Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Good to the Last Drop?

Yesterday was carfree day here in DC. I hope some of you out there were able to commute in a carfree manner. Of course, if you weren't able to take the train or bus, everyday is a good day to start so it's not too late to reduce your dependence on oil.

Ironically, enough, across the Southeastern United States, people are being forced into reduced-car diets. Damage to our oil infrastructure by hurricanes Gustav and Ike has created oil shortages across the Southland. CNN showed gas lines in Alabama, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported many stations across the state of Georgia without gas. My parents, who live about 40 miles north of Atlanta, reported that they were paying over $5.00 for gas, and that it was hard to come by. Some gas stations have even limited the amount of gas one can buy.

Gas Buddy reported prices as of
midnight, September 23, 2008

CNN seems to think that the problems are a result of panic coupled with short supplies. The main pipeline serving the Atlanta Area, Colonial, is not operating at full capacity due to the hurricanes that recently did damage in the Gulf. Additionally, gas supplies in the Atlanta area are less flexible due to restrictions on the components. The Environmental Protection Agency requires cleaner burning fuels be sold in Atlanta due to the chronic air pollution problems plaguing the city.

And while the current situation might be due to a run on gasoline in the region, the overall situation is one caused by unsustainable policies. Atlanta is one of the most sprawling regions in the country, and alternatives to driving have long been neglected. Additionally, gas taxes in Georgia are the lowest in the nation, a fact which encourages driving (while robbing the government of funds that could be used for transportation improvements).

I have pointed out before that higher gas prices will benefit Americans in the long run. Until our policies can shift to accomodate a new era in which the role of the automobile is de-emphasized, we will continue to be reliant on a non-renewable, polluting resource which comes mostly from unfriendly parts of the world.

Even publications like Time have pointed out that high gas prices aren't all bad. But a radical shift will not help the country at all. If gas prices rise (artificially or otherwise) gradually over a long period, the market will adjust and the government will have time to take up the slack with alternatives. Additionally, people will be given the opportunity to change their behavior, however, when the price change is abrupt, the economy and individuals can be seriously harmed.
This is why it is even more important that we take steps right now to shift away from oil. I talked about the candidates' positions on energy a few weeks ago, and I'm not terribly impressed with either. In the long run, however, drilling won't change much. It won't even put a dent in the trend, so I'm not worried that it will slow the transition away from oil much. What it does do, however, is focus our political attention away from the issue. It gives people false hope that they won't have to change, and that is a bald-faced lie. We deserve better from our politicians, even if we don't expect it.

I debunked the idea of the summer gas tax holiday a while back, and even though that proposal has dropped of the radar, I don't think the energy debate is any more informed than it used to be. At least not according to the rhetoric being spouted by most of the candidates out there.

But if you're still wedded to the idea of drilling (go buy a typewriter, they're the wave of the future), you should at least check out these numbers.

My home state, Georgia, will survive the firestorm of gas shortages. This time. The question is not if Georgians can make it through this price shock, it's whether they can make the changes necessary to survive the end of the oil era. Will Mr. Perdue commit to making substantive policy changes (such as transit funding and a gas tax geared toward demand reduction) or will he take his traditional tack and pray for divine intervention?

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