Simple-mindedness sticks around

If there’s one thing Americans possess more than folks in almost any other country, it’s our amazing ability to boil a complicated, complex issue into one of utter simplicity.

Take gasoline prices for instance. If you’re a critical thinker, you probably think prices are determined by the global market, production, speculation, demand and profiteering. You might get your numbers from folks like the U.S. Energy Information Administration and not Tucker Carlson or a pandering politician. It also means you’re one of about 12 critical thinkers left in America.

However, simple-minded folks can sum up the gasoline price issue by slapping a sticker on a gas pump with President Biden pointing and saying “I did that!”

I’ve seen some of the same sticker-loving folks also claim that President Biden “stopped” oil production when he took office and that’s why gasoline prices are so high and that he’s trying to destroy American oil companies. (I guess they’re talking about folks like Exxon, Chevron and Shell — each of which made record profits in 2021 while pretending to be as sad as you about rising gas prices. And if you think their 2021 annual profits were vulgar, wait ’til you see how they do in the first quarter of 2022. They’ll be crying all the way to the bank … probably in the Cayman Islands.)

To be clear, America remains the world’s top producer of petroleum products … by far. We still produce 20 percent of the world’s liquid petroleum products — 18.6 million barrels per day. We produced 11.185 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2021 compared to 11.283 million in 2020. In other words, the production is virtually unchanged from Trump’s last year in office to Biden’s first year in office — and, in fact, production was higher in Biden’s first year than in Trump’s first two years in office.

Around 40 percent of U.S. oil production goes to countries outside the U.S. during any administration anyway. It’s a global market. That’s why even though we get very little oil from Russia, the current situation in Ukraine has exacerbated gas prices here — just as gas prices jump 25 cents here if a guy trips over and spills a bucket of oil in Saudi Arabia. It’s also why whoever advised Joe Biden that he should tout the International Energy Agency’s releasing of 60 million barrels of oil from strategic reserves — including 30 million in the U.S. — should be fired. Not only was it a literal drop in the bucket on a global market, but gas prices in the U.S. shot up 10 cents the next day. Why? Because that kind of thinking is way too simple.

Then there’s the simplistic argument that if only Biden hadn’t stopped construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, we could be energy independent right now. Yes, I’m sure a pipeline owned by a Canadian company that would take oil from sands in Alberta through new miles of pipeline on its way to the Gulf Coast where it would ultimately join the global market supply would have been a huge help. While the Keystone XL would have had a capacity to transport 800,000 barrels per day of unrefined oil, there’s no reason to believe that we would get more than the current 500,000 barrels a day from Canada that now comes into the U.S. by rail and other pipelines and, yes, ultimately joins the global market. Although, yes, U.S. refineries would get an economic boost and potentially increase their already record-breaking profits. In other words, the Keystone XL as a solution is nothing but a pipe dream.

Shared with me by a friend, this sticker might be more explanatory.

The sticker-bearing crowd also loves to spout simplistic things like how Trump “gave us $1.80 gasoline, but at least we don’t have to deal with those mean Tweets anymore. Ha-ha, I made a funny.” Gas averaged just under $2.00 per gallon for all of two months of his 48-month presidency — in April and May of 2020. Yes, that was nice. Of course, that was also during a second quarter that saw a 32 percent drop in U.S. GDP, the largest in our nation’s history. It also followed a brief period when the price of oil fell below $0 per barrel. In other words, when you were bragging about paying only $1.80 for gas, you were doing so for gasoline that was truly worth about 25 cents per gallon. And you weren’t going anywhere anyway.

But that was during the early days of the pandemic, right? It was when our leadership thought the case count would go from 15 to 0 and that possible solutions included drinking bleach and shining flashlights up our backsides. True. And that crushed demand.

Ah, demand. Apparently, demand is a pretty darn key factor in the price of oil and gasoline. As the bleach in our tummies settled and the economy roared back, Americans got right back to the business of guzzling oil like a Jimmy Buffett fan swills tequila on National Margarita Day. (Just 345 days away if you’re counting down with me.)

Americans are back to consuming 19.6 million barrels of oil per day — more than China and India combined. The United States — a country with 4.5 percent of the world’s population — demands a whopping 20.3 percent of its oil. We don’t need to drill more. We need friends and neighbors like Mexico, The Bahamas, Bermuda and Jamaica to sit us down and say, “We’re all here because we love you, and we’re worried about you.” We need an intervention.

We can’t drill or pump our way out of this. We’ve got to cut back on the oil-drinking problem. The reason the Possum Holler Liquor Store was so expensive back home wasn’t because they couldn’t get more liquor delivered. It was because with the Bumpkin family alone — Jimmy Bob, Johnny Ray, Sally Ann, Bertha Mae, Mary Jo, Ralphie Ralph and Wally Earl — they knew the demand for their product was insatiable. And when the Bumpkins thought they’d solved their problem by building a still in their backyard, they figured an even better solution was to build a second one. Then a third. Now they have 13 stills, three blind uncles and a whole new generation of liquored-up Bumpkins.

In short, the problem isn’t as simple as one person, be it Biden or Putin or Trump, Mr. Exxon or Johnny Ray Bumpkin. It’s as complicated as all of us put together. We need to drastically cut our demand. We need fewer people driving to the office and more telecommuting. We need less flying across the country for stupid meetings that could have been an equally effective waste of time on Zoom. We need more public transportation. We need fewer gas-guzzling monster trucks. We need more electric vehicles and more green energy. We need a moonshot to build batteries that store energy 100 times more effectively than they do today. We need renewable, alternative fuels. We are likely to run out of usable crude oil on this planet sometime this century, so we might want to get ahead of this issue for a change instead of waiting until three days before the last drop of oil is extracted.

We can’t kick this oil can down the road the same way we’ve done with climate change and the national debt until the problems are virtually unfixable. But that’s exactly what folks are doing.

Fortunately, I have a simple solution to the gasoline price problem that doesn’t even require stickers: We need some 12-year-old (possibly named Billy) to win his science fair by developing cold fusion. The next day, gasoline would be about 3 cents per gallon — about 2 cents more than it would actually be worth.

Unless, of course, Exxon pays Billy $10 billion out of their current record profits to obtain exclusive rights to Billy’s Mr. Fusion machine and price-gouges us all out of a possible solution. Unfortunately, though, I’m afraid that’s the American way.

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