The Southern gas shortage should make us think
By Stephan Drew
Last week, we witnessed something that many of us haven’t seen in over 40 years. A gas shortage. Unlike our problem several decades ago, this was a distribution problem, not a shortage of supply. Locally, the price of gasoline climbed to around $3 a gallon and many rushed to fill up their tanks, in case it went even higher. Scenes of gas lines splashed across our television screens for the first time since the late 1970s and yes, we were fearful. As prices rose, the nightly news showed videos of fights that broke out at service stations in North Carolina and we were fearful that it might spread. This occurred after over a year of fretfulness around the world. Apparently, it was caused by someone hacking into the electronic pumping system that supplies most of the southeastern United States. And, as with COVID-19, it seems that we’re still not certain exactly who is responsible for this attack on our way of life. Suspicions abound but we may never know for sure. However, it seems we need to re-evaluate our system, our driving habits, safety precautions, preparation and our trust in those we do business with. I suppose the first question we should ask ourselves is, “Are we far too dependent on oil and gas in America?” Of course, the answer is a definite YES. I did a little research and was amazed at how many petroleum products we use in our daily lives. Other than the obvious – oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, propane, etc. – we use over 150 other products that are petroleum-based. They include ink, clothing, helmets, curtains, rubber tires, cleaning solvents, mops, umbrellas, roofing materials, dentures, denture adhesives, upholstery, CDs and DVDs, nylon rope, paint, cold cream, auto parts, appliances, toothbrushes, pillows, yarn, candles, luggage, balloons, crayons, golf balls, fertilizers, electric blankets, trash bags, sunglasses, dishes, flatware, cups, contact lenses, shaving cream, hair coloring and makeup, shower curtains, detergents, footballs, basketballs and other sporting equipment, hair curlers, tents, cameras, televisions, computers, and cell phones. And don’t forget everything you own that is plastic was made from a petroleum-based product. Could you do without all the products I just named until we find a cheap alternative building material for those goods? I don’t think so and I wouldn’t want to try. Our lives would change immediately and drastically if we were to quickly do away with the petroleum industry. Overall, it’s relatively cheap and we are addicted to it, literally. But it is a huge industry, raking in approximately $4.67 trillion in 2020 (down $1 trillion from 2019, due to COVID-19). Oil company sales are expected to top $5.87 trillion in 2021. When there is a shortage (whether due to decrease in supply or problems with distribution) the price of oil rises quickly. As it does, all other goods increase in price as well, because everything we eat, wear, drive or use in our daily life has to be transported by a vehicle that uses fuel (trucks, ships, trains, airplanes, etc.) So the fact that you don’t drive doesn’t mean you’re exempt from paying for high-cost petroleum. Businesses exist to make money while providing a product or service to the consumer. Nothing is free. When the cost of doing business increases, they will pass these higher costs on to us … one way or another. That’s just the way things work. No one can afford to keep losing money. I seem to recall that, although prices of transported goods may increase because of higher gas prices, they never seem to decrease again after that, even if the price of oil is reduced later on. And they know we will pay whatever they demand because we are hooked on our “toys.” Even the most rustic person you know has some type of modern devices in their home. Unless you are a modern-day “Grizzly Adams,” you own many petroleum products. And I’m not condemning anyone for how they choose to live. But there comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to stop, take a long look and take stock in their existence. We do need to ask ourselves some questions, re-evaluate our dependence on these items and see if we can speed up the transition to a renewable energy source. Of course, that’s only a part of the problem. We might find an economical way to use solar or wind energy to power our transportation industry. But sunlight and wind power won’t provide the building material for a cellphone, microwave, clothing or all the other petroleum-based goods we use each day. We have to find something organic but powerful and durable. And, I’m sure there are many scientists around the world who are working on that. I hope they are successful, and quickly too, because we won’t be able to take many more “scares” like the one we just had, especially if they last for any length of time. Be safe, drive carefully and please try not to waste anything today that you may need tomorrow. It may sound silly but your “life” (as you know it) may depend on the choices you make right now.