The Price Of Oil And The Problem With Being "Green"

Several times in the last few months, I've heard people say things to the effect of, "I'm glad that oil prices are rising; it'll reduce petroleum use which will help slow pollution and global warmng, and force the development of alternative energies!"

I don't know that people realize how elitist and priveleged a viewpoint this is.

Apparently the economic damage done while the R&D into alternative energies is happening is not important.

I'm currently running a software development project for one of the largest freight transportation companies in the country. They've had to implement a hiring freeze and cut projects because the oil prices are KILLING them! I was actually removed from a project that got put on hold due to lack of funding because of this. The business analyst for that project was a contractor who's contract was terminated as part of the "cost-saving measures," along with several other contractors. I was one of the few lucky enough to avoid that axe (I'm also a salaried employee of my consulting firm so it wouldn't have been that bad for me). For the current project, we've been specifically told to only work on projects and business requirements that are keeping the lights on or generating new revenue. We've been tasked with narrowing the scope of our projects to meet this criteria.

This company ships retailer-to-consumer, business-to-business, residence-to-residence, and for the US Postal Service. The increased oil prices are affecting EVERYONE. You're paying higher prices at the pump, yes; you're also paying higher prices for goods at the grocery store, for anything you buy online, for anything you buy at your local mom & pop shop, for your plumbing work, for your EVERYTHING!

Unemployment rates will go up (the company I'm running the project for is a HUGE employer as are other transportation companies, airlines, the auto industry, the power industry, etc..., not to mention every other industry that has any dependency on transportation). The cost of goods and services are going up. Restaurants, resorts, and hotels are generating lower revenue because people are travelling less, eating out less. Electricity and other utility costs are rising. Our economy is taking a serious hit as the dollar weakens on the international market.

And people are happy about this?!

Prices, and therefore the overall cost of living, are increasing, but employers who are financially impacted by the rising oil price and weak economy can't afford to give raises to their employees. That's a pretty simple equation to try and figure out.

The result of that equation is not good, no matter what side of the political fence you're on.

Let's not forget that the first people affected by an economic slide are those in lower-income demographics. The poor are already struggling to put gas in the car to get to a job. They're struggling to put food in front of their families. What happens when the poor have to deal with these rising prices while working for minimum wage? What happens when they can't make ends meet? What happens when they get laid off? What happens when they can no longer afford the gas to get to work?

History tells us that they turn to crime to supplement their income. It starts with petty crimes to supplement their income and escalates as their desperation grows. Crime affects all of us.

People saying that they are happy that oil prices are increasing is so very elitist. The only people that I've heard this from are people who are far enough up the economic ladder that they can afford to pay the higher prices. They can afford to buy higher-priced, new, alternative energy vehicle, they can afford solar panels, etc... If pressed, I could give up a few luxuries and afford these things, too.

I'm not saying that alternative energies are bad. Hell, I'm waiting on the edge of my frakking seat for my hydrogen fuel-cell motorcycle; internal combustion engine performance with only water vapor as a waste product! I'm all for developing them. I'm not sure that I'm convinced global warming is a natural cycle or is a product of our pollution, but if we can reduce pollution, I'm all for that, too.

What I am saying is that we need to approach this in a measured manner. High oil prices will tank our economy before any of these alternative energies come on line. Let's fix that problem and stabilize our economy first. A stable economy allows for more excess capital to devoted to the research and development of new energy sources. Companies can't devote the resources needed if they're only tackling the projects that "keep the lights on and generate new revenue." They can't devote resources to new research and development if they can't afford to pay the people to do so.

The normal progression for new technology is that it is phased in. How can we toss our dependence on oil and the internal combustion engine before we have a replacement? Did we toss out the horse-drawn wagon before introducing the automobile; or did we develop the automobile which gradually phased out the horse and wagon as it was refined and made more affordable? Did we toss out the telegraph before the telephone was implemented; or was it gradually phased out as the telephone infrastructure and technology was put in place and made affordable? Have we tossed out pens, pencils, and paper before the advent of the computer; or has the computer gotten more compact, affordable, useable over time and is still, over fifty-some years later, still being phased into society?

How do people expect to cut off our dependence on oil like flicking a light switch? Where are these new affordable technologies to phase out the internal combustion engine? Has Al Gore or anyone else produced a product to work into our infrastructure?

Instead, years of ridiculous energy policies have handcuffed our society and economy, making us increasingly dependent on foreign oil and have had negative ripple-effects throughout our entire economic system.

I hear a lot of clamoring for "green" energy and products, but I don't see many affordable solutions being developed. It seems that even the environmentally conscious folks are infected by instant-gratification. They want changes NOW but can't see how this will be tearing at the fabric of our economy a few years down the road. People whine and moan that not enough focus is being placed on developing alternative energies faster, but don't see that their efforts against nuclear energy and fossil fuels is actually SLOWING the development of new technologies.

I'll also concede that greed is a factor in our inflated oil prices. While we're paying $4.17 at the pump (yesterday when I filled up the bike (which gets around 40MPG, thank you very much!)), oil companies posted record profits last quarter. That angers and sickens me as well. We'll talk about corporate welfare and corporate corruption in another blog, though. This entry is my railing against the short-sightedness of the "green" movement.