Our expensive addiction

How much does gasoline cost? Right now we’re paying, out of pocket, around $1.75, give or take 15 or 20 cents, for a gallon of gas. That’s less than we pay for milk or even some bottled water.

Would it surprise you to know that the real cost of gas, in taxes and other expenses, is much higher? In fact, it’s somewhere between $5.01 and $5.19 a gallon, according to a recent study by the conservative National Defense Council Foundation (NDCF), whose members include Republican Senators Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch.

Consider the new budget that President Bush presented to Congress this week. It includes a whopping 7 percent increase for defense, to $401.7 billion. And that doesn’t include an expected $50 billion future outlay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And what is one of the principal purposes for all this military might? Keeping the oil flowing smoothly. As the human-rights group Global Exchange points out, we spend some $42.8 billion a year defending the oil that comes out of the Persian Gulf.

Then, the NDCF study points out, there’s the damage to the American economy. Our addiction to oil wastes some $160 billion a year on unproductive industries and related health care expenses. On top of that, periodic oil shocks—1973-74, 1978-80, 1991—have cost consumers and businesses another $2.5 trillion.

The study stops there, but the costs don’t. As Global Exchange notes, the NDCF’s study doesn’t include the billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies given to the oil industry, such as those that riddle the president’s new energy bill. And it doesn’t include the painful costs of ecological destruction, climate change, deaths in auto accidents and deaths in wars whose principal purpose is to protect oil supplies. Ours is indeed an expensive addiction.