Oil prices have fallen sharply this year. This may sound like good news, but don't kid yourself. Anything that reinforces the role of fossil fuels as the world's primary energy source is bad, not good. Anything that makes it cheaper to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is cause for mourning rather than celebration. What we need is significantly higher oil prices, enough to deter consumption and make us look seriously at alternatives. The sad fact is that just as oil is the lifeblood of Western economies, oil revenue is often the lifeblood of tyranny: Oil-rich regimes that finance terrorism and preach intolerance are sustained by what we spend on gasoline and heating oil. Lower oil prices also promote more driving, which increases air pollution and highway fatalities. Then there's sprawl: Cheaper gas will mean more far-flung, auto-dependent communities, which will bring more driving still. And all that driving means more human-induced climate change. Let's face it: Nothing but drastically higher prices will deter most of us from consuming more carbon-based energy.
Daniel Akst [9/17/06]