News so good, no one is treating it as news

Sometimes, there is news so outside the bounds of what we believe to be the “reality narrative,” we don’t even hear it; or if we do, we dismiss it as it obviously, is wrong. For example, this weekend my wife and I were commenting on the rising price of gasoline and I said it would be good for the U.S. economy because we now export more gasoline than we import.

“No way,” she responded. And, frankly, since I wasn’t sure where I’d picked up that factoid and using the wisdom one masters in 35 years of marriage, I immediately said, “You know, that does sound ridiculous. I must have heard that wrong.”

So earlier tonight, as I was driving home from work, I was very glad to hear on NPR’s All Things Considered, this story about the U.S. becoming in 2011, a net exporter of gasoline for the first time in 50 years. I decided to blog about it rather than telling my wife, “I told you so.”

As with any good news, I’m sure there are economists who will explain why being less dependent on foreign gasoline is something negative for our economy. And then, there will be environmentalists who will say it’s too little, too slowly. And Democrats who will want to give Obama credit for the reduction on our dependency of foreign gasoline. And Republicans who will say it’s Obama’s fault the economy is so bad that no one can afford gas.

But what’s surprising me about this good news is that so few people are saying anything about it at all.

In 2008, on this blog, I went off topic with a rant because I grew so tired of hearing day-after-day-after-day that the “energy crisis could not be solved.” In that rant, I wrote that nay-sayers who did not believe we could find energy from somewhere other than the middle-east and from sources other than crude oil were acting, “as if CO2 usage and our dependency on crude oil is somehow unique among every challenge faced and overcome in the history of humankind.”

I felt then, and continue to, that lessening our dependency on crude oil is the lynchpin to solving a whole host of economic, geo-political and environmental issues faced by the U.S. and the world. I feel this is doable — not by one big wave of a magic wand, but by lots of little things that can lessen our use of crude oil a few percentage points here, and few percentage points there.

Here’s some more from that 2008 post:

  1. When you’re my age and you’ve gone through at least three “energy crises,” ten years doesn’t seem like that long. (Note: I was reacting to the pundits who opposed any idea because, “it wouldn’t have any impact for a decade.”)

  2. It may not work, but what we are doing now doesn’t work either.

  3. The solutions that we find for cutting our demand for oil will also work for other countries’ demand. Do the people in those other countries want to depend on foreign oil? Are they going to repeat all the mistakes we’ve made during the past 50 years?

  4. Depending so much on ONE source of energy is what got us into this fix. We shouldn’t be seeking ONE source that will supply 100% of the needs — we need to find 20 different sources that supply 5% each.
     
  5. We should do everything to protect the environment, but what we’re doing to it now is horrific. Every day of debate over hypothetical harm to the environment extends the length of time we’ll be actually harming it.

So here we are today. I think we’re still too dependent on crude oil. I’m not an economist, but I do know this about the economy: the fact that gasoline prices are going up right now is temporarily bad, but will be a good thing if it makes us continue to do things that can push down our dependency on oil.

My friend Jay Graves recently purchased a natural-gas powered Honda Civic. Over the weekend, he drove it from Nashville to Birmingham and, all told, covered about 500 miles. This morning, he told me that he got around 38 miles per “gallon equivalent” and that the cost of a “gallon equivalent” was less than $1.30. In other words, the energy cost for the trip was less than $20.

If you want to argue with Jay about things like, “but it costs $6,000 more than a gas-powered Civic,” I’ll warn you: He’s the kind of guy who can tell you precisely the month and odometer reading that his car will start providing an ROI on that cost differential. He’s my hero, that way. (Downside of owning a natural-gas vehicle: You have to know precisely where and when you can “gas” us.)

Natural gas cars, hybrids, electric cars, bicycles, solar panels, public transportation, walking. Frankly, I don’t care that it will take all of these ways and many more to remove our addiction to crude oil. And I don’t care if it takes five years or 25 years or 50.

The more we head in that direction, the better off we’ll all be.

And whether you believe it or not (and again, I’m sure there are economists who will say it’s a bad thing), we will all benefit from the journey, and from reaching the destination.

[Confession: Since that 2008 post, I have purchased a vehicle that uses less gas, but I haven’t switched to the alternative fuel car that I have my eyes on.]

  • Heinz

    What surprises me is that noone asked: Why import oil at all if you export it again?

  • In the story, an interesting dilemma is discussed that answers your question. The U.S. doesn’t have the ability to pipe oil from places it is abundant to places where it is scarce. For that reason, the oil from the Gulf of Mexico and other Southern sources is able to supply the region and have excess that is exported to South America. Alaska and western sources can supply the west and still have capacity to export to Asia. The northeast must import. That’s why we must both export and import. We’re not like *one* country when it comes to oil. Apparently, that’s always been true. The only difference now is that net, net, we export more than import.

  • grant little

    Hmm… oil and gasoline are not the same thing. My understanding is that the USA still imports around twice as much oil as it exports. Choose USA from the drop down here: 
    http://mazamascience.com/OilExport/   Also it seems that exporting gasoline from imported oil counts towards the stat you quote.  Interesting nevertheless..

  • Thanks. I tried hard to be precise with the words I used and the stats I was referring to. And I admitted in the post that everything I said could likely be countered with some statistics  or theories that will explain the opposite of what I was saying. However, here are two encouraging signs as it comes to the automobile and fossile fuel in the form of gasoline: We export more  gasoline than we import — something we haven’t done since the 1940s. Perhaps more importantly, part of the reason for this change is that U.S. drivers use 11% less gasoline than our all-time record for gasoline usage. There is no one reason why — only lots of reasons that are trends that will continue, even as the economy improves. 

  • Jim Voorhies

    I recall all of those energy crises – and that’s both good and bad – and learned from them. I remember seeing lines snaking down the road for miles with people waiting to get gas and only being able to buy gas on alternate days. My response was predictable for someone as tight as I am. Except for two exceptions (both of which we got rid of quickly), we’ve never had a car that got less than mid-thirties for mileage. Both of ours do now. We built a home with 6″ of insulation and another inch of foam back in the 80s and had energy bills half the cost of houses much smaller than ours.

    The next car we get will be at least that efficient, and hopefully more so. Unfortunately, once you get a car with that good a mileage, it’s hard to make much more of a dent in the gas costs because the options for higher mileage aren’t that many. I just wish the hybrids or the Leaf cost a little less. I’d be much happier paying around $20K for one. 🙂