Tough. They are here to stay, for three simple reasons.
One, demand will not go down. In the future, high demand for gasoline will hopefully level off and eventually recede in the United States (due to a peaking of our economy, stagnation in our population growth, and maybe some tougher fuel-efficiency standards), but as we Americans so often forget, we are not the only country in the world. India and China are poised to develop such an insatiable appetite for gasoline that it will make our own petroleum gluttony pale in comparison. India and China have a combined population of over two billion, compared to the roughly 280 million who reside in the United States. If their economies continue to grow at the torrid paces that they have been for the last few years, not only will they develop economies that are greater than the United States’, they will also develop the middle class that is necessary to turn a country from a mass producer into a mass consumer. In fact, the middle class is already becoming prominent in both countries, but a middle class in Asia is different from our conception of a middle class here, in that in Asia, they still have far less purchasing power. That will change. The prospect of a billion cars rolling around southern and eastern Asia within the next thirty years should frighten anybody who is concerned about our country’s lack of an energy policy.
Second, even if demand were to drop, worldwide oil prices would not change dramatically. Companies grow accustomed to a certain level of profit, even when they are selling less. This is a fact for the oil producing countries as well. Instead of dropping the price of oil to respond to lesser demand, they will keep the price of oil artificially high by producing less. In this case, less demand does not mean more available oil. Rather, less demand means less available oil, with prices remaining relatively stable.
Third, and this is the most unappealing reality of all, the world’s supply of oil is finite. No major oil fields have been discovered for thirty years, and it appears that there are no more to find. Continued increases in demand over those same thirty years (mostly courtesy of the United States), are beginning to be felt in oil fields the world over. There is no longer some far off, hazy time in the future where we may have to deal with a world whose supply of oil is unacceptably short. That time is foreseeable. People who are alive today will be confronted with the ramifications of trying to sustain an industrial world culture by their wits alone, while lacking vital natural resources.
The coming competition for limited oil resources we will find ourselves in this century between ourselves and other industrial nations will define the age we live in. The last thing we need to be worrying about is the price of gasoline. This is nothing more than a short-term outlook that ignores what could become truly desperate circumstances down the road. We need oil. America needs more than anyone else to sustain our massive economy and our very unique lifestyles. It’s understandable when we try to go and get it any way we can. However, our lack of an energy policy and the constant bickering over drilling in relatively small pieces of protected real estate foreshadow a reckoning. What is it about Americans that makes us refuse to deal with serious problems until they become crises of the highest order? Unless we find ways to begin to live without oil now, when the inconveniences will be minor, in the future our country and our very ideals will come under assault not from extremists, but from the harsh realities of wont.