Volume 12, Issue 24 ~ June 10-16, 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

It’s All About Us
It’s not only about oil, but also about how we’re wasting it.

Whether on land, water or in the air, we’ve all heard that comment when the subject of the war in Iraq or its aftermath comes up. What happened the other day is an example. I was picking up my daily papers at High’s when those very words came from the mouth of a middle-aged man who pointed out to his companion a story about the latest troubles in that nation.

Then, with the newspaper, mammoth soft drinks and cigarettes just purchased, they hustled outside, hopped into a big Dodge Durango SUV and headed down Fort Smallwood Road up here in North County. I only wish I had not bitten my lip. If I could have run fast enough, I probably would have been alongside the window of his behemoth shouting It’s all about you!

But, once cooled off, I figured what’s the use in flaying a dead horse. As Pogo said “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

We in this country are as much of an enemy of ourselves as are Iraqi terrorists today or that nation itself before the invasion.

Look at the pickle we’re in: possibly — no, make that probably — our economy is more vulnerable than at any time since the Great Depression. Yes, the crux of the problem is oil. Black gold.

Sure, we’ve all heard that old line that if current prices at the pump are adjusted for inflation, gasoline is cheaper than it was back when Nixon was president. But in many ways things are different today.

First, we seem to be more at the mercy than ever of the primary oil producing countries, OPEC. They know they’ve got a good thing going, and they’re not about to let us off the hook. Relations with Middle East nations, from which we import most of our oil are at low ebb, and for reasons beyond the Iraq situation of late. We grumble about our country’s tight relations with Saudi Arabia, but if it wasn’t for the Saudis where would we get the gasoline and diesel necessary for our fuel-guzzling cars, trucks and boats?

Hey, that’s not how could we pay for it, but where would we get what’s necessary to keep our country on track?

Hooked on Oil
Those of my generation can recall the days of World War II when gasoline was rationed. Most drivers had to get by on three gallons a week, which if my figuring is correct would mean a fill up for some SUVs and pickup trucks every seven to eight weeks.

Back then, it wasn’t primarily a shortage of fuel; instead, most of it was set aside for the military or the production and delivery of goods to the military. But the bottom line is that only so much fuel was made available to the citizenry.

We also remember that what did Japan in as much as our successful island-hopping invasions was a shortage of oil in that country for its military and war production. We had the oil, much of it from deep down under American soil. They didn’t — and our warships and planes fueled by our oil saw to it that they couldn’t import it.

Oil is the centerpiece of our lives today; undoubtedly it plays a significant role in both the short- and long-range planning of our leaders, many of whom are criticized for not implementing more strict energy-saving laws and regulations or for considering drilling for the black gold in Alaska. But we can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

We are a much more materialistic society today than we were coming out of the Great Depression prior to Pearl Harbor. We refuse to let the government tell us we can’t run our family vehicles and boats as much as we like. We won’t be told to choose the ones suited to our lifestyle.

Any member of government that cracked down would be voted out of office pronto and replaced by one who would cater to the wishes and whims of those who somehow can’t get it: that there is a bottom to the barrel of oil still left beneath us; that while we’re burning that oil we’re degrading our atmosphere, also things like our Chesapeake Bay, its inhabitants — and even ourselves.

Our economy is at stake, also. Our goods and necessities must be transported to consumers; the more costly the delivery, the more we pay. Homes must be heated or cooled. Energy is consumed to churn out the goods and necessities. The more oil consumed, the higher the price due to competition to get what’s made available by the oil-producing nations.

In recent years we’ve primarily bought big vehicles and boats thirsty for oil; the more we use, the more the competition. Those big guzzlers have another consequence: the more not only do the owners pay, but the more everyone else pays — and not everyone else can afford to pay. We’ve got ourselves in a pickle. And it’s a mighty sour one.

The Taste of the Pickle
How does one dump a fuel-guzzling vehicle these days or in days to come? Surely at no little loss. Who wants to buy it, or a new one, when the numbers on the fuel pump whirl as fast as the fruit icons on a slot machine? We’re beginning to pay for becoming spoiled brats. Just beginning to pay …

Regular gasoline has cracked the $2 a gallon mark; marine fuel is closing in on three bucks. Yet many do without other things to fuel their vehicles and their lifestyles, which of course means they continue to, shall we say, fuel the competition for fuel and fuel the escalating prices.

At the Riviera Beach Shell station earlier today, I encountered another customer who was lamenting that he was being gouged in two or more ways. He was paying for the gas to trailer his boat to Breezy Point, and trailering guzzles fuel. Once there, he would burn fuel to reach the fishing grounds. Once there, he’d have to troll because the fish aren’t schooled up right for chumming yet, which of course means even more fuel. Then there’s the fuel for the trip home.

He figured fuel costs alone, in trailering and trolling, would cost him more than $80. And he’s paying $375 a month for the 27-foot fishing boat and trailer and $300 a month for the big SUV necessary to pull it.

“It’s got me coming and going,” he said. “Seeing I’ve got all that money tied up, I have to use it. And every time I do, it costs me an arm and a leg in fuel. No way can I win.”

One fisherman I know said fishing a recent three-day tournament cost him more than $400 in fuel. He had to travel far to be where the fishing was best, but he didn’t finish in the money.

Many charter skippers have been forced to add extra charges of up to $25 or more for a day trip beyond their usual annual increase to help them offset the outlandish increase in prices at the pump.

Here we are just coming into summer. Vacations are coming up: water and jet skiing, fishing, crabbing, cruising, trips to visit faraway places. Hungry engines are needed both to get us there and to do what we want once there. Most of it all dependent on oil. It’s a pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into, and getting out of the pickle jar just might mean re-thinking our lifestyle, whether we like it or not.

It’s not only about oil, but also about how we’re wasting it. Enough said …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.