The Good News About Rising Oil Prices | Seventh Generation
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The Good News About Rising Oil Prices

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Author: the Inkslinger

There’s no question that the current oil crunch is making it painful for most of us to visit the gas pump. But is there a silver lining in the clouds of this energy storm? Some experts think so.

Rising oil prices are creating an ideal economic climate for long-sought change. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer miles in April of 2008 than they did in the same month in 2007. Others estimate that in the first half of 2008, motorist miles fell by 30 billion compared to the same period in the prior year

With our cars staying in park, we’re also flocking to mass transit. The American Public Transportation Association says that commuters and others took some 10.3 billion trips on public transportation in 2007, the most in 50 years. Ridership grew 3.3% in the first quarter of 2008.

When we do decide to drive, we’re now picking different vehicles, and some long-standing trends are suddenly shifting into reverse. General Motors, home of the environmentally deplorable Hummer, reported that truck and SUV sales fell 27% in April. Ford, maker of the Explorer, reported a 36% drop in sales in the same category but a 44% increase in demand for its fuel-efficient Focus. Meanwhile at Toyota, car sales are up 12% thanks to the subcompact Yaris and efficient Prius.

That’s all great news for a world looking to quickly reduce its carbon footprint, and there are other promising developments as well.

The financial community is experiencing what the London Times recently called a burgeoning “gold rush” in alternative energy investment. According to the United Nations, funding for green technologies grew by 60% last year, and a record-setting $144 billion dollars will be invested in 2008. The U.N. believes the figure will grow to about $444 billion a year by 2012.

As vital funding begins to flow, all kinds of things are beginning to happen, some of which challenge the imagination. Lotus Engineering, for example, has created a process to manufacture clean-burning alcohol-based fuel from CO2 and created a car to go with it. The development suggests a coming day of ultimate carbon neutrality in which automotive pollution and atmospheric waste would be transformed into a valuable energy resource that both powers the world and halts climate change.

Elsewhere, Columbia University geophysics professor Klaus Lackner has proposed the use of carbon-eating “trees,” which would stand up to 1,000 feet tall and be laced with scaffolding containing sodium hydroxide, a chemical that can strip carbon dioxide out of the air. An area the size of a 20-inch television screen could remove the carbon produced by the average American and a single tree would remove the carbon created by 15,000 cars. Each tree would be paired with a windmill that would produce up to 3 megawatts of power and make the system self-sustaining.

Energy isn’t the only necessity the petroleum market is forcing in new and healthier directions. The chemical industry is also highly dependent on this diminishing raw material, and as prices rise, it is increasingly turning to renewable natural resources instead.

According to the Economist, chemurgy is making a comeback. A 1930s term for chemical processes that turn agricultural crops into useful materials, chemurgy was big business in the pre-oil era but fell by the wayside as petroleum became cheaper than products like soy, corn, and hemp. With petroleum prices beginning to strain profit margins, companies of all kinds are rediscovering the many advantages that plant-based chemistries offer. Indeed, the number of patents now being filed annually for biotechnology processes and products has passed the 20,000 per year mark, and McKinsey, an international consulting firm, believes that chemurgy will become a $100 billion industry within three years.

As the rising price of oil spurs these and other developments and makes alternative energy sources like wind and solar cost-competitive, we can look forward to a world that grows more sustainable every day. That may not take all the sting out of your next fill-up or fuel bill, but we can all take comfort in the fact that the high costs we’re facing today are certainly lowering the far greater environmental bills we’d otherwise have to pay tomorrow.

Photo: marvin908


dixiejean picture
We need a peoples car and we need it now. Our government should compensate car manufacturers car by car for every one they make until they sell so many that it won't be necessary. I miss my Geo Metro which I drove here in Maine for 14 years. She got 50+ mpg (5 speed, 1 litre, 3 cylinders. She was peppy, fit anywhere, and once I even had a dresser inside the hatchback!
saturn69 picture
Well, apparently you had nothing better to do than to criticize our posts, so no....we had nothing better to do. And yes, I read the whole article, I just felt that the mention of GM in a negative light versus a positive spin on Toyota is getting old, especially when we are the ones to blame - they'll only make what we'll buy. And, for near 20 years it was SUV's.
puglogic picture
So the article was supposed to provide a manufacturer-by-manufacturer recap of "who's good, who's bad" ? Did you bother to read the rest of it, by the way? perhaps you were too busy getting your knickers in a knot about poor poor GM? One sentence about Toyota with a positive spin, and your eyes go all bloodshot and bulgy? Fine, here, I'll play, -- why didn't 7Gen just make the article five times as long, and play judge and jury on everyone who makes cars, all around the world. That would just be SO much more interesting. Don't you guys have anything better to do?
SBaumgartner picture
As in all things, both sides have pluses and minuses. I was disappointed in 2006 when I discovered the Prius I ordered would be shipped from Japan. I was also disappointed when Toyota went along with the Big 3 to fight tighter mileage controls. However, on the positive side, I believe the Japanese fleets have overall higher MPG than the American ones. I have also discovered the Japanese cars I have owned have lasted longer and with significantly less need for repair. GM tried an electric car in the 80's but the program was terminated and all cars and technology relating to it were withdrawn from the market. The Big 3 have continued to claim fuel cells are the future, however it all seems to be a means to appease the world without any actual changes to their programs. Change can be frightening but Americans have historically been known for creativity and drive. I believe we can create a new order that will benefit us all and I think we can all look forward to the changes we can create.
saturn69 picture
"General Motors, home of the environmentally deplorable Hummer, reported that truck and SUV sales fell 27% in April. Ford, maker of the Explorer, reported a 36% drop in sales in the same category but a 44% increase in demand for its fuel-efficient Focus. Meanwhile at Toyota, car sales are up 12% thanks to the subcompact Yaris and efficient Prius." Perhaps we should ask how far Toyota truck sales dropped as well. Why is it GM is always the bad guy? Didn't Toyota just spend 1.2 Billion building a factory in Texas to build it's full-size Tundra pickup? Yes, yes they did. Does Toyota not spend hundreds of millions to advertise their Sequoia, LandCruiser and RAV4 SUV's? Yes, they do. Does not Toyota own Lexus, which sells not one single vehicle that can get an EPA fuel economy rating higher than 29mpg? Yes, they do. Why are we so quick to jump on GM, Ford or Chrysler while turning a blind eye to all the fuel-INefficient vehicles that Toyota makes? I think it is because the Prius is the Jesus Christ of the automotive world. Yep. If you build a Prius and accept it, all your other, numerous, prolific automotive sins are forgiven and/or forgotten. Just because Toyota sells the Prius does not mean they could care less about profit, and until recently, that profit was found in full-size trucks and SUV's. That is why Toyota jumped feet first into the full-size truck market. That is why Toyota, along with the Domestic Big-3, was against new CAFE standards. There is no profit in compact cars. Let's at least be fair in our criticism of the auto manufacturers. Selling 100K Prius' a year does not, nor should not, absolve Toyota of our criticism for the other fuel-thirsty vehicles that it sells. Am I talking to the wrong crowd?
Seventh Generation picture
Seventh Generation
We feel the same way -- We love Toyota. But Should We?
sallyintucson picture
I have read in my local newspaper that high fuel costs are focing some companies to bring their jobs back to the United States. It's now too expensive to have their products made half way around the world and ship it back home for sale. That brings jobs back to American. Hurray! I'm glad the 'clean' energy stocks are rising. This means that not-so-rich-people like myself will be able to afford to go solor as the prices decrease. I've lived in Tucson Arizona since 1974. In a place where you get full sun most of the year, you'd think that this would be the solar capital of the world, right? Wrong. There's a state law preventing local electric companies from selling or installing solar power. Astonishing.... I called TEP (Tucson Electric Power) to see what they offered. First, I was asked just WHY I wanted to use solar energy. "Simple", I replied. "I don't want to pay for the rate hike that's coming up this year. because the cap is being taken off. Everybody living here knows why TEP went bankrupt." (TEP had it's rates frozen for 10 years when it went bankrupt. Bad management is an understatement.) "WE DIDN'T GO BANKRUPT!!!!" screached the operatory. "Um, OK... Enlighten me. Just what DID happen?" "I'm not on the phone to talk about that!" I was asked if I wanted a list of companies who sold the panels. Period. After recieving the list in the mail, it was clear that these prices were way over my head. Too bad that my local electric company would rather spend the money for using dirty coal than clean sun power, isn't it?