The coming oil crisis

This Earth Day, April 22, let’s think about oil: how much we use, how much it determines the course of our lives, what it does to the planet.

And let’s also consider that we’re running low on oil. With India and China using more and more of it, and with reserves dwindling, demand is outstripping supply. We experience the painful result every time we fill up our cars.

The greatest challenge this country faces today is decreasing its dependence on oil—and especially on Middle Eastern oil. Rising fuel prices are certain to produce inflationary pressures that will be disastrous for the American economy. And yet the only initiative to come from the Bush administration to deal with this challenge has been to drill for oil in the pristine Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Consider this: Oil wouldn’t start flowing from ANWR for 10 years, and even at peak it would produce only 875,000 barrels a day. Compare that to the 1.5 million barrels that would be saved daily if the average fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks were just 5 mpg higher. At 10 mpg higher, we’d save 2.5 million barrels a day.

At its peak, ANWR would produce only 4 percent of the oil used in America—and that’s if it all came to this country. It could just as easily to go Japan or China.

The oil and auto industries are major contributors to Republican campaign coffers, which explains why mileage standards for SUVs are low and riddled with loopholes. But to deny the obvious is sheer foolishness. Look what’s happening to General Motors as a result of its failure to anticipate rising gas prices: Sales of its big SUVs are tanking, while Toyota and Honda can’t make hybrids fast enough to satisfy demand.

What Americans need to understand is that our relationship to oil is a matter of national security. Our dependence makes us extremely vulnerable, not only to the whims of Middle Eastern despots, but also to volatile international markets. We must curtail consumption.

The technology exists that would enable us to wean ourselves from foreign oil and all its entanglements. What’s needed is vision. We need to begin a great national effort, one akin to putting people on the moon, to transition to high-efficiency vehicles and alternative modes of transportation. Destroying one of the last pristine refuges in America for a paltry amount of oil is no solution.