The Nation's Pulse

Crude Construction

Kicking the oil addiction metaphor.

By 8.12.08

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When cocaine prices shot up last year, White House Drug Czar John Walters touted it as "the best evidence" that the War on Drugs was working.

So when gas prices were shooting up this year, we ought to have heard cheers from those who claim we're addicted to oil. They should have pointed to those record gas prices as a sign that we're winning the war on oil addiction. But instead of celebrating, they've been gnashing their teeth.

President Bush isn't leaping for joy, even though he gave the oil-addiction phrase its highest imprimatur when he used it in his 2006 State of the Union speech. The metaphor is now everywhere, from the lips of politicians to the covers of national magazines. Tom Friedman has a new documentary titled Addicted to Oil, and T. Boone Pickens uses the phrase to promote his windmill plan.

But unlike our Drug Czar's reaction to high cocaine prices, these people express very little actual joy over the high price of gas. Congress may have embraced the oil-addiction phrase, but when it recessed for the summer it was preoccupied with how to bring gas prices down.

Nor are too many environmentalists dancing in the streets over high gas prices. Al Gore's We Can Solve It campaign is running full-page ads about $5 a gallon gas, but those ads don't celebrate this prospect -- they bemoan it.

Gore himself probably favors high gas prices, but he plays both sides of the fence in his public pronouncements. On the one hand he wants to tax oil for its alleged environmental harms. On the other hand, he pushes plug-in hybrids as a way to quickly lower gas prices by reducing demand.

Why is he so coy on the subject?

OPPONENTS OF OUR so-called oil addiction certainly spout enough rationales for their views. It's bad for the environment. It encourages urban sprawl. It undermines local agriculture by bringing us out-of-season produce from faraway places at low cost.

But if these people are sincere, then why don't they openly admit that high prices are the solution to these and other alleged problems. High gas prices push people out of large SUVs into cars, and out of cars onto mass transit. Isn't that exactly what environmentalists have been urging for years?

When the War on Drugs succeeds and cocaine prices rise, you don't see the Drug Czar proposing government subsidies for addicts. I don't like his mission, but at least he's honest on this point. He's not out there disrupting supplies one day and then helping addicts pay for their fixes the next.

The same can't be said, however, of warriors on oil addiction. Consider green businessman Joseph P. Kennedy II. His nonprofit Citizens Energy Corporation pushes an environmentalist agenda of reduced energy use, wind power, and carbon offsets. But it also has a campaign of giving discount heating oil to the poor and elderly.

You might have seen its ads on TV, such as the one where a poverty-stricken mother and child, freezing in their unheated home, is saved by Joe and his delivery truck, bringing them oil at 40 percent off.

But why is Joe bringing them oil at all, let alone cheap oil? Shouldn't he be bringing them solar panels or manuals on energy conservation, or perhaps a gold star for this family's low carbon footprint? Why is he supporting their oil habit instead of helping them break it? (Ironically, given the notoriety of South American drug sources, Joe's discount oil comes from Venezuela.)

FANS OF CHEAP gas are much more honest. They don't hide their relief when gas prices drop. The recent price dip made consumers smile a bit, truckers breathe easier, and the stock market rise.

I smiled too. I remember the last time I scored gas for under $2 a gallon. It was a sunny day in the fall of 2006, after a summer of what then seemed to be painfully high prices approaching $3. I came across a gas station near Centreville, Virginia, selling regular at $1.98.

After all the incessant yammering about how "the era of cheap gas is over," filling up at that price was transcendentally lovely. I even celebrated by squirting a few drops at a colleague standing nearby. He didn't get wet, but he understood the gesture -- it was a toast to life. And regardless of whether gas ever gets that cheap again, it seems clear to me that cheaper is better.

And it's probably even clearer to those who live in less fortunate countries. Dr. John R. Christy is a highly credentialed scientist and a longtime critic of global warming alarmism. He's also personally familiar with what it means for people to live without affordable energy.

Christy wrote in the Wall Street Journal last November, "My experience as a missionary teacher in Africa opened my eyes to this simple fact. Without access to energy, life is brutal and short."

If wishing for cheap energy and for the better life it brings makes us addicts, then more power to us.

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