Sunday, March 14, 2004

Fight high gas prices by conserving

Your voice: Mario E. Orosa

There is a message going around the Internet regarding high gasoline prices. This email or a variant thereof always starts circulating whenever gas prices approach $2 a gallon. The note's recommendation is similar each time: Boycott one of the major oil companies.

It won't work, but a solution lies within us - you and me, the consumer. Consider the following facts: The world production of crude oil is in the neighborhood of 75 million barrels a day. Our nation, with only 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 20 million barrels or more than a quarter of the total. The western European countries of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany consume half of our per capita use of oil.

Whenever someone suggests conservation, the concept dies rapidly. If Congress wants to increase the corporate average fuel efficiency or CAFE, the automakers cry foul. That will lead to smaller cars. They are unsafe, says Detroit. The consumer will be robbed of choice.

What happened to energy research? While being bombed by the Allies, Germany still managed to produce gas out of coal. The South Africans had a process for converting coal to gas years ago. Sure, it is much more expensive but if energy independence is a goal, there will be a steep price. And coal is our most abundant energy source.

Those greedy oil companies are making so much money their stockholders surely would have been rewarded. They'd have a windfall! Unfortunately for the oil company shareholders that isn't the case. An investment in a staid Cincinnati company named Procter & Gamble outperforms both Shell and Exxon-Mobil over the last 10 years by a significant amount.

The issue is with our excessive energy consumption. We can drive cars with smaller engines. We can carpool. We can take public transportation, although that would be a little difficult in Greater Cincinnati. But there are painless ways we can conserve. Drive at the speed limit, which would also reduce accidents and highway deaths. Keep your engine tuned.

Are gasoline prices excessive? It is all relative - try driving anywhere in Europe or in Japan. Gas routinely sells for over $4 per gallon. Remember too that your friendly federal and state taxes contribute 40 cents per gallon. To add insult to injury, some states even place a sales tax on top, effectively taxing the taxes.

Start conserving today.


Mario E. Orosa of Fairfield retired from Procter & Gamble as an engineer in Global Snacks Product Development.


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