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Oil Addiction

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Oil Addiction

Op-ed in The American Spectator

When cocaine prices
shot up last year, White House Drug Czar John Walters touted it as "the
best evidence" that the War on Drugs was working.

So when gas
prices were shooting up this year, we ought to have heard cheers from
those who claim we're addicted to oil. They should have pointed to
those record gas prices as a sign that we're winning the war on oil
addiction. But instead of celebrating, they've been gnashing their
teeth.

President Bush isn't leaping for joy, even though he gave
the oil-addiction phrase its highest imprimatur when he used it in his
2006 State of the Union speech. The metaphor is now everywhere, from
the lips of politicians to the covers of national magazines. Tom
Friedman has a new documentary titled Addicted to Oil, and T. Boone Pickens uses the phrase to promote his windmill plan.

But
unlike our Drug Czar's reaction to high cocaine prices, these people
express very little actual joy over the high price of gas. Congress may
have embraced the oil-addiction phrase, but when it recessed for the
summer it was preoccupied with how to bring gas prices down.

Nor are too many environmentalists dancing in the streets over high gas prices. Al Gore's We Can Solve It campaign is running full-page ads about $5 a gallon gas, but those ads don't celebrate this prospect -- they bemoan it.

Gore
himself probably favors high gas prices, but he plays both sides of the
fence in his public pronouncements. On the one hand he wants to tax oil
for its alleged environmental harms. On the other hand, he pushes
plug-in hybrids as a way to quickly lower gas prices by reducing demand.

Why is he so coy on the subject?

OPPONENTS
OF OUR so-called oil addiction certainly spout enough rationales for
their views. It's bad for the environment. It encourages urban sprawl.
It undermines local agriculture by bringing us out-of-season produce
from faraway places at low cost.

But if these people are
sincere, then why don't they openly admit that high prices are the
solution to these and other alleged problems. High gas prices push
people out of large SUVs into cars, and out of cars onto mass transit.
Isn't that exactly what environmentalists have been urging for years?

When
the War on Drugs succeeds and cocaine prices rise, you don't see the
Drug Czar proposing government subsidies for addicts. I don't like his
mission, but at least he's honest on this point. He's not out there
disrupting supplies one day and then helping addicts pay for their
fixes the next.

The same can't be said, however, of warriors on
oil addiction. Consider green businessman Joseph P. Kennedy II. His
nonprofit Citizens Energy Corporation pushes an environmentalist agenda
of reduced energy use, wind power, and carbon offsets. But it also has
a campaign of giving discount heating oil to the poor and elderly.

You
might have seen its ads on TV, such as the one where a poverty-stricken
mother and child, freezing in their unheated home, is saved by Joe and
his delivery truck, bringing them oil at 40 percent off.

But
why is Joe bringing them oil at all, let alone cheap oil? Shouldn't he
be bringing them solar panels or manuals on energy conservation, or
perhaps a gold star for this family's low carbon footprint? Why is he
supporting their oil habit instead of helping them break it?
(Ironically, given the notoriety of South American drug sources, Joe's
discount oil comes from Venezuela.)

FANS OF CHEAP gas are
much more honest. They don't hide their relief when gas prices drop.
The recent price dip made consumers smile a bit, truckers breathe
easier, and the stock market rise.

I smiled too. I remember the
last time I scored gas for under $2 a gallon. It was a sunny day in the
fall of 2006, after a summer of what then seemed to be painfully high
prices approaching $3. I came across a gas station near Centreville,
Virginia, selling regular at $1.98.

After all the incessant
yammering about how "the era of cheap gas is over," filling up at that
price was transcendentally lovely. I even celebrated by squirting a few
drops at a colleague standing nearby. He didn't get wet, but he
understood the gesture -- it was a toast to life. And regardless of
whether gas ever gets that cheap again, it seems clear to me that
cheaper is better.

And it's probably even clearer to those who
live in less fortunate countries. Dr. John R. Christy is a highly
credentialed scientist and a longtime critic of global warming
alarmism. He's also personally familiar with what it means for people
to live without affordable energy.

Christy wrote in the Wall Street Journal
last November, "My experience as a missionary teacher in Africa opened
my eyes to this simple fact. Without access to energy, life is brutal
and short."

If wishing for cheap energy and for the better life it brings makes us addicts, then more power to us.

Sam Kazman is general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit free-market advocacy organization in Washington DC.