May 23, 2008

Something Should Be Done About It!

There's a motif that repeats itself on TV news broadcasts across the US almost nightly nowadays. It's quite surreal: a harassed or belligerent local driver is sympathetically interviewed about ever-rising gas prices by a reporter as he or she fills a vast SUV or pickup with gas on their way to or from work (they're almost always the sole occupant of that vehicle, natch). The gist of the interview is nearly always that the interviewee is convinced that somehow, somewhere, someone Out There is ripping them off by broaching their natural right to cheap gas, and that someone — our fearless government, perhaps, or maybe just their local member of Congress — should punish the responsible evil oil companies and energy traders in the name of fairness and all things American, and let oil prices return to their natural low prices. Nothing much is ever said in these little riffs about reduced supplies or increased demand, or the plummeting dollar; and nothing's said at all about our almost total addiction to gas-driven economies or lifestyles. As one of my local Californian senators was quoted the other day somewhere in the Washington Post: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused them of offering 'a litany of complaints that you're all just hapless victims of a system.'"

So it might seem. But wait a minute: our Dianne was talking about the oil companies here; they're the "them" she was referring to above, not the US people as a whole. Once again a US politician wants to cast the US people as the victims here; no surprise there, I guess. No one ever says "oh, let's hold the US people as a whole responsible; we're driving too much, we've spent decades designing and building lives and lifestyles that are utterly predicated on cheap gas". No, they say we're victims of the oil companies, and as long as we fight back we'll all return to the glory days of a dollar a gallon.

Like I said, surreal. Guys, cheap gas isn't coming back. It's gone. Sure, it might recede back to half what it is now for a while (or it might never go below what it is now, i.e. about US $4 per US gallon), but don't bet your future on it. You did that last time — it's why we're all suffering now.

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At 5/26/2008 1:12 am, Blogger Phil said...

pretty much the same down under - rudd complaining before the elections and positions reversed now he's in charge. current talk is no gst on petrol which seems ok to me. our 6 year old car has done a scant 35,000km and i still haven't EVER had a license. i like trains, apparently.

At 5/26/2008 9:33 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

I like trains too — there just aren't any 'round here that would help most people get to work each day :-).

Anyway, like you I barely drive — maybe a few thousand kms a year now, most of it out in the deserts — but that's because I'm one of the very few Californians privileged enough to live and work in the same neighbourhood. The problem out here is that (as with increasing large parts of Australia and Briton) for the vast majority of people there's simply no alternative to driving — by design. As a society we've spent the past century or so enthusiastically making that true, and now suddenly we think we're the victims. Humph.

At 5/26/2008 4:39 pm, Blogger Phil said...

yes, indeed. i have a 3 hour commute to work and it would only be marginally less if i could drive. it's out near macquarie uni and this is the area where every company is moving - it, telecoms, car mfrs. bus routes are better than they were and there's a new rail line starting next year but it's still inadequate for the volume of people.

At 5/27/2008 9:24 am, Blogger Jimmy Little said...

The trains and buses may be inadequate to get you to Macquarie, but at least you've got a choice… (and that area around Macquarie has grown astonishingly in the last decade or two, I have to say).

Out here on the left coast of the Empire, though, there's really no choice at all for most people (when I was having to get to Silicon Valley every day for work I tried public transport; the first and only time I did it, after four hours and three changes of mode, I was still only just over half way there; this was for a journey that when driven under optimal conditions typically took 45 minutes; I just gave up at that point).

I find it refreshing to read on the SMH's web site actual debates over things like new train routes and such; here the response to increasing gas prices and decreasing resources is to demand artificial gas price reductions at the expense of public transport, so as gas prices keep going up, train and bus funding actually goes down, and we enter the long death spiral of fewer trains and buses and even more need to drive…. It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic and destructive.


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