Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Irony Tuesday

Hilarious. Houston oil companies are encouraging their employees to bike to work:
Rolling in on two wheels

Oil companies are among the Houston-area employers encouraging workers to make their commutes by bicycle


Some of the world's biggest gas peddlers are encouraging their workers to pump the pedal.

Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips are among the Houston-area employers trying to make it easier for employees to bike to work. Workers already have enough excuses: potholes, impatient drivers and the Houston heat.

But some businesses are easing the commute for those who decide the exercise and reduced emissions make biking worthwhile. They're giving them locker rooms, shower areas and safe places to park their bikes.

Note the stated benefits of biking to work are exercise and reduced emissions not, say, saving money on gasoline. Well, what do you expect from the Houston Chronicle; to be fair, they do quote someone who saves $3 a day by biking to work. I’m going to assume he lives close to the office and doesn’t have to pay for parking.

Oil companies have always struggled to find that balance between the good PR generated from being “green” and hurting sales of their product. Conservation is a good thing, because the culture says it is, but too much conservation will eat into the bottom line.

That, by the way, is also the uneasy bargain struck in regards to gas prices. High gas prices are good for oil companies (duh), but if they get too high and people start doing things like, well, biking to work, then an oil company is shooting itself in the foot.

This of course is the only “free market” principle at work where oil is concerned, IMHO. I get frustrated when the free marketers try to tell us that gas prices are $4 a gallon because of “supply and demand.” Bullshit.

First of all, there’s nothing “free” about this market: the world runs on oil. There’s no other alternative. We all have to use it, like it or not. Even if you bike to work. Even if you have a wood stove. Unless you’re a hermit that lives like Jeremiah Johnson, you’re as much a part of the oil economy as everyone else, and you need oil.

Oil companies also control every aspect of their product’s production and distribution, from the drilling to the refining to the price at the gas station. There’s little room for the “free hand of the market” to work in a commodity monopoly.

So if you’re pissed off about the price of gasoline, there’s really very little you can do about it. You can quit sending me e-mails about not buying gas next Tuesday or telling me to boycott one company or another. It’s not going to work.

All you can do is try to lessen the impact on your wallet by using less energy yourself. And the only other thing you can do is to write your Congress Critter and demand some serious government investment in alternative energy R&D. Again, you "free marketers" can quit claiming that we should let that free hand lift some little start-up out of the depths of a Michigan basement to save the world from Peak Oil with its Big Idea. That's a ridiculous fantasy and I really don't think I need to explain why.

This "Apollo project for energy" is something the oil lobby has been fighting for years, for obvious reasons, and with our current government run by a bunch of oil industry executives, I don’t see it changing any time soon. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and a vocal electorate demanding change is the best first step I can think of.

Just some, er, fuel for thought.