Looking for the Green Lining? Pump Price Pain Might Be Environment’s Gain

Wherever you stand (or sit) on the issue of global warming, only those of us fortunate enough to be sitting atop an oil field think that the burning of fossil fuel is good for the environment. In reality it’s a nasty way to produce energy and whether it’s being used to run an automobile, heat a home, or fly a jet, we would be well rid of Mr. Rockefeller’s black gold.

For a long time I did not want to agree with the environmentalists who declared that if you wanted to find reliable alternatives to fossil fuel, Americans would have to suffer greatly at the pump. Well the pain has arrived, particularly here on the West Coast, where regular prices are now sailing beyond the $4 range and into unchartered territories.

Now that we’re taking it in the pump, people are coming together to demand better solutions.

Those who are expert in the intricacies of oil’s supply and demand say that the “surest remedy for high oil prices is high oil prices.” But it appears that OPEC and the various cartels cannot agree on bringing prices down, and the Exxons and Chevrons of the world, who own much of the oil they sell, are making profits that up until recently were beyond ever their greedy imaginations.

There is an old business philosophy that, “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered.” As the American pump price keeps moving upward, the oil hogs might finally witness a time when their own fat is about to hit the fire.

The evidence that the oil empire is moving toward this precipice is everywhere. Start with solar energy coming of age. It’s no longer the inefficient solar cells of the 1980s. Today photon-gathering solar farms are starting to sprout up in the desert Southwest, and are just billions of dollars away from fueling millions of homes and business.

Don’t think that investment will happen? Well consider this simple fact, when Bush and Cheney move out of the White House on January 20th, it is unlikely that any of the three US Senators preparing to take their place will be as cozy with big oil as the two of them have been.

In fact for about $400 billion, according to a study recently published in Science, about one third of the nation can be up and running on Southwestern solar power, which shines about 98% of the year. That multi-billion dollar investment is not an insignificant amount, but small when compared with the total cost of our engagement in Iraq.

Early in the Bush administration, gas prices were relatively cheap, and as ludicrous as it was, purchasers of SUVs and pick-up trucks were receiving tax credits. At $4 a gallon, those days seem very long ago, and now hybrid buyers are lining up from one end of town to the other. Ford, GM, and Chrysler have join the hybrid parade while Toyota is working to retool their industry-leading Prius to introduce a plug-in vehicle, which will take the Prius from a 40 plus mpg vehicle to the 60 mpg range.

Finally, the next presidential administration, regardless of party affiliation, is likely to push alternative energy agendas with an urgent vigor that has been absent in the last eight years. Regardless of how much money big oil pushes around in Washington, the call for energy independence from Middle East oil interests is likely to grow increasingly shrill.

Between health care, housing, banking, and other woes, politicos are going to have to choose their friends carefully. Of all the buccaneers feasting in our nation’s capitol on the kindness of political strangers, I’ll venture to guess that big oil is the candidate most likely to walk the plank.

With a little luck, that prediction will come to pass, and by Earth Week 2009, we and our environment will be able to breath a little easier.

Every step, even the tiny ones, take us closer to that goal. Today under SMW Money Advice, I’ve given you a few tips on getting you started to greener savings. And every day this week we’ll be launching a new article that will have you realizing how and why our future—our very survival—needs to be ecologically sound, and affects every facet of your life.

Martin Brown
SMW Money Editor