What happens when the gasoline station is on empty?
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Apr 25, 2008, 00:15

For those of you lucky enough to have outlived the OPEC oil embargo on the US in late October of 1973; you who remember driving up to the pump and the attendant (remember them) shrugging his shoulders, sorry, pal, we�re out. And then there were the lines, long enough to be for free food, to suck up the black gold so you could get your butt where you needed to be. But those lines seemed to take forever, like the embargo.

In fact, the embargo was issued when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries OAPEC (OPEC) was engaged in the ongoing Yom Kippur War with Israel (what else was new). And OPEC was enraged that the US, its European allies and Japan had supported Israel in its conflict with Syria and Egypt. Of course, there�s nothing like the suppliers pulling up stakes to make the gasoholics totally nuts.

When the embargo first hit, my future wife and I were on the way to the Berkshires. It was fall, leaves were changing, and it was chilly. We�re anxious to get to the lake house. But even the lights were out on usually lit parkways. It was genuinely spooky, like the night America went dark. Not only were the gas stations on empty, they were dark, too. We had to stop and sleep in a motel in Connecticut. The next morning, the owner shared with us enough gallons of his private stock to make our way to the Berkshires and fill �er up. What a decent man.

Who knew it was an omen of the future, even as its coming is noted in the brilliant 2005 DVD, A Crude Awakening -- Oil Crash, produced and directed by award-winning European journalists and filmmakers Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack. What they predict now, and what you must look at, occurred back then. The West couldn�t keep increasing its gas use (then by 2 percent annually), pay the low prices, then turn around and sell inflation-priced goods to the Third World. It was like an omen of things to come.

Even the conservative Shah of Iran told the New York Times in 1973, �You [Western nations] increased the price of what you sell us by 300 percent, and the same for sugar and cement . . . You buy our crude oil and sell it back to us, refined as petrochemicals, at a hundred times the price you�ve paid to us . . . It�s only fair that, from now on, you should pay more for oil. Let�s say ten times more.� Believe me, nobody was laughing or asking for a bigger Japanese car. We were driving a tiny, tinny leased Datsun, not exactly a gas-guzzler.

Fortunately, by March 17, 1974, six months of hell later, the Arab oil ministers, except Libya's, announced the end of the embargo against the US. Goodie, we had a pass. Next summer we�d rent that bigger roomier Chevy Nova. How quick we forget, which is one of the undying points of A Crude Awakening -- Oil Crash. How we went through a hundred and fifty years of American oil to feed this industrial, military, giant, to expand out of cities, rip them apart with highways so we could infest the suburbs, rural areas and Shangri-las of the mind. Or was that the America Dream? No limits, to the moon, Alice!

In fact, from the 18th Century on, the planet population multiplied six times to the 70s' 2 billion. Back in Jesus� day, there were only 350 million on the planet. We became the oil-guzzling paradigm for the world. Drink some oil. It builds strong bodies eight ways. No, wait. That was Wonder Bread. Same difference. The more oil we had, the more of everything we seemed to do, including procreating, recreating, and war making.

Of course, now China, going through the boom of its ancient life wants to be us, but bigger, better, richer, even more indulgent. I suppose I can�t blame them after the centuries of bottom feeding under this emperor or that. But take a look at the article China�Inside the Dragon in the May issue of National Geographic. Note the incredible growth, thanks largely to an increase of 25 percent in oil in a year that is continuing to fuel industrial and population growth. Some statistics . . .

An estimated 150 million people have left the countryside to work in factories in the cities. China�s now the world�s largest consumer of grain, meat, cola and steel. Shanghai is captioned as �A City on Fire,� its streets and skyscrapers burning with the electric fire of capitalism. One of every 20 dollars of China�s GDP is generated there, and a fifth of the nation�s exports, up 500 percent in real value since 1992, pass through its gates. Behind it all is the oil and coal to light the fire.

In fact, �China is expected to overtake the US as the world�s largest economy in 10 years. China has the world�s highest number of annual deaths triggered by air pollution. Urban Chinese earn more than three times as much as those in rural areas, the highest income gap since the start of reforms in 1978. Public protests rose by 50 percent last year. One in four residents of Beijing is a migrant from the country. Sixty-seven percent of millionaires surveyed say they are sacrificing health for money.�

Interestingly �China has the world�s largest number of Internet users -- 220 million. Authorities have added 171 new pop culture phrases to China�s national language registry. Thirty-one percent of Chinese 16 or older say they are religious, four times the official estimate a decade ago. Cellphones in China have grown from 87 million in 2000 to 432 million today. Thirty-two percent of Chinese say the Internet broadens their sex life, compared with 11 percent in the US.� Well, we�re jaded, having had so much experience in the medium. But it all adds up to more power-usage.

�China recently surpassed Japan as the second largest car market, after the US Car Culture has already transformed daily life, with wildly popular car clubs, self-driving vacations, and drive-through eateries, not to mention traffic jams and eye-stinging smog.�

Sound familiar? Eleven million, 500,000 Chinese own cars. China is the world�s number one in Rolls-Royce sales, the most popular model going for $397,000. And catch this, 96 percent of the people pay for their wheels in cash. Chinese expressways to be finished by 2008 could circle the Equator one and a half times. Throw in a few tollgates and you have pure hell, Chinese-style.

Another National Geographic article, Bitter Waters, tells us, �The proliferation of factories, farms, and cities -- all products of China�s spectacular economic boom -- is sucking the Yellow River dry.� The dehydration factors are all driven by oil-powered energy. Equally important, up until the early �90s China produced most of the oil it needed, as once we did.

But �breakaway growth in transportation and plastics production doubled China�s oil consumption. Imports have swelled over sixfold in the past decade as China woos oil-rich countries, such as Angola and Sudan, with investments and loans while. . . . China�s demand has helped drive up oil prices to record highs, causing pain at the gas pump for drivers around the world.� And behind China of course is India, running like a mad elephant bitten by the oil bug.

So that�s the bottom line, what goes around the world comes around the world, and back to haunt us. Oil, folks, that�s it, and what happens when the gas station is on empty. According to all the experts, both in A Crude Awakening -- Oil Crash as well as Al Gore�s Inconvenient Truth, it all has to with the world�s unceasing, ever-increasing addiction to more and more oil, which in turn is fouling the planet to termination time.

So what�s the answer? Wind, biofuels, water-power, nuclear, hydrogen, solar energy or all of the above, or maybe something never thought of. For me, the answer is having a government leadership that can bear to be the messenger with the unhappy news, not the one that kills the messenger. The US government that reached the moon in a decade at JFK�s behest can lead in energy exploration as well and cut its cord to oil, and demand that industry come up with solutions. And as importantly, put its money where its mouth is and fund that exploration big time. We are entrepreneurs. So let�s do our thing.

The clock is ticking. The oil demand far outpaces production. Now�s the time to go green and beyond, over the rainbow, back to the drawing board, and solve this conundrum, or a great number of us will perish; earth as we know it will morph into some storm-ravaged beast, and we will end in a glass box in the museum of the future: Hydrocarbon Man, filling the pump. And with some kid saying, �Hey dad, look at this. Ain�t he funny with that big nozzle sticking in that big lumpy thing.� �Yeah, son, that was a long time ago. Don�t worry, it�ll never happen again. We discovered how to . . ." What? Speak up. I can�t hear you. We must have gotten disconnected. It sounded like �put our noses to the grindstone.� Yeah, put our noses to the grindstone. Has there ever been another way? Well, the horse and buggy, I suppose, living like the blessedly peaceful Amish and Mennonites. Hmmm . . . could I take that much peace?

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at

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