Sustainable America Blog

Dropping Oil Prices & Alternative Energy

photo: windy_hill, by flickr user d_A_v_E_, under CC BY 2.0

High oil prices this decade have been hard on Americans, but if there has been any silver lining, it’s been the growth of alternative energy investment and innovation spurred by the rising cost of oil.

However, with oil prices dropping, and a new Harvard report predicting even lower prices on the horizon resulting from a predicted over-production of oil, there is some concern that the public desire for alternative energy options will fizzle. After all, money talks, and it’s been telling us to find and use alternative energy sources for years. But what happens if that economic imperative goes away?

A recent historical precedent gives alternative energy advocates pause. MIT Technology Review reports,

Three decades ago, high oil prices spurred investment in alternatives. But by the time oil prices had bottomed-out in the 1990s, much of that research had been abandoned, and promising technologies didn’t come to market or weren’t made cheap enough to catch on widely. With the surge in oil prices in recent years, much of that research has been taken up again, and the trends look good.

Independence from oil is still vital to the U.S., and alternative energy plays an important role in that independence (and arguably the long-term growth of our economy). Cheaper gasoline is great for the short term, but the oil market, which controls the price of gasoline, is still volatile. Let’s not forget the last few years.

As US News and World Report explains:

Gasoline prices are largely determined by the super-volatile price of oil, which rises and falls according to a vast number of factors including supply, demand, political tumult, speculation, and economic forecasts.

Predicting oil prices is famously difficult, and even the author of the Harvard report admits that we don’t really know how much prices will drop, or how long they will stay that way. If the global economy somehow rallies, oil prices could actually go even higher. A collapse in oil prices is worth considering. It is clear that we will need to strengthen our collective resolve to keep fighting oil dependence – no matter what.

Check-out a few of our Good Practices posts to keep promoting independence from oil, and take action today!

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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