As gas climbs to $5 a gallon, the pain is evident everywhere. Buses are packed. GM is closing factories. The airlines are laying off pilots and flight attendants. Independent truckers are going bankrupt. Real wages slide down and inflation shinnies skyward.
Not everyone in the U.S. is feeling the pain, however. Exxon, based in Irving, Texas, was top producer of profits worldwide for 2007. Conoco Phillips and Chevron were close behind. Their billions in profits have infuriated working people. And the heat is on politicians to do something about it. But what?
At a May hearing of Congress, oil industry execs piously called the chaos a natural and even healthy display of market forces — the law of “supply and demand” at work. Their solution: “stay the course” and drill for more oil in environmentally sensitive areas. This might make a small dent in prices in 2030! But it is good for their profits now, gets public anger off them, and sows the illusion that energy woes can be solved by eliminating environmental laws. As for global warming? Let the planet burn!
Republican John McCain supports their pipe dream, along with using U.S. military might to fight for more oil — 100 more years of war if necessary! Democrat Barack Obama proposes to raise money for development of non-fossil-fuel alternatives by letting corporations bid for the “right” to pollute. He would then turn clean energy technology over to private companies for profit-making.
With gas prices sending the economy into turmoil it is clear that energy is too important to be a privately owned commodity, sold to the highest bidder. Energy — in all its forms — is as fundamental to the well-being of society as water. It belongs in the public realm under responsible and accountable stewardship.
Gas prices take a big toll. In response to the crisis, mayors and environmentalists are promoting bikes, hikes, busing it or buying a Prius. People are doing what they can to find alternatives; the number of vehicle miles traveled fell by 1.8 percent in April. But these solutions are both out of reach of many people and can’t come close to answering the scope of the problem.
And, still, fuel costs are leaving millions of workingclass people devastated.
More than 45,000 trucks disappeared from the road last year, many of them owned by independent operators. Ford and GM, which make huge profits from SUVs and light trucks, are laying off thousands of employees in response to sluggish sales of the gas-guzzlers.
Many rural areas and small towns in the U.S. don’t have any public transit, because the government does not prioritize or fund it, like it does postal service. In metropolitan areas, transit bureaucrats are hiking fares or cutting service due to high fuel costs!
In several counties of the Mississippi Delta, residents now spend more than 13 percent of take-home pay on gas. Folks living in Maine are going broke to pay for home heating oil. The list goes on.
With no solutions in sight from the White House or Congress, people are going deeper into debt, quitting or changing jobs to avoid expensive commutes, being forced to choose between food and fuel. Students skip classes. The religious pray for low gas prices to return!
The system’s got no answers. And every day without a radical change digs us deeper into the hole.
Demand for oil will continue to rise steadily in countries like China and India, even though their fuel efficiency standards are much higher than in the U.S. But crude oil is a finite resource. The Earth Policy Institute reports that since 1984, world oil production has exceeded new oil discoveries. World supplies won’t run out tomorrow, but oil won’t gush forever either.
You wouldn’t know it from current U.S. energy policy. The U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day, far more for its population size than any other country in the world. Fuel efficiency in transportation, for example, which uses 27 percent of all U.S. energy consumed, has declined since 1988. While the U.S. requires a 22.5 miles per gallon efficiency for vehicles, Europe mandates 40 mpg.
Existing technology can easily produce cars with 35 mpg and save the U.S. public billions of dollars in gas and tons of pollution and climate-warming emissions. But that would also put a dent in the mega-profits of oil and auto corporations. To prevent that, oil and auto companies have successfully stymied inventions, patents, regulations, and public transit development, while Democrats and Republicans safeguard Big Oil profits at the expense of public welfare and the planet’s future.
Under capitalism, Big Oil manipulates fuel supply crises to jack up their prices and profits. Major party politicians, who receive millions of dollars in campaign contributions from oil-based industries, defend and uphold this opportunistic and destructive way of operating.
So how much oil do Exxon and Chevron and Saudi Arabia etc. actually have? Nobody really knows for sure. They are accountable to no one — just as Enron answers to no one. Meanwhile, agribusinesses including Archer-Daniels-Midland promote corn-based ethanol as a great alternative, even though it drives food prices up, reduces the amount of corn available for eating, and is far less efficient than ethanol made from sugar cane.
Speculators are also in on the take. Eager to find new investment markets after the meltdown in mortgage equities, big investors are buying up barrels of oil on the market, gambling that the oil will sell for a lot more in the future. Like the housing and hi-tech bubbles, this infusion of money artificially inflates prices — until the bubble bursts. Yet speculators are no more held accountable than the oil barons. They are seen as simply taking advantage of the way the “free market” system works.
Profits be damned! The oil majors and their friends in the White House and Congress want us to believe there is no alternative to “staying the course.” Actually, if humanity is to survive, there is no choice but to radically alter the course.
The global warming caused by fossil fuels and the savaging of the economy by soaring fuel costs are only a taste of things to come. Let it be a wake-up call for igniting genuine change.
Humans are at a point in our development that cries out for an international system based on careful stewardship of Earth and a sharing of its finite resources, from oil to water.
We need socialism now — not someday. Capitalism, based on dog-eat-dog competition for private profit, will never offer the human race anything but more war, increased scarcity, environmental ruin, impossible prices for necessities, inequity among nations — and a world of the super-rich barricaded away from impoverished masses. Every effort to reform the economy of capitalism is undone sooner or later.
But really, it’s not the job of unionists and other working people to cure capitalism anyway. It’s time for the U.S. working class to pave the way for dumping the profit system, while also demanding immediate, practical relief right now.
• Nationalize the energy industry under the control of energy workers.
• Fully fund and dramatically expand free, public mass transit, including in rural areas.
• Stop the war! Redirect military monies into social services and the development of clean energy by independent, government-funded scientists and environmentalists.
• Cap gas and heating oil prices at below $2 per gallon.
• Ban the use of corn for biofuel. Develop non-food alternatives to gas.
• Institute emission and fuel efficiency standards that reflect current technology.
• No drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge or protected offshore coastal areas.
• Use U.S. oil reserves to help the neediest. No price gouging and no hoarding.
Our bottom line. These emergency measures are not to be implemented on the backs of the hardest-pressed working people.
Let’s hit the streets and citadels of power now to demand these real solutions to the gas crisis!