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The milkshake is almost gone

(Bloomberg )
April 01, 2012|By Stephen Markley, For RedEye

Is there anything more darkly amusing than how Americans think and talk about gasoline prices? It's a discourse that rarely attains the sophistication of a toddler who's dropped a candy bar.

From our politicians to news networks to your average consumer at the Shell station, the collective wisdom of this country when it comes to gas prices still seems to be, "I want magic juice! Make vroom-vroom box go fast!"

Whenever gas prices begin to tick up, we have to put up with the same moronic pontificating on how it will affect an incumbent president's poll numbers and the omnipresent use of the phrase "pain at the pump," as if CNN just now figured out how to use alliteration in its headlines.

First of all, we understand that gas prices should actually be way higher and that we pay for gas in all kinds of ways we don't see at the pump, right?

We pay for our gas in the form of our gargantuan military, whose primary geopolitical objective is protecting the endless networks of wells, pipelines, refineries and autocratic regimes that have kept gas absurdly cheap for over half a century. We pay for it in the carbon emissions that are rapidly accumulating in the atmosphere and changing the climate in dangerous and irrevocable ways. We pay for it in other environmental damage, like the 200 million gallons that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, but which now might as well be the Teapot Dome scandal for all Americans remember or care.

I get that connecting these dots while watching the digital numbers rise rapid-fire on a gas station pump is hardly anyone's first priority. However, in evaluating our infantile view of gas prices, I always have to assume that very few of us have yet reached the grade where we learn the definition of the word "finite."

Oil, you see, is a finite resource (sorry, this means, "No makey more of it; all go bye-bye"). Petroleum demand will only continue to explode in India, China and other rapidly developing countries, while the number of newly discovered reserves will only continue to decline. Politicians offering the solution of "more domestic drilling" are basically hucksters and charlatans offering to fill up your pool by spitting.

In fact, what we now call "oil" isn't even oil in the traditional "There Will Be Blood"sense but a potpourri of crude, tar sands, oil shale and other environmentally devastating sources (meaning, "bad burney sands give Mommy Nature cancer poops"). In the global energy scheme, they are figments of prosperity like the last crappy trees the inhabitants of Easter Island were cutting down right before they all resorted to cannibalism.

It doesn't take a geologist to tell you that these sources will all go bye-bye too, and the only way forward is to replace gasoline with a combination of electrifying automobiles and next-generation biofuels such as the promising fuels derived from algae.

Anyone who talks about drilling is essentially offering more candy to a baby with stomachache—and not even a lot of candy: like the last moist Nerds clinging to the inner cardboard of a long-depleted jumbo box.

REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR STEPHEN MARKLEY IS THE AUTHOR OF "PUBLISH THIS BOOK." REDEYECHICAGO.COM/MARKLEY

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