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As I See It

Things will never be the same, but Americans adapt

I am unashamedly admiring of powerful stuff. I like diesel tractors, full-size trucks and big chain saws.

These toys come at an increasing cost as gasoline gets higher and higher. I don’t think the good ol’ days of cheap gas are going to come again. Maybe someday we’ll figure out how the harness the sun’s energy or, perhaps, we’ll even learn how to burn water.

In the meantime, all of us better start rethinking our energy consumption.

Drivin’ the dream

My Z71 Chevy pickup is a redneck’s dream. I can drive on the interstate or tackle tough mud holes without breaking a sweat. Should I overestimate how much rough stuff I can traverse, my trusty Warn winch will pull me out and get me on my way in short order.

Recently, I was running low on gas and stopped to fill up. I also had two five-gallon cans I wanted to fill. I swiped my debit card and filled the truck. However, about halfway through filling the second five-gallon can the pump shut off. I had reached $100 and that’s all the pump would let me have. Think of that! Almost $100 to fill my gas tank. My first car only cost $225!

Do I really need a full-size, V-8 truck? Well, not really, but I like it a lot. What can I do now that I couldn’t do with a smaller, four-cylinder truck? Nothing, really. I mean, really, I’m mostly just hauling a chain saw and a can of gasoline, not towing a bulldozer.

Admittedly, I do occasionally pull a trailer with my ATV on board, but I see other guys doing the same thing with small trucks. There’s nothing like three-buck-a-gallon gasoline to make one rethink long-held assumptions.

The increased cost of fuel is going to change the American travel landscape. More folks will drive smaller vehicles and we’ll increasingly see fewer single-passenger cars on the highways. The inconvenience of carpooling will gradually give way to the reality of higher gas prices. The importance of living closer to work will change the face of suburbia.

Impacting other areas

Increasing energy costs will impact most every facet of our lives. A lot of our electricity is generated with oil.

As gasoline continues to rise in price, electricity produced by nuclear power plants will become increasingly popular. We’ll be forced to conserve energy in our homes. To add to the misery, natural gas prices are likely to go through the roof this winter.

Can the return of Jimmy Carter and the cardigan sweater be far away?

Some say that it really won’t come to such draconian measures. After all, building a few more oil refineries will solve the problem and we’ll be back to our energy-gluttonous ways. Due to environmental issues, we haven’t built a refinery in years and that’s all it would take to fix everything. I don’t think so.

The rising economies of China and India are going to keep the pressure on gasoline prices. The economies of these countries are just emerging and there are billions of consumers there who haven’t participated in the world economy in past years. Now, they’re going to get a turn at bat and they will use a lot more energy while playing the game.

Things will never be like they were for us Americans.

Face to face without the flying

Airline travel is another area that’s going to have to adapt. Most U.S. airlines are currently operating in bankruptcy. That should tell us something right there. Sure, the issues of pilot salaries and pay for maintenance workers are part of the problem. But fuel cost is a big issue, too.

Airlines are going to have to stop playing games with different passenger groups and counting on business travelers to tote the real load. This strategy has worked in the past, but it will pass away as surely and the ducks migrate south in winter.

The technology for videoconferencing is available and it’s almost like being there in person. When business begins to cut back on air travel, the airlines will be left with the free frequent flyers and the $275 round trips to Atlanta.

Will all these changes be bad? Not really so bad. We’ll adjust and move on. Life has ever-evolved since the caveman first discovered the value of stone tools.

Today, changes come at us faster and faster and we’ll have to continue to adjust quickly and more often.

Longer term, America will yield its energy-arrogant attitude and join the rest of the world as a more equal player on the global stage.

Thought for the Moment

Part of having a strong sense of self is to be accountable for one’s actions. No matter how much we explore motives or lack of motives, we are what we do.

— therapist and writer, Janet Geringer Woititz

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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