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Pump fright might scare us straight about our oil habit

It's time to coin a new medical condition: Pump Fright.

Pump fright should be formally recognized as the phenomenon that occurs when human beings approach gas stations in the knowledge their car's fuel tank is almost empty.

The pulse quickens, the heart beats faster, the person breaks out in a sweat. If you're experiencing the condition, at $1.14 per litre in Vancouver, be assured others are, too.

The federal Conservative party and Canadian Taxpayers' Federation this week responded to pump fright by calling on Ottawa to provide a quick-fix remedy that would fail entirely to get at the root cause of pump fright.

Specifically, the federation wants Ottawa to lower its gas taxes by five cents a litre. B.C. Conservative MP John Duncan issued a news release Thursday slamming the Liberals for their "hidden agenda of pricing average Canadians off the road."

I like cheap gasoline as much as the next person, but this idea is a clunker. What we all should be doing in response to pump fright is to step back, reassess our lifestyles and ponder peak oil.

Public policy has got to start shocking people out of those hulking SUVs and doing anything to lower gasoline costs is not a way to do that.

Canadians, along with others in the world community, need to become better informed about the globe's oil supply and confront the fact we're all running out of this non-renewable resource.

Google "peak oil" and have a hankie handy. Then go to www.willyoujoinus.com where Chevron, one of the world's leading energy companies, has established a website exploring the notion that "the era of easy oil is over."

Oil hit a record $70.85 per barrel immediately following Hurricane Katrina, as the U.S. closed a tenth of its refining capacity and a quarter of its oil output. Americans, by the way, comprise five per cent of the world population and consume a quarter of the world's oil. (Transportation accounts for 70 per cent of usage.)

It has long been known world oil supplies are expected to peak between 2006 and 2011, then start declining. An exact date is hard to pin down because the Saudis are secretive about their reserves. ...

The Ireland-based Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, established some five years ago, has speculated about what might happen in the midst of dwindling oil supplies -- war, famine, recession, depression. It's not a stretch to foresee an increase in Middle East tensions and a Sino-U.S. showdown over access to energy.

Theory has it, we've already consumed half of what is readily available. And, "it is evident that the gap between discovery and consumption continues to widen," ASPO's August newsletter says.

You don't hear governments talking about any of this because they're geared to short-term re-election and scaring people about oil supplies is not compatible with that objective.

That said, Britain has lately raised the prospect of national energy rationing, through "personal carbon allowances."

Arguably, the country best adapted to what may be coming is Cuba, the newsletter says.

Many refuse to acknowledge the pending crisis, predicting some new technology or innovation will alleviate the looming oil shortage. But crude is at sky-high prices now and no one is coming forward to offer any viable energy alternatives.

The global community would be wise to better inform itself about the energy situation and embrace conservation. Citizens must start pressuring their governments to impose consumption guidelines or limits, and to direct taxes toward renewable energy projects.

Both the Conservative party and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, in urging the Liberal government to reduce taxation, are taking a misguided, me-first, live-for-today approach.

If they know more about world oil supplies than do the international experts, let them spill the beans. Because a lot of pump-fear victims out there would be greatly relieved by their words.

byaffe@png.canwest.com

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