Saturday, October 22, 2016
Publication Date: 06/1/2008
Archive >  June 2008 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Is This Goodbye to the Full Gas Tank?
Walter Salm, Editor .
"Fill her up. No not the car, that little red can." Is it for the lawnmower or for emergencies?

The high cost of energy is on everyone's lips these days; the mildest complaint about the absolutely obscene prices at the fuel pumps are enough to start a tirade against big oil, OPEC, the Administration, and the conservationists.

We are all suffering at the fuel pump, and the carnage shows no signs of letting up. Fuel prices today are affecting everything: the way we do business, the way we shop, the way we play, the way we regulate the thermostat. Airlines are feeling the squeeze in a big way; Air France/KLM
is talking about serious cutbacks, while virtually every domestic U.S. airline has cut flights, packing passengers into every last available seat. The luxury of an empty middle seat in coach class is a thing of the distant dark past. Now, American Airlines is going to start charging for checked baggage — $15 for the first bag, and I don't know how much for the second bag. I'm certain that other airlines will follow this bizarre trend. I hate to think what this is going to do for already overburdened carry-on baggage space.

On the home front, we have to plan shopping expeditions carefully, consulting a detailed list and plotting the route in a way to burn the least amount of fuel. Shopping on a whim or spur of the moment has become a thing of the past. Your printer's out of ink? Tough. Get online and order it from one of those discount places. You'll not only save gas, you'll save money on the cartridges. Get some good reloads and you'll save even more.

My own cross-country travels have been drastically curtailed. With Diesel fuel topping $4.50 a gallon in most of the U.S., and my home on wheels consuming Diesel at the rate of 8 miles per gallon, I plan to spend the summer pretty much staying put in one place. It will be a place where I have never been, so there will be some opportunities to explore.

Now that oil prices seem to be in nonstop inflation mode, what will happen to our domestic oil production? The U.S. is far from dry when it comes to oil reserves; the North Slope is a good indication of just how much untapped oil there is. Trouble is, it's not readily available; much of it is blocked by environmentalists who may have very valid points, but try telling that to a man trying to feed his family, but can't get to his job because of high fuel prices. Or to his employer who must lay off workers because the company can no longer afford its energy bill.

There once was a time when we had no worries about fuel prices. Regular gas was 11 cents a gallon, a nickel would buy an ice cream cone or a ride on the subway or the ferry. For 3 cents, you could buy a daily newspaper or a first-class postage stamp. And a new Chevrolet cost $600. Then WWII came along, and nothing has been the same since. But the post war world cruised along nicely for a while; inflation didn't seem too bad, at least not yet.

Then on August 1, 1958, the cost of mailing a first-class letter went from 3 cents to 4 cents, and the race was on. When men first walked on the Moon in 1969 (the same year that the Mets won the World Series) a letter cost 6 cents. That letter cost 10 cents to mail starting on March 2, 1974, and by November 1, 1981, it was up to 20 cents. On January 1, 1995, the new cost was 32 cents, more than 10 times the rate in 1957. The latest increase, of just a penny to 42 cents came on May 12 of this year, and this increase was ascribed by postal authorities to the higher cost of fuel for its trucks.

Escalating oil prices mean that the pressure is on to develop new energy technology much faster than we have been. All-electric cars charged with power from a nuclear generating plant sounds increasingly attractive. As does the hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car, if we can ever get the initial cost down and develop a practical infrastructure for the hydrogen. Until that all happens, I guess we'll have to start to dig houses into the ground to provide all-season insulation, and forget about running that air conditioner on freezing cold in the hotel, the mall or the movie theater. In winter,
a few extra layers of clothing will pay for a lot of saved fuel oil. But will Americans give up their creature comforts? Some will, but not everyone is naturally or even unnaturally frugal. Conservation has to be key here until we can be rescued by new technology. Let's just hope the rescue comes within our lifetimes.  

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