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Tough Love Monday: Break The US Addiction To Oil

28 July 2008 6 Comments

Every Monday, Return To Manliness explores a pressing issue in today’s society and offers up a “Tough Love” response to fix the problem. The solution(s) offered are not meant to win a popularity contest and may be seen as harsh or somewhat insensitive. This is never meant to offend anyone or any group of people. It is only an alternative way, most likely not all mainstream in its solutions, of exploring the issue.

Ah yes, yet another blog post on gas prices. This one is a little different though. You will not see the following:

These ideas and topics have all been vetted quite intensively.

In the Tough Love series, we explore ways of fixing an obvious problem in our society by suggesting “off the beaten path” alternatives. These may be politically incorrect and potentially painful, but nonetheless, alternatives. Regardless if you believe the topic needs tough love, the post is intended to start thinking about the issues slightly more radically.

The Issue

In the case of gas prices, we are talking about our national security. The dent on our pocketbooks is only the beginning of the story and the crisis is of utmost important to our country’s long term health.

Some may believe the addiction is a fallacy. Whatever you believe, some facts can not be disputed. The high price of gasoline is real and is not going away. Air quality in our cities is the worst it’s been in our history. The US Dollar is bordering on hyperinflation and many countries are threatening to walk away from using it as the world standard.

Consider this,

  • 4 of every 5 Americans surveyed support the U.S. tapping into its own domestic energy reserves
  • US imports 12 million barrels per day. $125/barrel x 12million = $1.5 billion/day leaving the US – more than 50% goes to OPEC
  • 90% of all oil imported is used for gasoline consumption
  • $500+ billion/year in US Dollars leaving the country
  • Dollar is trading at all time lows against pretty much every currency
  • US consumes 25% of total world oil production
  • Cars average 36 mpg in Europe and 31 mpg in Japan vs. only 21 mpg in the United States.

The truth is, we are addicted to oil and it just might take some tough love break that addiction. If we were a drug addict, an intervention would be conducted. If we were an alcoholic, the experts would tell us to go cold turkey.

But we are none of those – we are JUST addicted to our cars. How bad could that be? It is an American right, not a privilege, but a right, to large cars and cheap gas. Living far away from work and having huge yards in the suburbs is the American dream and we all want it – no, demand it.

But wait a minute – gas prices are going through the roof and we want investigations. We want a windfall gas tax on the greedy companies earning huge profits on our hard earned backs. We want gouging laws put into place. We want Congress and our President to punish speculators who are driving up the price of oil.

All those could help, but will have minimal affect in comparison to allowing capitalism take hold of the situation. High gas prices are here to stay and we must adjust several aspects of our lives before the pain starts to subside. Nobody is coming to the rescue. We must do what every generation has done before us and sacrifice today for tomorrow’s security and success.

The Tough Love

Some changes that could curb our addiction to the black stuff are as follows: (they may not be pretty, but neither is going cold turkey after a weekend bender in Vegas has your wife telling you she is leaving you unless you change your ways.)

Make all cars illegal in cities. Not all cities could do this right away, but mass transportation is the backbone to crushing demand for oil. London had implemented a HUGE tax to drive an auto through the center of its city. The mayor took all kinds of heat for doing it, but it worked. People adapted and the amount of autos clogging up the city center is dropped dramatically. More people are using The Tube and air quality has improved significantly. Walking, biking, and scooters would come mainstream in this scenario.

People could drive their cars and leave them at train and bus stations on the outskirts of the city. They would then take the mass transit into the city. This happens in many places in the world already and is a result of regulation combined with the free markets dictating the effect.

Ration gasoline purchases. Maybe through insurance companies or the DMV, everyone would be forced into consumption rationing through constant monitoring. Also, gas stations would allow only certain purchases on certain days for certain vehicles. This was an UGLY thing back in the gas shock of the 70’s, but that really made people think about their gasoline consumption habits.  Rations are never nice, especially in the land of plenty, but things are changing very rapidly.  Until there is a solution, we need to step on the brakes and cause a shift in demand quickly.

Increase HOV lanes on expressways to 3 of the 4 total lanes. Imagine the gridlock until people adapted! No longer would people be willing to drive one person per Explorer, Suburban or Expedition. The amount of space in these vehicles for simple transportation to and from work is ridiculous. It is not sustainable long term for our air quality and our consumption of a limited resource to drive alone, 45 miles one way with a vehicle that can hold 7 people.

The other obvious benefit to this would be you would get to know people better. Car pooling is a great way to make friends. Many of us in our society drive alone, don’t mingle with others, and have lost the fine art of personal communication. We have become very impersonal and hence, it makes it easy for all of us to not care about each other. Think of the impact this one solution could have on our society at large!

Divert every penny slated for new roads to mass transportation projects. This one will make some waves. Maintain major existing roads, but make all new road projects and maintenance of less traveled roads illegal. What would happen? More gridlock with autos! The idea is to continue the theme of making auto travel less appealing.

If we want to kick the habit, one way is to stop enabling the behavior through public spending projects. Most of us will agree the government is there to protect us and to provide needed public services. Not all roads are needed and many could be gotten rid of. This would eliminate much of the available space to put cars on the road and make people consider the alternatives or face massive gridlock.

Make a bold statement. JFK did it in the 60’s with the promise of going to the moon with the next decade. Al Gore recently said we must be energy independent within 10 years. What can make this so effective is the implementation.

We have all heard the saying, cross the bridge and then burn it behind you. This means make the decision and don’t look back. There is no going back if you have taken away all other possibilities but moving forward. How does this fit with energy independence? Our leaders could set a date (maybe 8 years out) outlawing the internal combustion engine.  Radical? Yes, but think about it.

A few years back the FCC decided all broadcasts would become digital by 2009 – as a law. At the time, about 3% of all broadcasts were digital. How could they do this? They burned the bridge and told EVERYONE (consumers and providers) this new law is not optional – it is mandatory. Industry adapted, consumers were given plenty of time to change and now the date is upon us with not much fanfare. It worked and it could work with our addiction to oil – we just need the leadership and the strength to follow the path.

The Argument

The US oil addiction is a controversial topic these days. There are people on both sides of the argument. Some believe there is no addiction and gasoline prices are the cause of speculators. Gas prices will plummet with the same type of severity as the US Housing market due to irrational speculation. Possible…

The other side believes this is the beginning of the end of US economic dominance. We got caught with our pants down by building our entire society around automobile transportation and changes are happening too fast for us to adapt our ways. They believe the US Dollar will be worthless in a few short years and miles and miles of houses built far away from urban centers will sit vacant for decades until an alternative fuel comes mainstream to replace the high cost of personal transport.

Both sides have great points, but the one thing for certain is the fact we love our cars – today. Giving them up or changing our habits means changing what we have been used to for decades. With the amount of backlash in this current environment when it comes to gas prices, there seems to be very few quick solutions – maybe with the exception of implementing some tough love.

Think I’m crazy? Think I’m right?  I would like to know your opinions.


  • Squawkfox said:

    I find it interesting how many are now comparing our consumption of oil to an addiction. I just blogged: Cars Are the New Smoking and found a somewhat hostile response. Good thing you prefaced your thoughts as “Tough Love” as many people seem to be very attached to their cars.

    Squawkfoxs last blog post..Welcomes, Link Love, and Carnivals Oh My!

  • Kevin (author) said:

    I liked your post on “the new smoking” theme. I think there are a lot of different things that could have the parallel, but cars, especially large cars, are a good comparison.

    It is always tough to change. Habits become a way of life and people always want to justify their actions. No one, including me, wants to believe that we do things without purpose or thought. Therefore, suggesting that what a person drives (which many people hold near and dear to their hearts) is irresponsible is a shock for many. It may be true, but it is still a shock.

    Great points in your post…

  • Mike Bates said:

    @ Kevin

    I liked this post a lot, particularly the idea that Americans can continue to drive their cars, but that our government need not continue to subsidize and enable their behavior. Instead, if you want to drive, you have to be willing to pay for the privilege, either with your time or your money (or both), and that the rest of us can enjoy trains (think of all the work you could get done on a train!), or even biking (hey, remember when people biked to places?).

    I also like the solutions that individual companies are working out to this problem, switching to a 4-day work week and/or increasing employees’ ability to telecommute during the week.


  • Kevin (author) said:

    Telecommuting is becoming VERY big because of this. I am now seeing companies go to 3 days in the office and 2 at home. The big win out of all of this is that we are adapting and becoming more flexible as a society…like we always have. It gives me hope that we can pull through this mess.

  • Joe said:

    Re: SUVs

    Maybe it’s just because my family’s never owned one, but I never seen an SUV that sits 7. Sure, I’ve seen big ones, but they only sit 4 or 5 people, the same as a mid/full-size sedan, with comparable leg room. All the extra space is in the back, so they can carry large things on very rare occasions. And still that doesn’t always meet those rare needs.

    I had a roommate in college, and his dad had just sold off their old, beaten-up pickup truck for a few hundred dollars. Then they realized that they did have occasionally needs for hauling large things, like moving his furniture into our apartment. So they bought a brand new BMW X5 SUV. And they couldn’t even manage to fit his box spring into it.

    I think most SUV owners have absolutely NO need for such a vehicle.

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