I am old enough to have noticed something. Since the 1973 oil crisis, there has been this interesting pattern.
The price of gas jumps. There is outrage expressed and popular exasperation with this circumstance. The situation gets worse and it is then revealed that the oil companies are making a mint in profits. Demands are raised in Congress for investigations into price gouging.
If these investigations take place at all, they generally find the oil companies are as pure as the driven snow. This is then followed by a demand in Congress for a so-called windfall profits tax on the oil companies to lessen the price of gas for the average person. Over a period of days, this demand collapses and everyone accommodates themselves to paying more at the pump.
It is not exaggeration to say that this pattern has repeated itself time and again in major and minor oil crises. Yet each time, we, the public, get used to paying more for gas. We complain. We do what we can to resist. We pay.
It is obscene that the oil companies can make billions of dollars in profits, blame the oil-producing countries and shift the entire burden onto the average person. This is made even worse by our dependency on cars and oil. The decisions that were made at the end of World War II to suburbanize the United States — particularly for White people — led to a skyrocketing demand for cars, highways and cheap oil.
Oil is no longer cheap. Many of the puppet rulers have been ousted, and oil-producing countries want to make sure that their nations and peoples gain the benefits of possessing this critical natural resource. More importantly, the major oil companies have us in a headlock.
Added to this, we are fast approaching the point where the amount of oil remaining in the ground amounts to less than the amount already extracted. To put it more simply, we are going to eventually run out of oil.
There is no energy policy in the United States. No, actually there is an energy policy: Support the oil companies and give them all the benefits imaginable.
We absolutely need a windfall profits tax. We need to take some of those billions to accomplish several things at the same time. There is a need for immediate relief for the public on the price of gas. This, however, is very short-term — a true national and global policy of energy production and usage must be put in place.
This will be very difficult for most people in the United States to accept because it will mean that we must live differently. We must have greater access to public transportation rather than tearing up farmland to produce more houses and more highways. Telecommuting needs to be expanded so that there are fewer commuters on the road. And we must concentrate on redeveloping the cities — not in the form of gentrification, but a reconstruction effort to make them hospitable for working people.
The Bush administration shows absolutely no interest in such an approach. Its adage seems to draw from the French King Louis XV whose words "After me, the flood …" preceded by no more than two decades the French Revolution.
In Bush's case, it seems to be something like, "After me, global collapse." What will the next two decades look like in our case?
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and activist.