It’s a different world now, so be ready to act

Gary Hubbell

The 14-year-old leaned on the dugout fence during baseball practice. An energetic boy, he wanted adventure, and he was already thinking about what came next. His uncle, a 23-year-old ironworker, was watching the boys take infield. “John, let’s go drive around after practice,” the kid implored. “No way,” answered the young man, the proud owner of a nice pickup truck. “Gas is too expensive. I can’t afford it.”

I always wondered how long our wastrel energy habits could be maintained. Even when I was a teenager, driving around in the backwoods with my brother and his friends in a Jeep pickup with a 360 V8 engine, I wondered: How long can we afford to do this?

It was a brief moment in human history, the era of abundant energy. Gasoline was cheap for basically less than a century, an eye-blink in the continuum of mankind’s time on the planet; but boy, did we have fun with it. Funny car races, speedboat races, airplane rides, long sightseeing trips across the country, motorhomes, snowmobiles, trucks pulling trailers full of ATVs and jacked-up Jeeps to tear up the wilderness, motorized yachts and houseboats ” we were very creative in all the ways we wasted energy.

You might recall that I predicted $200 a barrel oil prices in my November 2007 column, when the price stood at $98. Today it’s at $135, a 37 percent increase in six months. As shocking as that prediction seemed at the time, I thought it would take five years to reach $200 a barrel, but it seems like my timeline might be too slow. Some analysts are predicting oil will hit $200 a barrel and gasoline $10 a gallon within two years. I guess that’s why the local shopper newspaper has four pages of ads for used RVs and speedboats.

At that rate, we’ll be hard-pressed to just get back and forth to work and the grocery store ” never mind burning fuel just for the fun of it. Believe me, there are some people running scared right now. They’re driving 14-miles-per-gallon SUVs on a 120-mile round-trip commute from an oversized energy pig of a home that isn’t worth the mortgage they’re paying for it, and they’re in TROUBLE.

In a time when we desperately needed foresight and leadership, we had Bush and Cheney, who actually gave tax credits to people to buy SUVs. No joke. “It’s the American way,” Bush said at the time. Instead of seeing an impending energy crisis and taking strong measures to avoid it, Bush and Cheney started a war.

When we invaded Iraq, Bush and Cheney insisted that it was to depose a dangerous tyrant who possessed weapons of mass destruction. We were there to liberate the oppressed Iraqi people. RRRRRight.

Cynics said it was about oil. Given the Bush administration’s response to the Hurricane Katrina debacle, it’s hard to imagine that they gave two shits about the Iraqi people, so the cynics may have a point. Given the disgusting manner that Iraqis blew up our troops with roadside bombs and then celebrated on the smoking wreckage and carnage, their freedom doesn’t mean anything to me and millions of other Americans. Say what you will about Saddam Hussein, he kept the oil taps open and production flowing. In hindsight, starting a war in Iraq was either a monumental blunder by a cabal of dunderheads, or a brilliant, maniacal scheme to control the world price of oil and enrich a group of behind-the-scenes cronies. Take your pick; neither scenario is very attractive.

But the real reason for our oil prices is our trade imbalance. Bring on the next free trade agreement! Analysts say that one of the major reasons that oil prices are going up is increased demand from India and China. Well, well, well.

If we hadn’t exported all those jobs to India and China, sending off all the technology and manufacturing jobs to those teeming masses of people eager to earn a few bucks a day, would they be buying cars? No.

So we take our iron ore and scrap metal, load it onto ships and offload it in China, and they smelt the steel that our steelworkers used to produce, and put it on another ship and burn millions of gallons of diesel fuel to our ports, where we load it on trucks and trains and ship it back to us as an inferior finished product. We do this because our unions got us in a labor stranglehold, and because China is willing to disastrously pollute their air and water, while we’ve decided it isn’t worth it.

Have we gone INSANE? We can’t even make lawnmowers any more. Everything you buy is made in China. I, for one, rebel. I hate their government, I hate their environmental policies, they’re the worst example in the world for exterminating endangered wildlife, and they can take their cheap junk and stick it where the sun never shines. I boycott China.

Every time you buy some household appliance or doo-dad from China and you marvel at how cheap it is, think about some Chinese peasant putting down his bicycle and buying a shiny new car with your proceeds. And since you mobilized him by buying his cheap crap with your American dollars, now you get to compete with him for gasoline, which doesn’t care whether he’s Chinese and poor or you’re American and rich. And speaking of rich, when China holds $1.7 TRILLION of our money, they do get to call the shots on our currency. We’re at their mercy.

So what do we do? We take enough corn to feed a person for a year to make one tank of fuel for an SUV, and make ethanol a national mandate. In reaction, farmers burn and plow up wildlife habitat, and there are food riots in underdeveloped countries as the price of grain stretches them to the point of starvation.

I’ve got a better idea. Instead of subsidizing the oil companies with tax breaks, why don’t we give giant subsidies for active solar or wind-power generation? Every new house should have a big solar panel or windmill and a battery in the garage to recharge your electric car after you get home. Let’s downsize our cars, and if you want your wife to drive an SUV because she might get in an accident, teach her to put down the phone, shut up the kids, and drive defensively.


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