In the middle of July, gas prices peaked at a national average of just over $4 per gallon. While they have fallen, they still remain at levels that fundamentally alter the daily lives of Americans in just about every way imaginable.
A year ago on Labor Day, gas hovered around $2.75 per gallon nationally; today it is nearly an entire dollar per gallon more expensive. This has caused both major presidential candidates to address the fundamental energy issues that face modern American society.
Neither of the candidates seem to address these difficult issues with real, long-term solutions. McCain suggests such things as a $5,000 tax credit for zero emission vehicles, improved support for ethanol based vehicles, "clean" coal, nuclear plants, curbing speculation in the oil markets, and encouraging solar, hydroelectric and wind power.
Obama agrees with many of McCain's policies, but differs in that he supports a windfall profits tax to large oil companies, encouraging methods of energy efficiency such as weatherizing homes, and utilizing the strategic petroleum reserve to lower taxes.
Large corporations are also working on ways to seem more energy efficient. Chevrolet is in the process of designing the Volt for production in 2010, an automobile that will be able to go 40 miles without using gasoline.
These programs all seem as if they could have an effect in the short-term, however they will have little effect down the line. Tax credits will do little to address the overall economic issues of rising third-world demand for a stagnant oil supply.
Ethanol is not a feasible fuel source, as it takes more energy to produce than it creates. Solar, hydroelectric and wind energy do not efficiently use the resources that power them, and do not produce enough power to make a serious dent in national consumption. "Clean" coal is still very dirty, and nuclear power requires a massive upfront investment and faces public fears of waste contamination.
The real solution to the problem is investing a huge sum of money into research and development into the areas of new fuel sources. The government has to invest billions of dollars into both public and private research.
The American people have to come to terms with the fact that much of this money may result in negligible gains in technology, but if it takes one thousand failures for one great advancement, then each of those failures was worth the money. We need to come to terms with the fact that current technology does not support a petroleum-free economy.
In the meantime however, we must do everything possible to conserve energy and resources. Purchasing food that was grown locally is a great way to cut down on emissions from food transport. Even in Geneseo, organizations like CAS should look into more local food sources. Supporting the creation of solar powered highways, such as the plan being proposed in Oregon currently is another great way to offset a large chunk of fossil fuel resources. Even joining grassroots efforts such as Al Gore's We Campaign, can aid in solving the crisis we face.
But first and foremost, we as a people must make it clear to our representatives in November that we support greater funding of energy based research.
James Bates is a freshman English major who owns the world's only thought-powered car.