Sing, Baby, Sing

“A man named Nasruddin was sentenced to die (for a crime we don’t have to go into here). Hauled up before the king, he was asked: ‘Is there any reason at all why I shouldn’t have your head off right now?’ To which he replied: ‘Oh, King! I am the greatest teacher in your kingdom, and it would surely be a waste to kill such a great teacher. My skills are so great that I could even teach your favorite horse to sing, if I had but a year to try.’ The king was amused, and said: ‘Very well then, you have one year, and if the horse isn’t singing a year from now, you will wish you had died today.'”

I’ve been hearing otherwise perfectly intelligent friends complaining about gas prices a lot lately; many of them are blaming the current president and his energy policies for the spike, echoing the comments of a number of conservative lawmakers. The consensus seems to be that regulation of the petroleum industry is the source of the problem: with fewer controls, and the freedom to drill wherever the oil may be found, the industry could meet our needs and keep prices down.

According to a neat little Power-Point presentation by the American Petroleum Institute, “…We have enough oil and natural gas resources to power 65 million cars for 60 years.”1

This certainly sound like something that should be taken into consideration when making policy decisions, since Americans are not going to be switching over to bicycles any time soon. “65 million cars for 60 years.” That’s a lot of cars, for a lot longer than I’ll be around. In 60 years, I’ll be dead, and probably most of the people I know will either be dead or no longer driving. A lot can happen in 60 years.

But there’s a problem: there are currently 250 million cars on the road in the US, not 65 million, almost four times as many as in the API statistic. Do the math, and that means we’re talking about not 60 years, but 15.

There’s something surreal about much of the discussion currently going on about fuel prices. Republicans seems to be convinced that making it easier and faster to move Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico and onto tankers to ship to China and India is somehow good for America.

Gasoline prices in parts of the Midwest have been artificially low for years because of a glut of oil at the Cushing, Oklahoma, transshipment point2, a situation which will never occur again if the Keystone Pipeline moves the oil directly from point to point.

What’s more, the idea that a company selling a product for $4 per gallon would voluntarily sell it for half that, especially when they can control supply simply by producing more or less oil, as they see fit, is just ridiculous. The US attempted to force prices down in the 1970s with artificial price controls, and we ended up waiting in lines at the pump — or doing without entirely — as producers simply cut back the amount of oil they were refining until the price went back up.

Fifteen years, and the gas would be gone. I fully expect to still be up and about in fifteen years. I have friends whose kids won’t even be out of college by then. Fifteen years, and then what?

One of the things the API objects to is the imposition of fuel taxes to fund the exploration and development of alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal generators. So let’s say we do what they suggest: no taxes, no fees, so support for alternatives, no limits to drilling.

Fifteen years from now, we will have finished off the domestic oil, and we will have no alternative energy sources in the pipeline. Will Exxon-Mobil then donate the money to build electric trains? Will BP be providing us with new raw materials for pharmaceuticals and plastics that are made from petroleum products? Will Shell take over the burden of guaranteeing oil supplies from places like Nigeria and Iran? It seems unlikely.

Am I having a problem with paying $4.00 per gallon at the pump? Sure. But I’d rather be paying four dollars now, than making my grocery trips to Fayetteville on foot when I’m 68.

High fuel prices encourage conservation, which extends the lifetime of the supply. High fuel taxes fund the research that will help us survive after the oil is gone. Limits on drilling not only protect ecosystems, but also ensure that some reserves will be just that: reserves, untapped until needed.

“Drill, baby, drill”. Isn’t that the mantra? But then what? What happens to our children and grandchildren then, when all that’s left behind is the hole? Maybe we’re just buying a little more time, but isn’t that worth something? Back to Nasruddin:

When he returned to his cell, a fellow prisoner remonstrated with him: What will you do now? You know you can’t teach that horse to sing, no matter how long you try.’ Nasruddin’s response: ‘I have a year now that I didn’t have before. A lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die.

‘And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.‘”

— From a Sufi parable, ¬†as told by Idries Shah

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