America commuted back into the unknown country of $3-plus gasoline and $75-plus oil (per barrel) last week, and President Bush revisted the Tomorrowland of hydrogen cars in the absence of any reality-based response to the global energy crunch that will change all the terms of America's "non-negotiable way of life."
Actually, we are negotiating, or bargaining, as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once put it in describing the sequence of emotional reactions of humans facing certain death:
denial > bargaining > depression > acceptance
Events seem to have dragged us kicking and screaming beyond the sheer denial stage, since this is now the second time in six months that oil and gasoline prices have ratcheted wildly up. Something is happening, Mr. Jones, and now we want to talk our way out of it.
The main thread in this bargaining stage is the desperate wish to keep our motoring fiesta going by other means than oil. This fantasy exerts its power across the whole political spectrum, and evinces a fascinating poverty of imagination in the public and its leaders in every field: politics, business, science and the media. The right wing thinks we can still drill our way out of this, if only the nature freaks would allow them to. The "green" folks thinks that we can devote crops to the production of gasoline substitutes, even though a scarcity of fossil fuel-based fertilizers will sharply cut crop yields for human food. Nobody, it seems, can imagine an American life not centered on cars.
This is perhaps understandable when you consider the monumental previous investment in the infrastructures and equipment for motoring, which includes the nation's car-dependent suburban housing stock -- which in turn represents the average adult's main repository of personal wealth. If motoring becomes unaffordable, then what will be the value of my house twenty-eight miles upwind of Dallas (Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, et cetera)? The anxiety is understandable.
But the problem is not going away. It's not five or ten years down the road -- it's here, now. We're in the zone. We're entering a world of hurt. The pain will ebb and flow, as the pain of a fatal illness ebbs and flows over the days. The price of oil and gasoline will ratchet up and down, but along a discernable upward trendline.
Can we bust out of this narrow tunnel of fantasy? Can we imagine living differently? Can we turn more fruitful imaginings into action before the American scene becomes a much more disorderly place? It would be nice to see President Bush really lead by taking a well-publicized ride on the Washington Metro, or dropping in to visit an organic farm, or signing a bill to increase incentives for small-scale hydro-electricity, or turning loose some federal prosectors on WalMart's human resources department. It would be nice to see the Democrats put aside their preoccupations with gender confusion and racial grievance and start campaigning to restore the US railroad system. It would help to see the science and technology sector return from outer space. Corporate America and its leaders are probably hopeless, but so is the current scale and scope of their operations, and circumstances will decide what they get to do. The mainstream media, representing the nation's collective consciousness, remains in a coma. This morning's electronic edition of The New York Times displays not one home page headline about oil or gasoline prices, despite the trauma of the week just passed.