The upside of high petroleum prices

As much as I wince each time I have to fill up the gas tank (which I’m doing less and less these days, thanks to working from home more often), I do realize that higher petroleum prices are ultimately a good thing. And so does a writer for Market Watch. We’ve been able to maintain this addiction to oil for so long only because the lobbying might of the oil companies has overwhelmed the benefits of switching (and not because it wasn’t cost beneficial to switch from oil, because it already is). But as gas gets more and more expensive, alternative options like plug-in cars will look more and more attractive. Once a major shift is made, the negative externalities of petroleum production will be reduced by a good deal.

So the next time you’re wincing at how much it costs to fill up at the pump, console yourself with the knowledge that this is ultimately good for the future of mankind on this planet. Widespread petroleum use is environmentally unsustainable due to the particulate pollution and carbon dioxide emissions (and thus, global warming) it causes. The sooner we get away from it, the better. And the best way to get away from it, and indeed, perhaps the only way to get away from it in this political climate where the oil companies wield such great power, is to make it such that people simply cannot afford it.

Who’s with me on a countdown to $10/gallon gasoline?

10 Responses to “The upside of high petroleum prices”

  1. Kelly Martin Says:

    Traffic on the Chicago expressways has been better of late, too.

  2. T2A` Says:

    11 billion fewer miles driven this March.

    We could have gotten away from oil a looooong time ago. It’s not about what we’re capable of doing; it’s about what we can do to maximize profits for as long as possible. The big oil companies will use their vice grip on our government to ensure that oil still nets them trillions in profits for as long as possible. Sure, we could replace everyone’s car with an electric variant, but we won’t until oil is no longer a profitable business. By then the oil companies will have bought out the electric companies, so a switch will be just peachy.

    I love it when corporations run a country. D:

  3. drinian Says:

    Oddly enough, big oil companies do start investing more in alternative R&D when they have a lot of extra profit money hanging around. I’m sure they have lots of reasons for doing that, but I think that BP, Exxon, et al. would like to be the people to sell you solar panels and recharging stations five years from now.

    And, no, without much better ranges on electrics (see also: the 200+ mpg Aptera now going into production) there is simply a lot of infrastructural momentum to overcome. Think about how many gas stations there are in the US; think of the news stories a few days back about old mechanical gas pumps still in use that can’t handle >$3.99.

    But, really, the long-term infrastructural answer is going to have to include more than just cars. There’s a really important train travel bill working its way through Congress right now that could start to remedy the neglect of American long-haul public transportation. Let your Congressperson know that you support it. I just wish that they would provide support for projects outside of the DC commuter sphere.

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    They haven’t been doing much investment in alternative R&D though. They spend more money on propagandist advertising campaigns saying how much R&D they’re doing into alternative energy than the amount of money they actually spend on R&D. They’re oil companies through and through; the “research” is more of a public relations ploy than anything else. They stand to make a lot more money by heavily lobbying and astroturfing against alternative energy sources while paying lip service to alternative energy sources and making obscene profits as the price of oil rises higher and higher. Exxon and BP are two of the worst offenders.

    As for electrics, the bargain basement model that can go 70 miles on a charge would be good for at least 75% of commuters. That’s really cheap to make with existing technology, and can easily be topped off with a hybrid system to really increase the range. Electric vehicles with ranges of 200+ miles are also around, albeit more expensive.

    The biggest problem with electric vehicles isn’t that they aren’t sufficiently good to replace most driving needs of the average American, it’s that nobody is manufacturing the damn things in any quantity. And the worst part is there’s no real reason for it. As the linked article suggests, we could easily sideline a mere fraction of the amount of money we’re sending to the Middle East for their oil and use it to build a huge electric car fleet instead.

  5. T2A` Says:

    I can’t remember if I posted this on this blog once before or not, but…

    Random dude made a junker Talon into an electric that costs him $7/month to run.

    There’s even evil corporate greed in today’s hybrids. My sister’s 2007 Civic gets 40 MPG on the highway. A 2008 Civic hybrid gets 45. That’s ridiculous! Why the fuck would you pay all that extra money for a hybrid for barely any benefit? A hybrid should EASILY get 90 MPG, yet no company is anywhere near releasing something like that.

    Corporations are terrible. Period. Their only motivation is profits, and since oil is still extremely profitable, they’re going to do anything possible to gouge everyone.

  6. Cyde Weys Says:

    “Corporations are terrible. Period” is kind of a blanket statement that weakens your argument, but anyway …

    There’s no excuse for hybrid vehicles that don’t plug in. It’s really easy to recharge a battery from 120 VAC; just think of your usual wall wort power supply, but on steroids. That is the major concession to the oil companies and that is what is really a travesty about all of this. I could easily cut my gas expenditures in half if I had a Prius that I could plug in overnight to start each commute off with a topped-up battery.

  7. Kelly Martin Says:

    Two comments on the Prius. One, the Prius is a plug-in hybrid, everywhere except the United States; that functionality is disabled for North American sales. Two, the Prius radiates broadband RF noise like mad. Don’t even think about operating HF or VHF in one.

  8. Cyde Weys Says:

    I guess if I have to make the choice between mobile ham radio and a really fuel-efficient vehicle, I’ll choose the latter. I can always do ham radio from home, or even when the vehicle is off. But paying >$4/gallon in a 20mpg vehicle is not looking very appealing!

  9. drinian Says:

    And Chevy is on the verge of introducing a plug-in hybrid as well, the Volt.

    Corporations aren’t evil, although lots of factors can lead them to make poor choices for short-term gains. I’d like to see an alternate proposal for any sort of large-scale design and manufacture of material goods.

  10. Cyde Weys Says:

    A single new electric model from one of the US automobile manufacturers isn’t nearly enough. I bet they won’t even produce it in large numbers either, because they’ll be treating it more like a sideshow than the main attraction that they should be converting all production to within a couple years. We need tens of millions of new electric cars getting on the roads each year. We don’t have time to take this one at a leisurely pace. The rising price of oil is already choking our economy, and it won’t be getting better.

    I don’t think you can unequivocally say corporations aren’t evil. We know some of them are. I’m looking at you, Halliburton and Blackwater USA. Or, more familiar in your neck of the woods, Microsoft :-P