America is addicted to oil. So when the price of oil doubles and then threatens to double again, there are large economic and social consequences. Feeling our pain, politicians want to pressure OPEC to increase production or tap the nation's strategic petroleum reserve. Such cures are unlikely to be effective. The world's oil supply is limited, global demand is growing fast and it's time for Congress to impose a much more efficient use of oil through tougher fuel economy and tighter building standards. And the government should significantly increase investments in alternative energy sources.
Our economy and lifestyle are founded on relatively cheap oil. It fuels the 18-wheelers that truck our cargo, the jets that carry millions of travelers from coast to coast and the SUVs we use to drop our kids off at school. Finding ways to use much less oil to do all of this and more will be a challenge, but failure to act will hobble our economy. Money spent on heating oil or gasoline can't be invested in health care or education. Higher costs of transportation and heating cause hardships for those with lower incomes.
Oil is becoming more expensive because of increasing demand from China, India and other rapidly industrializing nations. The global number of cars and trucks is expected to grow by more than a billion by 2040. And while new sources are still being discovered - billions of potential barrels beneath the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil and elsewhere - other sources are ebbing. The rest of the world is paying as much as $8 a gallon for gasoline. Pump prices here are expected to top $4 this summer and get higher in coming years.
Now is the time to begin using oil more efficiently. Many available cars offer fuel efficiency averaging 35 miles per gallon, a goal proposed by President Bush for 2020. Home heating oil use can be cut by a third or more with relatively small investments in insulation. Government also should set ambitious standards for energy efficiency and provide tax and other incentives to help reach them.