In a recent piece for Forbes, petroleum economics analyst Michael Lynch claimed that America’s addiction to oil is a “myth.” He contends that “Americans consumers have ample choices” when it comes to transportation fuels, and that our relationship with oil is no different than our relationship with “food, housing, and clothing” or “cement or steel.”
Do grocery stores only carry one type of food? Is the price of housing and clothing dependent on foreign entanglements half a world away? Do we go to war to maintain access to cement and steel?
Of course not, but those are points conveniently passed over in Lynch’s article. The truth is, our country — on both small and large scales — is woefully addicted to oil. And the idea that the American consumer has ample choices, and chooses oil, is simply ridiculous.
It would be one thing if Americans could pull into a gas station and choose from a variety of fuels like gasoline, ethanol, natural gas, electricity, or hydrogen and decided they liked gasoline best. But that’s not even remotely close to the truth. At most gas stations around the country, Americans aren’t presented with five choices. They’re not even given two choices. No, they only have one option — gasoline.
So of course they “choose” gasoline. They don’t have any other alternatives. And that’s a big problem.
On the individual level, the volatility of gas prices makes life for blue-collar families on a fixed budget exponentially harder. When the price of oil goes up, lower- and middle-class families have no other course of action except to spend more and more of their income on this one fuel — and subsequently less on groceries, utilities, and leisure activities — so they can continue commuting to and from work and taking their kids to school. And when lower- and middle-class families are spending less, guess what? The economy crashes. Case in point, 10 of our past 11 recessions were preceded by an oil price spike.
What’s more, it’s hard to believe that if alternatives to gasoline were more widely available, Americans would continue to choose a fuel that makes our air dangerous to breathe, our water undrinkable and unable to support life, and kills 58,000 people each year.
To insinuate that our oil addiction is a myth, Lynch has to be either uneducated on the issue — unlikely, considering the amount of time he’s spent in and around the oil industry — or willfully trying mislead Americans about the nature our addictive relationship with oil to slow our transition to alternative fuel choices like ethanol, electricity, natural gas, and hydrogen. Don’t buy what he’s selling.
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