The drumbeat is starting to roll, Spain is lowering its speed limit, public radio reports “regular for $4.21” a gallon in New York City, and the usual horror stories from California can only be around the corner.
Never mind the small print where it’s mentioned that fuel supplies are plentiful in the US, or the Saudis are cranking up production to offset the loss of Libya crude (which might not be lost for long). You know what’s next.
The “greedy oil companies” will be out of the pan and into the fire, Public Citizen will excavate Joan Claybrook so she can show the connection between public union bargaining rights and high fuel prices, or the reverse. And, of course the retired plumber from San Francisco will rise to the occasion and renew his demand (from the last time fuel prices jumped to uncomfortable levels) that speed limits be reduced.
Sarcasm aside, the media need for a crisis and controversy predictably results in a lot of unnecessary angst and flailing about that will result in zero positive outcomes.
There is far more elasticity in fuel demand in the US then is ever factored into one of these “crises.” Examples include the obvious, like switching use to already owned more efficient vehicles, better trip planning, car pooling, and cutting back on recreational travel. Longer term is the gradual improvement in fuel economy for the national vehicle fleet, as well as more abrupt changes driven by technological advancements.
Five and six dollar gasoline will turn a lot of eyes toward hybrids, electrics, and diesels, and then there’s the sudden availability of abundant natural gas. But, a crisis this is not. And, to the extent that it opens opportunities for new fuels, more efficient vehicles, and transforming technology it, and others like it, could be a blessing in disguise, albeit an aggravating one.