Three things are inevitable: death, taxes, and the fact that you have to fill up your car with gasoline about once a week.
For our entire lives, the oil industry has had a monopoly on the car fuel industry. Every time you turn on your car, you know that are giving money to multi-national corporations and tyrannical sheikhs. But there is nothing you can do about it.
Or is there? The super entertaining and occasionally convincing documentary “Pump” tries to explain how Big Oil came to dominate the market, why this is terrible for us, and what we can do to fix it.
The story begins a century ago. American cities – big and small – were criss-crossed with trolly tracks. Trollies were cheap, efficient, and ran on electricity. “Pump” director Joshua Tickell argues that an evil group of oil and auto companies bought out all of the trolly companies and then destroyed them. Bye bye, trollies.
From then on, we were destined to be a car country. Fortunately, Henry Ford was producing vehicles that could run on gasoline or ethanol. “Alcohol is the fuel of the future,” he predicted. “Not so fast,” John D Rockefeller responded. According to the documentary, the evil oil baron spearheaded the Prohibition campaign in order to destroy the ethanol industry. Bye bye, Ethanol.
Hello, total oil domination.
Tickell argues convincingly that our dependance on oil has led us down the dark road of military intervention in the Middle East that has cost the United States thousands of lives, a couple of big Manhattan office buildings, and $1 trillion.
Tickell argues unconvincingly that our economic health is almost entirely driven by the price of oil and that the 2008 recession was a direct result of $150 per barrel oil.
Finally, in the most embarrassing portion of the documentary, Tickell states that China’s insatiable thirst for crude is already creating a fuel shortage and that the price of a barrel of oil will never again drop below $100. (In the year since the film was made, West Texas Crude has dropped to less than $60 per barrel).
“Pump” gets focused and uplifting when Tickell starts showing us the solution rather than the problem.
The two main challenges that we have to overcome are our dependence on imported fuel and the gasoline monopoly that oil corporations have forced on us.
Brazil offers the blueprint.
After the oil crisis and OPEC embargo of the 1970s, Brazil responded by building millions of Flex Cars – automobiles that can run on gasoline OR ethanol. And, more importantly, the Brazilian government mandated that every service station must sell ethanol. Consumers are given a choice. The experiment has been a smashing success. Brazil is more prosperous and it is energy independent.
And check this out: according to the movie, every vehicle made in this century has the ability to be converted into a Flex Car so it can run on ethanol. All that needs to be done is for the car’s computer to be reprogrammed. The only drawback is that it is illegal to tamper with a car’s computer in this way. I wonder which powerful industry lobbied Congress to pass that law.
To be clear: I don’t view oil corporations as primarily evil. I believe in capitalism. It is because I believe in capitalism that I hope that Big Oil’s monopoly is broken and that we all get a choice as to which fuel we choose to run our automobiles.
Death and taxes remain quite inevitable. Filling up your car with gas absolutely isn’t.