once booming and prosperous hubs of activity, these places have since been reduced to graveyards for idle and abandoned oil derricks, piping, storage tanks and refineries.  The environmental ruin we've inflicted on places like this in our mindless pursuit of black gold is truly reprehensible.

So, what happens when all of the convenient sources of oil get tapped?   Well, we start drilling offshore...

 Or fine-tooth-combing tar sands...

Or we actually begin to humor the heightened insanity that is hydraulic fracturing or,  fracking for short.

And no, I'm not talking about what Starbuck did with Anders.   

In addition to kicking Mother Nature right in the recyclo-bin and threatening the health of our fellow human beings, the return on net assets for acquiring fuel this way is laughably poor.  Those added expenses are folded into gas prices, thus driving the costs up even more.

And what happens when certain places in the world won't let us push them aside and help ourselves to their oil?  Why, we destabilize their political structure and attempt to install leaders more predisposed to our point of view!

Problem is, this usually backfires on us...

Sometimes we get frustrated with subtlety.  Our latest parlour trick is to invade sovereign nations under false pretenses in order to get our greasy mitts on more of that sweet, sweet cheddar.

The sad thing is, we could have broken the automotive industry's addiction to oil ages ago.  Hell, here's Thomas Friggin' Edison posing with an electric car back in 1893...

Granted, these early prototypes didn't have the power and range of gas-powered cars but the capability has always been there.  Who knows how far the technology would have advanced if we'd just shown a modicum of foresight? 

Just to illustrate our innovative potential as human beings, a particularly efficient electric car was developed almost twenty years ago.  In 1990 the state of California passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate which forced the major automotive manufacturers to come up with alternative electrical designs if they wanted to keep selling gas-powered cars.  In order to get around this, executives at Honda, Toyota, GM, Chrysler and Ford ordered their design teams to make a half-assed effort to come up with something, under the unspoken condition that their efforts would ultimately prove fruitless.

But, bless their rebellious hearts, the clever little monkeys at General Motors actually ended up developing the incredible EV1.  It looked sleek, ran quieter then Luke Skywalker's landspeeder and mechanics loved working on it because they didn't end up covered in grease.  Anxious to do their part for the environment, a slew of high profile buyers such as Tom Hanks, Peter Horton and Ed Begley Jr. leased them in droves.          

The EV1 offered eighty miles worth of highway driving at speeds up to seventy miles per hour and a fifty mile range in the city.  By April of 1998 there were well over three-hundred public chargers available for the vehicles in California.  Later iterations of the technology allowed drivers to charge the car's battery to eighty percent capacity in ten minutes.

And how much did it cost to charge the battery?

Absolutely nothing.  

So why aren't we all driving around in one of these miraculous vehicles?  Well, it all boils down to criminally irresponsible levels of corporate greed.

The powerful oil and gas industry became terrified that their monopoly on transportation fuel might be threatened.  The automotive overlords were also petrified that we'd switch to vehicles that had very little turnover and required hardly any maintenance or upkeep.  Powerful lobbyists for both groups started to Wormtongue the government and in 2002 the second Bush administration joined forces with the auto industry.  Together they went to court against the state of California and overturned the Zero-Emissions Vehicle mandate.

Not long after, GM re-possessed every single EV1 in the country, literally tearing the steering wheel out of the hands of drivers who'd fallen in love with them.  And what did GM do with these imperfect yet undeniably green vehicles?  They secretly took them out into the desert and crushed them into cubes.

Now listen folks, I'm not one to advocate government interference in business but until corporations stop acting out of pure avarice, I think that watchdogs are required.  Otherwise, they'll keep making decisions that are counterproductive to our evolution as human beings.  Every move they make will be myopic, unconscionable and motivated by how much filthy lucre they can wring out of the system before they die.  Clearly they don't give a crap about what kind of world they leave behind for future generations.    

Right now corporate lobbyists control our political figures like hand puppets.  We need a paradigm shift which sees corporate money and influence amputated from our political system.  Until that happens we'll continue to paint ourselves into a pretty bleak corner.

How bleak?  Put it this way: just consider how much of a pain in the arse it would be to try and commute back and forth to work if you couldn't afford to fill up your car or every service station in your vicinity suddenly went bone dry.  It's happened before, folks.   

And when it happens again, it's gonna be permanent.  Knowing that, you have to ask yourself how comfortable you'll be living in a world that shares its premise with The Road Warrior?            



Who Killed the Electric Car? from Julien Chaulieu on Vimeo.

EPIC RANT  Simple terms from Lewis Black  (NSFW!)

FAIL  If you drive a vehicle that looks like a space shuttle with the wings filed off, then you've forfeited any right whatsoever to bitch about gas prices.  

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