Saturday, 14 May 2011

"Everything That Rises Must Converge"

I would use two words to describe the hand-wringing over gas prices: Impotence and idiocy

I enjoyed simultaneous amusement and pain after finding a Toronto Sun newspaper on the bus the other day and reading through the first six pages.  Six pages devoted exclusively to hysterical testimonies about how regular, hardworking, honest folks were doing just fine at $1.15 a litre, $1.20 a litre, $1.30 a litre, $1.35 a litre...


This paper being an organ of the right-wing and blithely partisan Sun Media Corp, subsidiary of Quebecor Inc, the blame for this situation in one article was placed squarely at the feet of...Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his evil (HST) harmonized sales tax.  Absent, as usual, was any mention about how he was pressured and browbeaten into adopting this policy by the Conservative finance minister and prime minister in Ottawa. I would hope that most people do not suffer from the extreme myopia that would allow them to accept this explanation, as if this phenomenon was somehow restricted to Ontario.

In another article bearing perhaps a little more journalistic honesty and intellectual rigour, the columnist Joe Warmington tells us he has an inkling that government and oil companies collude through backroom deals and subsidies, which is true, yet still boasts about owning a $100 -per-fill-up SUV.  As if a "mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore" rant gave him license to make a bone-headed vehicle choice and precluded him from taking responsibility for that choice.

There's the rub.  Most people have an either vague or specific notion that the price of gas is the result of a coordinated shaft perpetrated on them by government and industry, yet continue to financially support the arrangement through their choices to drive and to drive frequently.  Yet, through a combination of impotence and idiocy, a refusal to admit they have power to choose, and a willful ignorance of a problem (limited petroleum)that the majority of them are aware of when grilled, the only response they can concoct to this situation (which apparently OUTRAGES them) is to complain.

Joe Warmington's complaints reminded me of the Georgia (State, not country) author Flannery O'Connor's excellent collection of short stories, Everything that rises must Converge.  She got the phrase from a French source which escapes me at the moment, and I'm too lazy to google, because all we need to know is that it surely applies here.  Like the little bubbles rising up here, there and everywhere in your beer that form a uniform white layer of foam at the top, government and industry have been thick as thieves from the start, especially in this industry, the most profitable in human history.

It started back in the 1900s with Rockefeller and his Standard Oil monopoly, which earned him the title "Robber baron" for a reason.  The American government at the time of course left him free to act with impunity, making his family astronomically rich skimming the resource from poor and undeveloped areas.   Today the arrangement in North America is more complex, but only because of the number of parties.  The oil industry in North America is now made up of hundreds of companies, not one man, but still pays very few taxes, has access to a number of subsidies and credits, posts record profits every quarter, and stonewalls any new collectivizing of its wealth by the people's representatives (the government) by saying it would threaten stability, scare investment away and create higher prices which they would be obliged to pass on to consumers.  All that's a fancy way of saying it refuses to pay more taxes. It would make sense for it to, however, since there is no reason that Shell or Suncor or ConocoPhillips has anymore right to the oil in the ground than we do as citizens of Canada.  

Of course, there are no actual attempts at increased taxes for the industry to stonewall, only the possibility that there might be some day, and they are quick to warn against even those imaginary ones, just so you don't get any funny ideas. But they can rest easy; there is no political will in North America at the moment to do this, because the politicians are all on a first name basis with the heads of the oil companies.  Everything that rises must converge.  Power attracts money which attracts money.  It's a known fact and follows logic that the uber-rich of any nation have the political leaders on speed dial, and rare have been those in history who had the courage to let it ring. The whole arrangement is so transparently fraudulent, so clearly the appropriation of resources by multinational corporations who have no legitimate claim to them that it is depressing.  They have brainwashed enough of us with their rhetoric and their perverse reasoning about how they are improving people's lives and acting in the public good that they are too powerful to take on.  So Warmington, you're on the right track but the answer is not to drive your $100 a tank SUV, its to STARVE THE BASTARDS.  Don't buy the poison they're getting rich off you with.

Well, enough keystrokes wasted on that toilet paper of a tabloid.  Because even if the realization of their dream political scenario is complete by fall (Ford in Toronto City Hall, Harper majority, just missing Tim Hudak winning October provincial election), want to know what their holy trinity of clowns is going to do to reduce gas prices?

Absolute jack shit.

Know why?

Simple logic of supply and demand.  New demand for oil is coming online from the third world all the time, and most countries' domestic production is in decline.   Britain's North Sea fields are declining to the tune of 8-12% a year, and China's biggest one is going down 5% per year.  Factor in shipping from further and further locations, additional costs for unconventional sources (like deep sea drilling) and proximity to refineries and, well, oil is probably still too cheap relative to its real cost. As I've reasoned for some time, though, OPEC would rather sell lots even at the last drops than set the price too high and risk reducing demand.

The only thing in Ontario, Canada's governments' power to reduce is the tax on gasoline, but since all three levels of government are in record amounts of debt, it would be suicide to cut off this vital source of revenue.  None of them will admit that in public.  And these taxes are gobbled up by building and maintaining the roads we drive on, administering public transportation ministries, and now, subsidizing the whole shebang, from auto bailouts to musing about subsidizing pipelines to corporate tax reductions.  Cheaper gas today from the bandaid solution of reducing gas taxes, will lead to us being poorer, the oil companies being richer, and more expensive energy tomorrow (this last one is inevitable no matter what).

Yes, the fact that the low hanging fruit has been picked in the world of petroleum production is glossed over by deniers of "peak oil".  I'm sure most people haven't thought about it too much, so I will explain it simply.  The oil is going to run out. The two last resorts that have been planted in your mind over time by the deniers are highly dubious.  "Oh, Saudi Arabia will always bail us out".  Saudi Arabia says it has 260 billion barrels.  It also said it had that much 17 years ago, and has proceeded to sell 46 billion barrels since then.  It's more like 260 billion barrels is the number they don't change, just like you're still the age you were three years ago on that dating website, for the same reason.  It makes them look better.  The truth is, nobody knows how much they have and its not in their best interest to tell us, so when its done its gonna be done quick and suddenly.

Then there's the "Oh, we're Canadian, we have our "ethical oil" tar sands."  Yes, producing 1.4 million barrels a day, all sold to the United States to meet 19% of their daily demand.

Saudi Arabia and Iran practically give the stuff away to their citizens at 9-16 cents per litre.  Of course, they have way larger population segments with no job to go to, never mind commutes, so it isn't as consequential.  But would their papers have the whining and griping that ours do if they allowed their gasoline to be sold at market prices?  With these facts about the oil supply being widely known and available, is there any reason the media feels the need to waste our time on sob-story testimonials?

"I can't drive to work" "My fuel's more than my rent" "There's no public transit where I live".  Well, boo frickety hoo. Cry me a goddamn river.  You're a grown up, you made decisions, now you live with the consequences like we all have to live with the consequences of decisions we make as adults.

We don't need Phds or fancy studies to help us solve this problem.  Where are the simple, childhood common sense lessons? "You don't get something for nothing" "Money doesn't grow on trees" "You made your bed, now sleep in it".

Nobody has taken these messages out of the rising price of gasoline; namely, oil has to come from somewhere, and it doesn't grow on trees (NOT RENEWABLE).  Burning it at the rate we have has all kinds of consequences, and rather than trying to stubbornly kick at a dead horse (but I have to have cheap gasoline for my car!), think about how people used to live before cars were invented.  It wasn't that long ago, and we're going back, driving every single kicking and screaming Toronto Sun reader with us whether they like it or not.

The link that has just been made between widespread cellphone use and the extremely worrisome decline in the bee population should show us that there are consequences to this irrational and ridiculous idea that every person on earth should have a car, a mobile phone, a five bedroom house with 3 LCD Tvs, two laptops, 3 ipads, etc.  At least with cars, we now have these prices which, should they stay for a prolonged period this time, are bound to wake more people up to reality. Everything else won't be long to follow.

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