Nullify gas price issue by using less

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

I’m trying really hard to view the oil and gas business with more tempered reason.

I’m trying to believe it’s just supply and demand. I’m trying to believe higher demand forces prices up, which in turn hit a breaking point where consumers are forced to use less, thus driving the price back down.

I’m trying.

But it’s awfully hard when you watch the price of oil going down and the price of gas going up. And the excuses don’t seem to be good ones to me.

First it was the state tax that, for some reason that’s beyond me, goes up when the price goes up. Well, it’s not entirely beyond me. It’s greed on the part of the government. More revenue. And even though it’s only 3 cents, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to make it even more expensive when it’s already nearly unaffordable.

And now? The excuse is anticipation of the flood along the Mississippi River.

Let’s be clear: It’s not the flood. It’s that it might flood.

No refineries are inundated with water. Some are moving equipment to higher ground and sandbagging their facilities. But as of this writing, none of the refineries are damaged. Despite that, gas spiked upward this week while oil dropped.

The refineries seem to roll out this type of excuse about once a year when it looks like something (like consumer anger and government scrutiny) threatens to take a tiny bite out of their gargantuan profits. So this go-around it’s “we might have a temporary shortage if the cresting Mississippi causes trouble.”

You’ll pardon me if I keep my skeptic hat on for awhile longer.

Meanwhile, $4 a gallon gas once again brings up all the associative issues: More drilling, alternative fuels, cap and trade. None of the talk ever seems to move us forward, and the debates are stale. We know the facts:

• India and China are only going to grow thirstier. The Middle East will eventually go dry. With demand eventually permanently outpacing supply, the likelihood of ever having cheap gas again is slim, even if everybody is playing fairly.

• More drilling only delays the inevitable. It’s a bandage on a chest wound. We could gain years of independence. But it will run out one day.

• Windfall profit taxes and cutting subsidies both end in the same scenario: that cost being passed on to the consumer.

• Alternative fuels will only be new opportunities for energy companies. Just look at what ethanol did to the price of corn (which is in everything in the form of high fructose corn syrup) and thus the price of food. If you made a car that ran off dead leaves, Exxon would buy all the trees.

So, unless someone creates an engine that runs off brain waves (some folks would be able to drive faster than others), isn’t it time to start talking about a world that doesn’t use so much oil?

I’m not talking about wind and nuclear and things like that. And I’m not talking about putting more of us in bigger containers that still have to be moved down the road.

I’m talking about not driving. I’m talking about working at home and telecommuting.

It’s an old idea, but the infrastructure exists to accommodate it now. According to the World Bank, nearly 80 percent of Americans use the Internet, yet according to the Telework Research Network just 2 percent work from home. The Network cites polls that say 25 percent of Americans believe they could do 80 percent of their work tasks from home.

Imagine a quarter of the country’s cars only being on the road once a week. That’s a real reduction in demand with the side effect of cleaner air.

That’s the kind of change we need if we’re ever to make complaining about gas prices a thing of the past.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.