Hopelessness Is Not An Option!
April 8, 2005
I ran my USA Today ad just prior to the elections and received hundreds of emails and letters, from Alaska to Florida and many from our men and women in the military. The responses ran overwhelmingly in favor and extremely supportive. While supportive, there was an eerie sense of hopelessness in many of the responses. People could see and understand the problem and they wanted to make a difference, yet they felt hopeless because of the inertia around the status quo.
First of all, I do believe we are in a fight for our independence, much like our founding fathers were a little over 200 years ago. Think about it, the British raised taxes on tea and this lit the spark which ignited the flames of open rebellion. Our founding fathers didn't feel they had control of their own destiny so they did what most oppressed people would do in this situation, they rebelled and fought for their independence. The situation was not hopeless and our founders were not helpless. Granted, it wasn't easy.
Back to today. Every morning the price of oil is announced and we see in real-time the impacts to our stock values, our overall economy and our lives. Our dependency on oil dictates our economic, foreign and military policy and is the number one cause of our trade deficit (the oil portion is now projected at $232 billion per year).
For the past 30 years, the availability and price of oil has been controlled by The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which has a monopolistic stranglehold on world oil supplies and pricing. Saudi Arabia is the largest OPEC member in terms of oil reserves. Prior to September 11, OPEC would control oil prices by restricting production. We saw a major change since 9/11. Oil prices are now impacted by unrest in the Middle East and by terrorist attacks against oil infrastructure. The mere threat of terrorism now sends oil prices skyward.
It's been reported in many papers and articles that money is flowing to terrorists in IRAQ and other countries from rich OPEC Middle East countries. Consider the fact that the US uses 20 million barrels of oil per day. We import 15 million barrels per day. Saudi Arabia accounts for nearly 15% of our imports. A recent terrorist incident in Saudi Arabia sent oil up nearly $3 in one day. This means that without increasing production, the Saudis pocketed $7 million dollars more PER DAY! Considering the fact that oil prices are now almost $20 per barrel more than last year at this time, this means the Saudis are raking in nearly $45 million more per day.
What has compounded the problem is our appetite for vans, pickups and SUVs over the past 20 years. In 1980, there were only 2.2 million light truck, SUV and van sales in the US. Today, these vehicle sales total 8.8 million! Large SUV sales went from 40,000 in 1980 to close to 900,000 over the same period. The average fuel economy of new passenger vehicles has fallen to the lowest level since 1980 and is 8 percent below the peak of 25.9 mpg for model year 1988.
So to sum up: worse miles per gallon equal more gallons which equal more barrels, which equal more dependency to a product that is outside our control when it comes to price and availability. On top of this, our dollars go to unfriendly regimes which support terrorism which in turn impacts the price of oil. Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn't it?
When confronted with a situation where we no longer control our own destiny, what should we do? One is to do nothing and hope someone, someday figures out a way to save the day. Or perhaps we can do what our founding fathers did and revolt. Not in the sense of an armed revolution, but as empowered free men and women who can impact change one vehicle at a time, one vote at a time, one decision at a time.
We can decide to start thinking of buying vehicles we truly need versus vehicles we've been programmed to think we need. In 1984, the Dodge Caravan was introduced. Around the same time, we began seeing advertising for Jeeps and light trucks and then SUVs came into the mainstream. What is interesting is that all these vehicles were for specialty use before being marketed and sold for everyday use by everybody. The latest and perhaps the most blatant example is the HUMMER. We can believe that we all secretly wanted these vehicles and the automakers just gave us what we desired. Or we could be more Machiavellian and consider that the automakers knew they couldn't meet the EPA miles per gallon mandates for passenger cars and if they did it would have to be with smaller, lighter, less expensive vehicles with lower profit margins. Knowing that vans, light trucks and SUVs were not required to meet the EPA mandates, perhaps the automakers decided to repackage and market these vehicles as safer, sexier and sportier. I believe the answer is closer to the Machiavellian angle. Yes, I fell for this too.
The next time you are driving down the freeway, merely count the number of people driving alone in a van, SUV or truck. Likewise, it would be interesting to know how many 4x4 vehicles have never been driven off road or in bad conditions. These specialty vehicles have become a much larger piece of US commuter transportation. Don't get me wrong, there are many people who need a truck, SUV or van to do their jobs. But I believe the majority of American families would do just fine with a smaller more fuel efficient vehicle for commuting to and from work and school.
There are approximately 200 million passenger vehicles in the US and nearly 14 million new vehicles sold every year. If we would all decide to increase our fuel efficiency by 30-40% on the next vehicle we purchase, there would be measurable reductions in oil consumption in as little as five years. Thirty to forty percent may seem like a huge amount, but it is really the difference between driving a passenger car versus a truck, SUV or van. As an example, a HUMMER owner can improve their miles per gallon by 300% by buying a Corvette. Since most of us buy a new vehicle every five years, we would compound this into impressive savings by the year 2025. An SUV that drives 10,000 miles per year and gets 16mpg uses about 33 barrels of oil per year (there are 19 gallons of gas in one barrel of oil). A passenger car that gets 25 mpg requires 21 barrels. A hybrid vehicle that gets 47mpg requires 11 barrels per year. If we bought 8 million hybrids next year instead of SUVs, we would not need to import 176 million barrels of oil, about 12 import free days! Since we import nearly 821 million barrels from Saudi Arabia every year, our buying 8 million hybrids every year would eliminate our dependence on Saudi oil in less than 5 years.
Possible? Yes. Probable? Not likely tomorrow. However, the exercise does show the potential of our taking action versus doing nothing.
Changing how we look at cars and our buying behaviors is merely one piece of an aggressive plan to gain back our independence. I created this web site because many of the original responders to my USA Today ad asked me to do something to keep this issue center stage. This web site is dedicated to the formation of a 20 year energy independence program that will be sustained through grass roots support. There is a National Petition that will show the world that patriotism and sacrifice for a noble cause still exist in our country. The web site is set up to educate and hopefully inspire public debate and the exchanging of ideas toward a common unifying goal - our nation's second independence - Energy Independence!
Please join me in supporting this effort. Our situation is not hopeless and together we can make it happen.
Americans for Energy Independence
PO box 1151
Studio City, CA 91604
Jim McCleary from FL
4/6/2005 3:08:40 PM
I personally hate how many SUV's are on the road now-a-days. Esp here in FL. It's every other car you see!
Gregory Owens from NC
4/6/2005 10:34:43 PM
We as the richest nation of earth can ill-afford to continue to be hold at an economic disadvantage by OPEC. It is high time that we fight back by limiting our demand for oil and get serious about developing our own energy resources. Everytime oil prices rise, The Bin Laden's goal of harming our economy is achieved.
Darin Yale from FL
4/8/2005 1:21:39 AM
Our Nation faces many grave issues, issues that are very complex and intertwined. I applaud Chris, and any and all supporters of this initiative, in spearheading a move on an issue that is so entrenched with geopolitical corrupt big business. I'll do my best and I encourage others to do the same.
J. Billauer from CA
4/8/2005 2:33:17 PM
I agree Chris, it's about time people take a stand. Carpooling, public transportation, less daily trips, working from home one day a week. Even the smallest contributions on the individual level add up to millions of barrels of crude.
Dave Duerden from OH
4/8/2005 7:33:04 PM
First off, I too applaud Chris for putting his time and money into promoting an issue he believes in. Too few of us in this wonderful free society take advantage of that freedom to influence others' opinions and thereby make the world into our vision of that "better place" that we all talk about.
That said, we do live in a free society, with a free market ecomomy, which is subject to supply and demand, and therefore ultimately guided by the consumer who votes their wants and needs with their feet and back pockets. That freedom to choose the things we do, the things that we buy, and the way we lead our lives is the very thing that has made this the greatest country on earth. Any solution to the specific problem of the trade imbalance in oil, or any of the many other challenges facing us today, must have at it's core maintaining the freedom of our citizens to live their lives as they choose. Freedom is what made us great, and every little thing taken away from us or mandated to us only serves ultimately to make us weak.
In Chris' letter above he seems to place blame firmly and solely on the SUV owner as the perpetrator of all of todays energy woes. All of the large SUV's on the road today, added together, use only a small fraction of the country's total petroleum comsumption. Small cars (which still vastly outnumber SUVs), commercial trucks, buses, trains, airplanes, heating, electric production, industry, petrochemical and plastics all dwarf SUVs in total enery consumption. Even public transportaion (gasp!) consumes huge quantities of petroleum. The SUV is just the whipping boy of the day for pundits who would use this issue to limit our freedom. Granted, many SUV owners do not need an SUV, and could meet their minimum transportation needs with a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle. Apparently, those people want an SUV anyway. They have the economic ability and freedom to buy that SUV and supply it with the more expensive enery required to drive it. That is their right in a free society.
In Chris' letter, he mentions that in 1980 there were only 40,000 SUVs on the road in 1980 and goes on to describe how those numbers have exploded since. What he fails to mention is that this is the same period that the government was forcing us into smaller and smaller cars through the ever increasing CAFE standards. It is my true and long held belief that it is the government itself which has inadverantly forced people into driving SUVs through it's attempts to force us into small economy cars. I owned, drove, and crashed a 1980 Chevette (the "economy car" of the day), and take it from experience, those smaller cars were unsafe little tin cans that folded up at the first hint of a accident, and drove like a go-kart with license plates. In 1980 the average driver had a mid-size to full-size car with a full frame, V8 engine and rear wheel drive, something like a Chevy Caprice for example. We liked and felt safe in this type of vehicle, and probably got 15-20 mpg. Now, these cars are no longer available. They were legislated out of existence by the CAFE standards. But the government's (machiavellian?) scheme backfired. Most SUV drivers who would be perfectly happy with the full-size car of old are now only able to buy a truck or SUV to get that same full frame, V8, rear wheel drive vehicle that we are comfortable in and feel safe driving. The irony is that those full-size cars may have been able to get 25-30 mpg with today's aerodynamics and technology, but instead those drivers are forced into trucks and SUVs with only 8-15 mpg. My, isn't it always great when the government gets involved in the free market with a grand new (machiavellian?) scheme to save us from ourselves.
In closing, none of these points are meant to belittle Chris' main point of energy independence. It is a worthy and neccessary goal in maintaining the long term economic stability of our country. It can only be achieved through a concert of methods which include sensible reductions in vehicle consumption, reduction in home and industrial consumption and developing domestic sources, as well as exerting political and market forces to stabilize the world oil market. Bashing SUV owners is only the politics of the moment, not a solution.
Nick from CA
4/9/2005 5:37:54 PM
Cheers Chris. Like others have written, I respect the fact that rather than just thinking about an issue, you have done something about it. I also like your balanced and well-thought-out view. SUV owners are not evil and our government is not evil. We are just trying to solve a problem (terrorism) in a very ineffective and short-sighted way. I firmly believe that this approach is the only way we can really solve the root of our problems. I hope a lot of people agree.
Scott Merrow from MI
4/12/2005 3:38:48 PM
"The Big Three" oil companies averaged about a %60 increase in profits over 2003 last year. Gold isn't the international currency, oil is. We didn't invade Iraq for any other reason, no matter how many bogus excuses come down the pipeline, than to control the Middle Eastern region and the oil production. We didn't do this to "help" the Iraqi's or even help the average American be able to afford to heat their home. This was done purely for profit. I guess all those lives don't matter when there's billion of $$$$$ to be made. Bush and his cronies are deep in the pockets of the oil companies, this isn't a revelation. Look at the dealings of The Carlyle group, I suggest "Iron Triangle" by Dan Brody, and Haliburton; we all know the connection there. We must free ourselves from oil independance. Not just to relieve our dependance on the Middle East and its trappings, but to free ourselves from our own greed. By the way, how much is a gallon where you are?
Scott Merrow from MI
4/12/2005 3:45:59 PM
PS: I purchased a mountain bike a little over a year ago and ride it nearly every where I go. Not only are we the largest consumers of oil, we are the largest people here in good ol' USA. Everyone else should try it. You can kill two birds with one stone.
Steve Signorelli from CA
4/13/2005 5:02:17 PM
I would personally like to see people enjoy the largest gains with minimal investments.
From what I can tell if Auto manufacturers would make grid-able hybrids, and the people that bought them would get tax deductible low interest loans for installing Photo Voltaic Solar systems it would be a win-win situation.
Our home and automotive energy needs would drop the most during the peak seasons and would help keep prices lower for all of our energy needs while reducing pollution in a huge way. This would also add jobs to the US economy for all the companies that would be installing the PV systems.
Wendy Bell from CA
4/20/2005 11:28:11 AM
There is a fairly simple way most people can start conserving fuel today without investing any money. No one seems to want to talk about it. It is simply to SLOW DOWN! Drive the speed limit. Leave home 5 minutes earlier so you won't feel the need to speed. I think there should be a campaign to convince people that it is patriotic to drive the speed limit. In addition to saving fuel, it would help make the roads safer and cause less stress for everyone. There are so many benefits.
Peter Blackman from AZ
5/5/2005 6:23:57 PM
The technology for making hydrogen from water has been with us since the 70's. Do a search on electrolysers. Forget hybrids. Focus on renewable power and green tags. Image a country and may be even a world free of the need of oil in ten years.
I have been interested in alternative energy for 20 years and the green tag solution really makes sense to me. Check out www.alt-e.biz and click on a rotating globe and if this movement interest you contact me through the website. We do not have to give up our love of the big gas guzzlers.
I worked for 12 years with inventor who had this engine that ran on a 10 degree temperature difference. We were really excited. Well it had some flaws. The point is we found so many uses for this engine it was scary. The hydrogen economy and the evential design of producing cheap hydrogen from renewable energy and we can duplicate all of these things using hydrogen fired piston engines.
Brian Winters from CA
5/23/2005 11:50:04 PM
Natural Gas is a very intriguing option for making us independent of foreign-based fuels. Its cheaper than gasoline, more environmentally friendly and is a resource of North America. Companies are making home filling stations that hook up to your existing home natural gas lines. Honda has a new Civic GX that runs on natural gas. More information is available at http://www.newwavecars.com
GEORGE S from OH
7/5/2005 9:56:43 PM
The 60 doller Oil Has Arived so just in time To Look up the C P Steinemetz Play Book to Transpertation Hydro power stations and to under stand that to get the power of electricity You must Excite The Field and the field of clean Energey to H P Transfer is to be unleashed At Last The math
8/11/2005 6:30:42 AM
Hi there :) Itīs true: high fuelprices are bad for people driving big cars like Hummers or SUVs or so. Thatīs why the average guy in Europe canīt afford cars like that. Itīs not like we wouldnīt _want_ to drive a Jeep Wrangler (we fell for it too*g*) or so, itīs just too expensive. We pay 1,26 per litre here in Germany. At this point Iīd like to stress that 1 litre equals 1/4 gal. Letīs see, so we have 1,26 * 4 = 5 .. letīs multiply this by 1,24 (Euro -> USD conversion) which ends up in: 6,2USD per gal. More independence from oil and more R&D; on alternative ways to produce energy was an advantage for everyone (except the opec *g*) methinks. Cheers, Matthias