It's like clockwork. As soon as gas prices start to spike, chain-letters flood my email in-box.
"Don't buy gas on Thursdays!"
"Don't buy gas from the two biggest companies!"
"Take aggressive action. Teach oil companies that buyers control the market place...not sellers!"
There was a particularly big upsurge last week when The New York Times revealed that Exxon's CEO had earned a mind-boggling $686 million over the past 12 years. Executive over-compensation is the scandal of American capitalism generally, but that one takes the cake.
Unfortunately, though, there's a serious problem with all these well-meaning chain-letter plans to stick it to the Exxon Man (aside from the fact that the letter supposedly from the "retired engineer from Halliburton" is a well-documented hoax).
They're all based on the erroneous belief that cheap gas is good.
Friends, if you think that cheap gas is good -- that it's good for you, good for America, good for the planet -- you haven't been paying attention.
Several of the greatest threats facing us today result directly from our addiction to cheap oil and gas. First and foremost is global warming. Add to that our economic dependence on unstable, hostile Middle East dictatorships. Stir in our tragic intervention in Iraq. Add the trade deficit. And terrorism. The list goes on and on.
The main solution is the rapid replacement of petroleum with alternate sources of energy that are self-sustaining, domestically produced and far less polluting.
Case in point are bio-fuels made from corn, wood, sugarcane, even recycled restaurant oil. The technology to use them is already here, today, now. Brazil's drivers -- and Brazil itself -- will be energy independent by the end of this year, using fuel from sugar cane! When used in cars, they cut pollutants by 70% and add nothing to global warming, since they're simply recycling CO2 that's already in the atmosphere.
But although America desperately needs bio-fuels and other alternatives like wind and solar energy on a massive scale, such alternatives don't make economic sense as long as gas is only a few bucks a gallon.
Free markets simply will not make the changes necessary to save the planet until gas prices rise significantly and stay there.
Indeed, one of the main impediments against the development of alternative energy is investors' worry that if alternatives start to become successful, the cartels will simply lower the price of oil and deliberately bankrupt anybody who invested in the alternatives. That fear alone is enough to keep many alternatives off the market -- and to keep us guzzling Mideast gas.
Bottom line: Our enemy is not expensive gas. Our enemy is cheap gas!
That's why I find these chain letters so depressing. For some reason, the ones I receive mostly come from friends and acquaintances who are progressive. People who worry about global warming. People who oppose the war.
Somehow, the connection between these disasters and cheap gas is just not getting through.
So here's a suggestion.
Every time you get one of those chain letters, write or call the person who sent it. Discuss the connections. Suggest that they stop demanding cheap gas, and start demanding bio fuels.
Suggest that instead of circulating a chain letter, they write to their congressperson in support of a gas tax that would raise the cost of oil high enough to get the SUVs out of the showrooms and stimulate alternative forms of energy.
Suggest that we don't need to take action against higher gas prices. We need to take action against the idea that cheap gas is an American birthright.
Today, that deadly idea is merely driving these chain letters. Left unchallenged, it could drive us to extinction.