PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Americans wedded to petroleum because most of us don't have alternatives

By David M. Kinchen
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Americans wedded to petroleum because most of us don't have alternatives

Watching CNN on Thursday, Feb. 24 I was moved to yell at the flat screen after hearing a rant by Carol Costello, which I'm reproducing in its entirety:

As one oil industry expert told me:

"Let the Petronoia begin!"

Word is if the turmoil spreads in the Middle East, America’s gas prices will head north – way north. The could rise to 5 bucks a gallon. Already there are calls for President Obama to get ready to open up U.S. oil reserves – just in case.

Haven’t we been down this road before? Like in 2008? Remember? Gas prices hit $4.11 a gallon?

Americans actually reacted. We drove less. We got rid of our SUV’s! We used mass transit! And a new campaign slogan was born: "DRILL BABY DRILL!"

Today? The U.S. is not drilling more. We’re driving just as much. Consumers are once again clamoring for SUV’s and pick-up trucks. As for fuel efficiency? According to  trucar.com, hybrid cars account for just 3 per cent of the market.

Bottom line: as oil expert Tom Kloza put it: "We like our guns and we like our gas.”

TALK BACK: WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET  SERIOUS ABOUT ACTUALLY REDUCING OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL?

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Carol, Carol, Carol! We would use alternatives to riding in cages -- as motorcyclists call cars and trucks -- if we had alternatives, like rail, for instance. (And yes, as an NRA member and a member of a Texas gun club, I like my guns to shoot at targets. If I put my Henry .22 lever action rifle in your hands, you'd love that sweet little rifle, too!)

Last March I visited Seattle and Portland and marveled at the contrast in the two cities. Seattle has buses and the famous monorail, but lacks the extensive public transportation network that makes the Oregon metropolis such a desirable place to live. In three carless days -- because I stayed with a friend who doesn't have one, who relies on public transportation and his trusty bicycle -- I managed just fine in Portland, which I reached in a pleasant trip from Seattle via Amtrak.

The liberal or "progressive", as they like to call themselves today, point of view so eloquently voiced by Costello, is that we're stuck on stupid. Most people I know would use public transportation -- if it's available. That's the operative word. I do agree with part of the equation, blaming industry, including the petroleum oligarchy (more about that below).

My sister in Chicago sold her car a decade ago and relies on that city's excellent mass transit. When I visit Chicago, I marvel at a city where a traveler can access both airports -- Midway and O'Hare -- for a few bucks on the city's famed El.  You can't do that in Los Angeles, where the light rail line stops short of LAX. You can in Atlanta, Cleveland and other cities, but not in Houston, where the attempt at mass transit is a joke. Lest anyone accuse me of being Texas-centric, I have to say that my adopted state is wimpy about light rail. I suspect they're caving into the taxi lobby by not running the rail lines to the airports (take Austin, for example, where you can't access the airport via rail. To be fair to Austin, its 32-mile rail network, which began operation last year,  is the best in Texas and will be expanded. Link: http://allsystemsgo.capmetro.org/capital-metrorail.shtml).

A few days ago, Seattle resident (and West Virginia native, and my host in Seattle) Rene Henry made an appeal for a decent rail network in this country. Instead of invading countries and igniting civil wars, we ought to rebuild -- re-create, actually -- the rail network that actually was much better 70 years ago than it is today. Here's a link to Rene's outstanding commentary: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/1967.

About the petroleum industry, which again  has that elegant blonde in the black pants suit expounding about resources for the American Petroleum Institute: It's important to remind ourselves that OPEC is modeled on the Texas Railroad Commission, which was delegated to keep oil prices up as thousands of wildcatters drilled holes throughout the Lone Star State. Yes, check it out at: http://www.texaschapbookpress.com/magellanslog14/microsoftexxon.htm.

The Railroad Commission, as its name implies, was formed to regulate railroads in a state as big as France and Belgium combined. It later took on the task of controlling oil and natural gas production.

The bottom line, if there is one, is if you build it (well designed and people friendly mass transit), they will use it. Encourage people to ride bikes by making it safe to do so.  Market affordable hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles -- including ones like the new Smart 4 Two electric --  and people will buy them. Build safe nuclear power plants (one reason whey Texas utility rates are lower than those in West Virginia, for instance) and power will be available, as it is in France, where 80 percent of the power is nuclear (France has so much electricity capacity it sells  power to neighboring countries, including Germany). Build a decent rail network and people will use it.

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