Under the Sun
On the energy front, the good, the bad and the loss of jobs
If it isn't one thing, it's another.
Take the price of gasoline. Not until a tankful for a fuel-efficient subcompact began sucking $40 to $50 a week from a household budget did people cut back on driving and start organizing trips.
Not until a stop at even the discount Costco pump required a raid at the ATM did Hummer jockeys trade off pseudo-prestige for penny wisdom and a less offensive vehicle.
Call it economic coercion or a realization that adopting conservation as a personal virtue has its rewards, the instant result is a more sensible energy policy than waiting for drilling in wildlife refuges to maybe produce oil with no hope of returning to the days of cheap gas.
Sky-high carbon fuel's silver lining is in lessening the clouds of global warming pollutants. It has triggered businesses and government agencies to reduce energy consumption with methods that will be useful whether electrical power is generated by coal, sun, wind or waves.
Manufacturers are having to weigh shipping expenses against labor costs when deciding to produce goods in foreign countries and some are choosing to be labeled "made in America."
As transportation tolls bring the prices of produce cultivated far away more in line with fruits and vegetables grown closer to their homes, consumers are opting for local rather than exotic. That's good news for Hawaii farmers and for sustaining a larger measure of agriculture in the islands. Still, misguided mega-farm subsidies and biofuel policies have contributed to higher costs for meats and processed and milled products.
Gasoline prices also have commuters rethinking mass transit and though tiresome bouts with heavy traffic are part of that equation, at least people seem more willing to leave their cars in the garage.
But as I said, if it isn't one thing, it's another.
The federal government reports that Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May, the seventh consecutive month of year-to-year decline. The 3.7 percent drop was the third largest in the 66 years since record-keeping began.
Because people are driving less, they aren't buying as much gasoline, and that has sent gasoline tax revenue into a tumble, so much so that in the next fiscal year, highway funds to pay for road projects will fall short. To prop up the highway fund, which will have about $4 billion at year's end -- less than half of the $10 billion spent on the war in Iraq in a single month -- the Bush administration wants to transfer mass transit funds, which the city is counting on to help pay for a new rail system.
The ever-optimistic administration sees no need to raise the 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax, advocating instead "congestion fees" and tolls, taxes with other names. It also proposes privatization and allowing market forces to right the sinking fund, saying market forces have worked to reduce oil prices in recent weeks from record highs about $147 a barrel, as compared to $40 in 2004.
It's one thing to say the old supply-and-demand system has succeeded in tamping down oil prices for now. But it's another to see how the economic volatility has burned hotels, airlines, tourism, retailers and, worst of all, jobs.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org