Ah, the car . . . nothing is more American. We drive to work. We drive to the ballpark. We drive to the beach. We drive to the mall. We drive our kids to and from school. Americans have more cars per capita and drive more miles per capita than anyone else. For most of us, especially in the Central Valley, life without a car would be unthinkable.
This dependency on cars has led to another, more troubling dependency: oil. The more we drive, the more oil we need. The price of gasoline is more than $3 per gallon, but instead of lowering our consumption, we increase our grumbling. We are an oil-dependent nation. No oil would mean our economy and our lifestyle would sputter then grind to a halt.
We are not alone in our demand for oil. While the war in Iraq, tensions with Iran and the ongoing conflict in Israel may be responsible for part of the increase price of oil, the major contributor is increased demand from China and India. The industrial development of the world’s largest nations is fueled by oil. As wealth increases and middle classes expand, the number of cars and other manufactured goods rises, which leads to still more demand for oil. Oil-producing nations now have options. We are no longer the only customer. Increased worldwide demand means increased prices.
What can we do?
We must begin now to change our dependency on oil, but it will take years of planning and commitment. Alternative sources of energy are available: bio-mass, geo-thermal, hydro, solar, wind. Our government and corporate America need to come together to develop and use these sources. Our schools need to ignite the imaginations of students to dream of ways to harness and use alternative sources of energy. Societal attitudes must change, but change will only come when alternatives are readily available and easy to use.
General Motors has produced a car that runs on hydrogen, but mass production is still years away. We now have efficient hybrid cars, but they are expensive and not within reach of the average American. A cheaper alternative is cars that run on bio-diesel (e.g., used cooking oil), but convincing more Americans to convert their cars will be no easy trick. Action on the long-term use of alternative sources of energy must continue full steam ahead. But, in the interim, our dependency on oil is not going away anytime soon.
Ensuring a secure, stable oil supply has become a primary focus of the Bush Administration. At home, the push to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration has come amidst calls to become less dependent on foreign oil. Aboard, we are in Iraq, at least in part, to secure and control a sizeable portion of the world’s oil reserves.
The Bush Administration would have the American public believe there are no other options. This is not true! There is a vast oil reserve less than a thousand miles from our northern border. In a place called Alberta. The oil sands of Alberta hold an estimated 170 billion to 300 billion barrels of oil. More oil than Iraq. Potentially more oil than Saudi Arabia. Ten to 20 times more oil than the ANWR. The Alberta Oil Sands are being developed. Oil is flowing. The potential is so great that China and India have invested billions of dollars (through purchasing controlling interest in various companies) in order to gain access to an oil supply that will fuel their future economic growth.
The oil is there. It is in a safe, secure location. Canada is not only our neighbor but our closest ally and largest trading partner. There is no need to exchange pristine wilderness and American lives for oil. American oil companies simply need to retrain their focus and invest in the development of the world’s largest oil reserve. The Bush Administration should encourage this look north to see the potential and to work at securing access to the oil needed to keep our economy running and our lifestyle moving at full throttle. This is the best short-term solution to allow time to move away from our dependency on oil.
Scott Key is a faculty member at Fresno Pacific University whose Ph.D. is in public policy analysis from the University of Illinois. At FPU, he teaches in the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences as well as the School of Education.