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An equation for conservation

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 22, 2005


As happy as I am to see the price of gasoline increase, I am equally tired of hearing people bitch about the price of gas.

Let's break it down.

Life in southern California is designed around automobiles. Automobiles require gasoline. The more automobiles you have, the more gasoline you need. More gasoline equates to more pollution. More pollution means more environmental damage. Increased environmental damage results in a decrease ecological sustainability. The price of gas will never will never reflect the cost of oil.

It's really quite simple. Elementary really.

The price of gasoline will always go up as supplies diminish. With Chinese and Indian populations competing for oil resources, Californians can expect scarcity to dictate the price at the pump. World politics and global warfare over dwindling resources will only make matters worse. The burning of fossil fuels is becoming a luxury we can ill afford. Trying to justify the wisdom of purchasing hummers and other suburban assault vehicles is an exercise in futility.

Consider for a moment the actual cost of pulling crude oil from the ground. Consider the cost of refining, storage, and transportation of petroleum products. Then consider the legal and administrative costs to sustain such industries. I wonder how much the U.S. congress spent trying to open the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration during the past thirty years.

When calculating the true cost of oil it is of growing importance too adequately factor in the secondary expenses associated with a fossil fuel centered economy. Without the constant development and maintenance of government-subsidized roadways, the auto industry would not have gained global dominance. Roadways are a major contributor to habitat destruction and the loss of biological diversity. Besides global climate change, automobile traffic also contributes inordinate amounts to groundwater pollution. Bottom line? No ecological benefit can be derived from the roadways criss-crossing the planet.

Only future generations will know the biological cost of the current transportation paradigm.

Global warfare is another result of an economy based entirely on a nonrenewable and rapidly diminishing resources. One need only glance at international politics of the past hundred years to see the toll exacted from the ongoing struggle to control and exploit global petroleum resources. Waging war is never the environmental choice. How is polluting ground water with depleted uranium justifiable considering the long-term consequences?

At this point one can only imagine the magnitude of irrefutable damage inflicted on the physical environment of Iraq between the first invasion of Iraq and the current occupation. The war over Iraqi oil will leave a toxic residue generations deep. Who will pay for cleaning up the mess?

As the price of gasoline continues to rise, instead of bitching about it, Californians can begin an earnest dialogue about weaning ourselves off of transportation choices requiring fossil fuel for continued operation. As citizens, we should be demanding transportation choices that don't perpetrate environmental pollution and habitat destruction.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the only remedy to growing gas prices is to use less gas. Conservation is the answer. Conservation, concurrent with innovation directed at phasing out the use of fossil fuel for ground transportation is the perfect equation for moving California towards ecological health and sustainability.

Unfortunately, the price of gas will need to go through the roof before most consumers will begin to reduce consumption and rethink their life styles and transportation choices. In conjunction with moving away from polluting, non-renewable fuel sources, the size of vehicles need to be seriously reduced, and mass transit improved and expanded.

Cities must also begin to redesign their communities on a more human scale. For far too long California has developed around the automobile, because of this the California dream is little more than public parking lot. Walkable communities will help reduce California's dependence on foreign oil while reducing the resulting pollution and environmental damage.

Conservation is far more empowering than whining and complaining about something you cannot change. Personally, I bought an Italian scooter that requires 3 dollars a week to operate. That equates to approximately a gallon of gas a week. Another way is conserve gas is by shopping and do business locally. Less travel means less consumption of fossil fuel, with the added bonus of supporting local economies in the process. Everybody wins.

The equation for conservation is easy. The only thing missing is intent.

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