As a result of the recent rise in oil prices, America’s leaders continue to discuss how this worsening crisis should be resolved. Because of high gasoline prices, many truck drivers have been forced out of business, while others have gone to Washington, D.C., to protest and request relief. Some of the proposed solutions have included bringing legal action against the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — which oversees much of the world’s oil production — and dumping some of the 600 million-barrel Strategic Oil Reserve onto the market. OPEC’s secretary general has said that when it convenes in Vienna next week it will increase production, which will eventually bring prices back to reasonable levels. Nonetheless, the United States ought to use this opportunity to reconsider our economy’s unfortunate dependence on imported and domestic oil and invest more into alternative energy sources.
Since the OPEC decided to cut oil production last March, gasoline prices have risen more than 50 cents per gallon, and home heating oil prices have increased by $1. Besides hindering lower-income citizens from paying their unusually high heating bills, the heightened cost has threatened the United States’ booming economic growth, which some fear could also lead to a global recession. Despite Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson’s diplomatic successes in guaranteeing an increase in production from OPEC member-states, summer gasoline prices are expected to exceed $1.80 per gallon.
However, rather than simply concentrating American efforts on lowering oil prices, political leaders should use this opportunity to create additional support for alternative energy sources and methods of transportation. Hybrid vehicles — which are powered by both batteries and efficient gas-powered engines — could offer as many as 80 miles per gallon. Unfortunately, they are only available in California and Arizona, and will probably not arrive in other states for a few years. With increased interest in improving the slowly developing technology of alternative energy sources, dreams of mass-producing an automobile significantly less dependent on oil could easily become a reality.
The U.S. government should also use this opportunity to urge drivers who are upset about the high cost of commuting to consider mass transportation. The benefits are numerous and the technology is already available in most cities. Interest in light-rail transit and other developing forms of mass transit are gaining public interest. However, the presidential candidates have spent little time speaking about these alternative methods as solutions. Thankfully, though, candidates in Minnesota’s DFL senatorial contest have expressed support for such alternative measures.
Often, Americans react adversely to any deviation from their continued prosperity. Too few understand the long-term impacts of allowing oil to remain so vital to the nation’s high productivity. Awareness of the effects of oil dependency should be raised so Americans fully understand the consequences. The best solution, then, is not to lower oil prices, but to make alternative energy sources and mass transportation options more attractive to consumers.