The looming Depression might appear to have a silver lining. Gulf Oil CEO Joe Petrowski said last week that the price of oil could sink to $20 a barrel, and there is a chance gasoline prices could go as low as $1 a gallon by early next year. But wait! Don’t shout hooray just yet.
That’s bad news for Mother Earth. In the next half century, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, an increase of about 50 percent in today’s already overcrowded planet. As more and more people seek a living and a life, they will burn more fossil fuels and create more pollution, choking the skies and trapping the earth’s heat.
In a Web site called Dot Earth, reporter Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits. And Revkin is worried that the ravages that mankind wreaks on the earth’s climate are getting less exposure in the media as gas prices take a lighter toll on the public’s wallets. (In the graph above, the red line shows 2008 prices; the blue line represents 2007 prices.)
The trend is worrying, indeed. With terror attacks in India, riots in Greece and Thailand, a collapsing global economy and jobs falling like autumn leaves, the media may be excused for ignoring long-term issues such as climate change. But, while global warming is less dramatic, it is even more threatening than the “hot” events of the headlines.
Less media attention (plus lower gas prices) means less sympathy for measures to curb fossil fuel consumption, less support for the development of alternative fuels, and more impatience with restrictions on the freewheeling lifestyle to which countries like America have become accustomed. That will not be the ideal environment for Barack Obama’s crusade to develop an alternative-energy economy. But he must not flinch.
As certain as death and taxes, the earth’s fossil fuels will eventually be depleted. And the expected population increase will accelerate this eventuality. We may sing in the sunshine of lower gas prices, but we will cry in the rain when oil shortages send prices at the pump soaring once more. A wise leader looks ahead, seeing developments of which the mass of people may not be aware, and the wise leader withstands the pressure of short-sighted public opinion when necessary.
President-elect Obama has asked for suggestions from the public as he gets ready to assume his awesome new responsibilities. And I have one: Consider imposing a federal tax on gasoline that would maintain a floor price of at least $1.75 a gallon, and dedicate the revenue to the development of alternative energy sources. That would present no hardship on the American public, and it would moderate any trend toward a resurgence of the SUV plague we have faced in recent years. Like little children, motorists must be prodded toward behavior that is for their own good.