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The Down Side of Cheap Oil

I’ve been thinking more about my post from yesterday and the notion that everything in America is tied to money due to out democratic and capitalist society.

This thought was further confirmed when I read this article in today’s Washington Post. While we all love living the 2-dollar-a-gallon lifestyle that comes with lower oil prices, there are a few casualties. Some investment moves went south for some folks. But even worse, people once again are not talking about alternative energy.

Al Gore and crew got a lot of airtime this summer, not just because of the nature of the film and the money behind the marketing campaign, but also because lots of Americans felt the pinch of gas costing nearly $3 a gallon. Some people didn’t resonate with Al Gore or the polar icecaps. They resonated with the thought that they could save money in the end by using the sun and the wind.

Unfortunately, the byproduct of everything being tied to money is that when a particular financial burdened is eased, the solutions to the problems that caused the burden disappear. Should oil prices spike again, you can believe that Gore’s face will once again be on your TV.

And while saving money is great (it’s one of my favorite pastimes), in terms of alternative energy, it’s the added benefit, not the focus. Again this month, we saved money on our electric bill because of some of the changes we’ve made around the house and in our usage habits. But more importantly, we used 238 fewer kilowatt hours this month when compared to last year. That does result in a monetary savings, but better yet, it results in almost 250 pounds of unused coal, keeping natural resources in the ground and the environment healthier. In fact, even if the changes around the home weren’t paying for themselves in this way, we still should have made the adjustments given the positive social benefits of doing so.

Of course, this is easier said than done. There’s a reason Wild Oats is in Green Hills and why people near the poverty line don’t shop for organic food, even though the health and environmental benefits are myriad. Have I mentioned the relationship between money and nearly everything else in America?

I would hope that investment money still finds its way to alternative energy projects, even if oil falls to $25 a barrel. The key will be to find alternative sources of energy that are affordable to everyone. I dream of seeing a compact light bulb cheaper than an incandescent one. I dream of seeing homes taken off the grid for pennies on the dollar. Until that happens, the urgency of energy conservation will fade from the public consciousness.

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