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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

SPR-ing into summer
June 24, 2011 - 12:45pm

It's not my job to ruin your summer vacation. Really.

But it is my job to point out that pandering to the nation's current summer vacation habits is bad for the USA. Also humanity. And most charismatic large fauna. And US maple syrup production. (Feeling guilty yet? The politicians clearly aren't.)

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that it would release some 30 million barrels of oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in conjunction with plans by allied governments to release an equal amount. The declared reason for the release was to drive down energy prices and stimulate the worldwide economy. Commentators pretty much across the political spectrum, however, have voiced suspicion that at least part of the intent was to drive down US gasoline prices during peak driving season, thus avoiding further alienation of the voting populace.

Personally, I don't give a rat's hind quarters what the intent was. Intention is not reality. Intention is not effect. Even good intention is the pavement on a road none of us particularly wants to take. The predictable outcome of this move, regardless of intention, is further muddying of the very pricing signals our economy needs if it's ever going to achieve fossil fuel reducing technological innovation.

While the talking heads (and headless) go on about social perceptions associated with $4.00/gallon gasoline and sigh with relief that gas prices are going down, I'm rooting for $5.00/gallon, $6.00/gallon, even $8.00/gallon.

No, I don't have a level of disposable income which would allow me to absorb that sort of price increase painlessly. And no, I don't expect to see that level of price rise any time soon. But what I do know is that if energy (particularly, fossil fuel energy) prices don't go up significantly, we're going to keep on keeping on. We'll keep doing what we've been doing. We'll keep getting what we've been getting. And that's not good for the environment, for society, or (in the long run) for the economy.

No, $8.00/gallon gasoline would not mean the end of civilization as we know it. In parts of western Europe, gasoline is over $8.00/gallon right now. And those countries seem pretty civilized to me. Some of them even have economies (and economic recoveries) stronger than ours, so the tie between economic activity and energy prices can't be quite as simple as government press releases would have us believe.

What really worries me is that if this is what the current administration does for the summer of 2011, what are they likely to do for the summer of 2012? This move does have an unavoidable stink of domestic politics (along with the sulfur stench inherent in the (mostly "sour") crude oil that will be released). And, let's face it, 2011 isn't even an election year.


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