Saturday, 4 June 2011

Oranges Grow On Trees.

Note: this is long, and rambling. Scroll to the bottom for the main point.

America’s big. It’s huge. I get that, and it’s one of the things I love about this country. There’s a reason that for almost 700 years the Canterbury Tales was the only example of the road trip genre. America came along, and the way we see the journey got a whole lot more interesting. Before the twentieth century, travelling was hard, gruelling and more often than not your ox died of dysentery. Or something. Then we got cars, but in Europe there were winding country roads, inconvenient shepherds and the English motorway system. Cities grew out of towns which grew out of villages which built up around farms, churches and pubs. There wasn’t much logic to the layouts and so cars had a hard time. You couldn’t go fast, and couldn’t take a whole lot of pleasure in the journey.

Then Europe got quarrelsome, and America got rich and prosperous by supplying grain, steel and eventually men, to help the cause of people in the Old Countries who couldn’t remember what their differences were but were determined to settle them, however many bodies it took.

Around this time, an unscholarly man named Henry Ford came upon a way of making cars cheaply, primarily by eliminating skilled work and boring workers to death by performing the same individual task all day every day. We call this progress. “The American restlessness took on a new force,” as Mr Steinbeck put it. “No one was satisfied with where he was; he was on his way someplace else.” So the American psyche, faced with prosperity, propulsion and a whole lotta country in which to enjoy these two things, developed the idea of the road trip. This was a natural progression from the excitement of the frontier and the disappointment of the end of it. Add to that the stunning mountains, plains, lakes, deserts, oceans and, uh, trees, that needed Hollywood to come along to be called “cinematic” and the American Dream had a Landscape. Which is something to be Explored. So America likes cars, is what I’m saying.

Which was fine and dandy and kept those mustachioed men in the Southwest in bowling pins and goats’ milk (my knowledge of the early oil trade is limited to There Will Be Blood) while they drilled up huge quantities of sticky black goo from deep underground, where it was bothering nobody and contemplating the ridiculousness of life - one moment you’re swimming along with your plankton buddies, trying to avoid getting eaten by gigantic prehistoric whales, a pretty simple kind of life, the next, you’re dead, then millions of years later you’re still dead, hanging out and waiting for someone to come along and name the rocks that you call home “Texas.”

So the oil gets sucked out of the ground, gets warmed through in huge towers called distilleries, with none of the pleasant connotations that name has in, say, the Scottish Highlands, and then processed into petroleum, a liquid that the decidedly contrarian and illogical Americans call “gas.”

Soon, all that lovely Texas Tea wasn’t enough to feed the habit of Americans, so they looked abroad, to countries where camels were still the in thing, and they made some big families very rich. Blah blah, Middle East, politically unstable, religiously fractious, big money, cities built on sand, moral lessons etc.

The point is, right now wars are being fought, and the prize is oil. Oh, argue all you like about whether Iraq (oil), Afghanistan (pipelines) etc were directly to do with all this mineral energy, or whether they’re just convenient outcomes of other situations, but that’s the reality.

So we dig crude oil from the ground in countries where women aren’t allowed to drive and homosexuals aren’t allowed to exist (or from so far underwater that only a Dick would think it sensible to drill), ship it around the world in enormous tankers which have a worrying tendency to run aground and mess up some pretty large areas of wildernesses previously unspoilt (and Louisiana), refine the crap out of it, get some nice plastics as a by-product, and haul it out to gas stations all over America. And people complain that is costs $4 a gallon.

Four dollars a gallon. The other day I did a quick check in the supermarket. Milk is roughly the same prices, and there are cows in pretty much every county of every state. Orange juice is between $6-7 a gallon. More, relatively, if you buy it in smaller quantities, but let’s keep it simple.

I need to repeat this because I have rambled by way of introduction, and this is the crucial point here. Gasoline: $4 a gallon. Orange juice $6-7 a gallon.

The process that begins with politics/war > digging > global transportation > refining > more transportation concludes with a product that is roughly 2/3 the price of something THAT LITERALLY GROWS ON TREES.

Let's look at that again. You go to Florida, or Southern California (this is the obvious downside), pick a load of oranges off a tree, come back in a few months' time, and there are more oranges on the same tree. You take oil out of the ground, and once it's gone, you can't take any more from the same spot.

Then the same Americans who argue for deregulation of industry and corporations are demanding that the government do something about gas prices. Logic doesn’t stand a chance, really, does it?

Henry Ford’s other claim to fame is the phrase “history is bunk”. If you’re complaining about gas prices, do yourself a favor and listen to the man who started it all. Ignore history. Ignore the fact that in the past gas was unsustainably cheap. Accept that we now live in a world where supplies are dwindling, the environment is suffering, and public transportation is only limited by how much the public actually wants to use it. Don’t demand cheaper gas from the government, because it’s unreasonable, unrealistic and makes you look like ungrateful morons to the rest of the world. Demand better public transportation and remind the politicians who pays their wages and who is responsible for them being in office. Not the lobbyists, not the oil companies though they may provide some nice incentives. Remember, the gifts are flowing only as long as the people are willing to vote for you. The oil won’t flow forever. Deal with it.

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