Friday, February 17, 2006

It's a Gas, Man

Visiting the old home in America this summer for the first time in many years, I was struck by the fixation of the populace on the price of gas (petrol). What they thought was an extortionate price and some kind of sinister plot to deprive them of their cheap gas was to us poor folks from England a land of milk and honey and cheap petrol. No matter how many time you explained to people what Europeans pay for gas – they just looked at you with glazed eyes and a silly grin and continued the litany that the price is too high for Americans.

I snipped out of the local paper an editorial by a former state legislator wherein he used the (somewhat spurious I thought) premise that he was recalling a conversation with a reader on the subject of the price of gas. Clever. I thought he was just being a chicken. This “reader” started with the premise that there is 200 years of oil in Alaska, but it is not in the interest of “big business” to tap into it because they can make more money by selling less at a high price. (No, Mabel, I'm not making this up!)

He went on to explain that in the 1970's U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, went to the Middle East and told them that oil was too cheap and they must raise their prices. He continued: in 98 the price of crude was so low that the oil companies capped proven wells and set about convincing us that we are running out of oil. Nonsense he says. Our intrepid apprentice oil mogul goes on to explain that he has a friend in Arlington, Texas who has been told by a geologist that his local creek - which has oil seeping to the top - will never run out! Of oil that is – about the water I'm not too sure! (Honest, I'm really not making this up!)

His peroration – we need a price support of 20 dollars a barrel to encourage oil companies to explore more drilling options and uncap existing wells.

Now I know this sounds amusing with the price of a barrel of oil hovering around 60 dollars, but it does go a long way to illustrate some important facts. Number one: many Americans believe something like the above scenario is probably true. Number two: most Americans have no intention of moderating or changing their lifestyle to suit an age where oil is no longer cheap. Number three: I'm beginning to believe that that old oil man”Dubbya” may just have started a war in Iraq to get his hands on the oil.

More about Number one. It would be easy just to assume that the average American is just too stupid to see that this is a con. Not so. Most Americans are suspicious of the government and big business. This in itself is no bad thing, but it does make them very susceptible to unscrupulous snake-oil pedallers. After all, it's more comforting and palatable to imagine that your problems are caused by some unseen, insidious conspiracy than to actually deal with the problem. Unfortunately, most Americans are in denial and easy prey for the con-artists.

On to Number two. Notwithstanding the American penchant for gas-guzzling large cars, what really struck me was the size and layout of the new homes that were being built. Most American homes are a larger to start with. This simply reflects the relatively low price of land and building material. However, some of the new homes I saw were simply gargantuan. I mean obscenely gargantuan. Some of the new “family” homes I saw would have rivalled Dallas' Southfork Ranch. And, these were for ostensibly normal families. What it would cost to heat and air-condition these homes beggars the imagination. Were the owners of these “palaces” be forced to pay UK prices for energy I'd be sending Care packages to friends and family.

Number three. I know this is playing into the conspiratorial trap of thinking everything is a conspiracy. But, it is just possible that Bush and his advisers saw the removal of Sadly Insane as an all round good thing in itself – and in the mean time there's all that oil to consider. As much as I detest those morons who think that the whole world is a big conspiracy, I'm beginning to wonder if the truth will, or would, ever come out if Bush really started a war to get the oil. I'm beginning to think it is just possible. Sad, really.

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