Oil companies won't change; it's up to us to conserve gas

I have finally reached my breaking point with gas prices.

I don't know what your particular breaking point might be (according to an Associated Press story this week, it's likely closer to $4 a gallon) but I'm there already. Three dollars a gallon for gas is ridiculous.

I paid it once when the hurricanes disrupted supply lines, but there's no reason to do it now. I've officially started cutting back on my driving, and I didn't drive that much in the first place.

Americans aren't cutting back, though. Paying an extra $1,000 a year for gas is apparently no deterrent. And because we steadfastly refuse to pursue alternative energy or affordable, practical public transportation for suburban areas with any real fervor, we are stuck with the commute. One woman said in this week's story, "I don't really have a choice."

But we do have a choice, and we're making the wrong one.

Alternatives exist, no matter what the energy companies tell us. I simply refuse to believe that there are no other cheap, reliable ways to fuel our machines and heat our homes.

But that's what some in the energy consulting world would have you believe. Alternative energy isn't feasible, it isn't cheap and some of it isn't plentiful, they say. Translation: It isn't profitable.

But it could be. It takes investment in research and technology to overcome the obstacles, and that costs a lot of money. Correct me if I'm wrong, but money is something I believe the oil companies have plenty of right now.

According to a Wall Street Journal report earlier this year, alternative fuels are beginning to look more attractive for investment. The cost of producing biofuels, wind and solar power and geothermal energy - tapping the earth's own internal heat - are coming down. They'd come down more rapidly with heavy-duty investment, but the energy companies already have their very own money tree. Why would they want to plant another one that might not produce as much profit?

In fact, the energy companies would have you believe that U.S. energy independence is unattainable. That's their word, not mine.

They have a lot of words for us this week as they defend high prices to Congress. The supply is tight, they say. They had a little fire. They had to do maintenance. They had to shut down some refineries for a while. They can't build more because the rules are too strict and it costs too much.

When people already think you're lying, it's hard to convince them otherwise, especially with this kind of it's-not-our-fault shucking and jiving.

Why not just tell at least part of the truth? Gas at the end of the '90s was $10 a barrel. Now it's between $60 and $70 depending on what crisis the speculators are believing in a particular week. That's mostly OPEC's shenanigans and the main reason gas prices are so high. The public could buy that part.

What we can't buy is the fact that oil is still $15 a barrel cheaper than it was last year at this time, yet gas is about a dime per gallon more expensive. That's the part we're a little fuzzy on.

And I say we can't buy it, but apparently we can because we are. We're buying gas like our next tank might be our last. As long as we're doing that, all we'll get is more shuck and jive.

I've said it before: The oil companies will continue to squeeze every penny out of us they can as long as we keep on pumping and paying. And who could blame them? Would you cut down the money tree?

We have to change our habits, and it starts with driving less to lower demand. Only then will oil companies lower their prices.

We also have to change our mindset. We have to stop believing that oil is the only magic elixir to quench our energy thirst.

We have to believe that we have a choice.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.

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