Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Big and little oil

The rising price of heating oil ($4.09 per gallon this week here in Massachusetts) coincides understandably with news stories about diminished support for the heating needs of the poor, and coincides terribly non-understandably with the warmth of the winter. The poor are hit with a double whammy: the high prices themselves and cut federal aid programs (one of the many, many costs of smaller government). The oil companies seem to be unconscionable in flouting the laws of capitalism (like certain Republican presidential candidates recently criticizing Mitt Romney for being a capitalist!) which usually suggest that increased supply means decreased prices. Not so when the companies have everyone over a barrel (so to speak).

I've long thought the price of oil has to go up considerably in order for us to make real conservation gains - the portion of the price represented by taxes, that is. I'd also be in favor of regulation of fossil-fuel companies. Make them semi-public, like the utilities, and subsidize those members of the public who can't afford the basic needs of heat. It seems unfair that southern folks get the benefit of regulation for their air conditioners, but northern folk suffer the worst of free-market excess for their furnaces. All of this preaching smacks of socialism, I know, but if Newt and the Ricks (great name for a polka band) can criticize the free market, why can't I?

Of course, unlike other warm-blooded animals, bears, for example, or farmers in the Great Depression, we don't exactly make much effort to maximize our own heat. We don't cuddle together in dens or live in kitchens and leave the bedrooms unheated. Indeed, our houses are really too large for this climate, not to mention poorly constructed. The old houses of New England are a particular problem since it takes more dollars and will than most people have to make them efficient. And we won't go back to caves and woollies, God knows. But how about a little better management of a scarce resource, on levels both environmental and personal? Lack of compassion for those in need and for the earth has no price, but oh, what a cost.

No comments: