Debate Forum Left: 5/10/11

Rana Odeh Rana Odeh

Oil: Let’s fix the System Before it Breaks

By Rana Odeh

Rana Odeh

At today’s gas prices average $4 per gallon in the greater Dayton area, it currently costs me $50 to make one round-trip from Dayton to a suburb of Columbus. Less than a year ago, the same trip only cost me $35. If Americans continue to live the same lifestyle that is completely dependent upon oil, my weekly trip will cost me $70 or more. People are finally feeling the burden of oil prices. If the environmental issues that are the result of our overconsumption of oil did not get most people standing up and fighting for clean energy, the hole in their pocket will.

For decades, the U.S. has invaded other countries for oil at the cost of human life, but we all know oil is a limited commodity and our days of automobile transportation as we know it will eventually come to an end. Some politicians argue our oil consumption has no effect on the environment; others complain it is too expensive to invest in clean energy right now, but that is because their visions are as short-term as their positions in the government. If we look at what oil has cost us and the environment – all the financially burdensome oil wars, and the cost of human life, oil spills and refinery explosions – we can realize that oil has never come to the U.S. at the relatively low cost we pay at the pump, but our taxes have helped to create the illusion of inexpensive energy.

Although automobile transportation is one of the main uses of oil, electricity consumption is fueled by oil-based, electric power plants. If we invested in alternative sources of energy like wind or solar power, it would greatly reduce the demand for oil and the prices would at least temporarily drop. That technology is already accessible, and until we create alternative sources of energy for automobiles, or a simple solution like a new public transportation system, we can at least rely on wind and solar energy for our electricity.

Sooner or later, the price of oil will become high enough to burden too many Americans, and eventually surpass the “high” price that it would cost to provide clean energy. If your heater is acting up and you know it would cost you $200 to fix, would you put it off until it breaks and then costs you $2,000 to replace? That’s exactly the decision our government has made. The U.S. government knew the environmental and financial impact of oil consumption in the ‘70s and could have made some advancement that would have greatly reduced our environmental footprint at a relatively low cost. Instead, one administration after another has decided to put the research and development off until our form of energy “breaks,” and needs to be replaced at a much higher cost.

Nicholas Stern’s 2006 “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change” stated that 97.4 percent of U.S. climatologists believed human activity was a significant factor in changing the mean temperature of the world. The report also concluded that, while the stabilization of CO2 emissions would equal only one percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2050 if proper actions were taken, the failure to act immediately would result in costs and risks associated with global warming of at least five percent (or as high as 20 percent) of global GDP.

While it clearly makes more sense to act now, the U.S. was bought by oil and car companies decades ago, and has since been under their reign. That kind of corruption is bound to happen in a country where everything has become privatized and it is extremely expensive to run for political positions. It’s a gangster, “I help you, you help me,” kind of system. When I think of American innovation, I think of creative technological advancements that surpass those of other nations. But, in the 1920s, America took one of the most backward steps in history when General Motors dismantled America’s railroad system. In the Industrial Reorganization Act, San Francisco’s Mayor Alioto testified that GM “has carried on a deliberate, concerted action with the oil companies and tire companies … for the purpose of destroying a vital form of competition; namely, electric rapid transit.” That has proven to be very counterproductive and costly to the entire U.S. population, as well as environmentally damaging on a global scale considering the U.S. is the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Some people are in denial and blame the current unrest in the Middle East and Japan; some blame the financial crisis and commodity speculation, but these are short-term phenomena. The real issue is a lifestyle that is dependent on automobile transportation, highways, and imported oil. A short-term solution would be to invest in more fuel-efficient automobile technology (hybrid cars, electric cars). A long-term solution would be rebuilding America’s railroads and developing technology that would allow for the U.S. and our transportation system to be independent, before our system breaks.

Rana Odeh is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in English and Philosophy.  Her research and writings focus on issues of race, class and gender.  She can be reached at

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