Reaching My Petroleum Tipping Point

With gasoline prices well over $3 a gallon, humorist Brian Unger says he has reached his petroleum "tipping point." His solution? A national crusade to develop alternative fuels — let's put "Turd Blossom" on the case!

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Gas prices are getting higher and higher. Perhaps you have hit your petroleum tipping point. It sure looks like Brian Unger has.

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

Where were you on Earth Day 2006 while the President was bike-riding through a redwood forest in Napa Valley, truly one of the most beautiful places to spend a day on Earth? I was stuck in hell on Earth, Los Angeles traffic, driving to the office supply store to buy a single black ink cartridge for my printer.

There we were, all gathered, one person per car, united in anger, headed to the Office Depot, all of us out of ink, out of patience and out of our minds with Andy Rooney rage. I thought, There has to be a more efficient way to print documents.

(Soundbite of music)

UNGER: That night, I couldn't sleep. Around 2:30 in the morning, I walked to the bathroom and peered out the window that overlooks a brilliantly lit gas station. Most people see stars at night when they look out their window. I see blinding gas pumps. And there they were, bathed in red, white and blue neon, like cat burglars prowling around a house, two men raising the price of gasoline to $3.15 and 9/10 a gallon. Let's just call it 3.16.

Now I know. They do it in the dark while we sleep, and I got to get a blind for my bathroom window. It was my personal petroleum tipping point, not because of Chevron's high gas price or sign brighter than a thousand suns, but because in L.A. I'll spend 93 hours sitting in traffic this year. Those of you in Louisville, Kentucky, you'll only waste 42 hours this year. Lucky you, Louisville.

Ninety-three hours. Ninety-three more hours of anything, except root canal, is worth saving. Yet all the hydrogen-powered cars in the world aren't going to change a thing, aside from less greenhouse gas. We're in for a lifetime of bumper cars, and it's getting worse.

The Wall Street Journal Report, devoted to the auto industry last week, included this compelling statistic. We'll have one billion cars and light trucks rolling across Earth's surface by year 2020 or sooner, and our energy policy seems to be this. Put French fry grease, switch grass, ethanol, hydrogen or natural gas into your tank, maybe it's liquefied coal; it's one of those. Seems our biggest shortage is focus.

How about a New Deal, a Manhattan project, a crusade for public transportation in America's cities and suburbs? And I know just the man for this assignment, and he's available: Karl Rove. Why not? He's smart, he's unstoppable, and what's more important to the country than winning elections? A clean, modern transit system we can all take to work, to the airport, to the beach. We'll rove with Rove. Less pollution, fewer highways, more time.

Even better, a newly extinct species at the Museum of Natural History, running in terror from a furry mastodon? An oil executive.

And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

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