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GUEST COLUMN

Depending on the world leaves us out of gas

Violence in Nigeria caused me to pay more for a gallon of gas last week. The fighting, which I'm pretty sure was in no way my fault, involved bands of armed men who invaded Port Harcourt, the center of Nigeria's oil industry, attacking two police stations and raiding the lobby of a major hotel.

Having never been to Nigeria, I know very little about the place, but I would politely ask that the folks there please stop fighting with each other. In fact, I'd be more than happy to learn something about the country if only its people would at least hold their battles away from the pipeline that will ultimately fuel my Ford Taurus station wagon.

Like most Americans I'm more than happy to let the rest of the world do whatever it wants so long as it does not affect us here in the States. Worship strange gods, idolize David Hasselhoff and have all the wars you want; just be nice if I visit and don't destroy any stuff we might want to buy.

That might seem like a pretty narrow world view, but, while I travel abroad occasionally, I spend the vast majority of my time on U.S. soil. Though I like visiting other countries and sampling their food, I'm much more concerned about me and people I know than a vague group of strangers from places I've never been.

Since I enjoy driving places rather than walking to them, I must broaden my horizons and consider how the actions of people in places I will never go impact me. Because using my car to get to work takes about 40 minutes and walking would take approximately 11 hours, whatever happens in the countries that have oil directly affects my life.

If pretty much anything goes wrong in any oil producing country, speculators panic and the price of a barrel of oil goes up. Whether these disturbances actually interrupt the flow of oil hardly matters as prices rise due to the smallest hint of a problem. The only way to stop these fluctuations would be for the United States to take over every country that produces oil in order to ensure a steady supply.

Taking over the entire world, however, seems impractical given that we have proven unable to control even one tiny country in the Middle East. If fighting on two fronts has stretched our army thin, than one would have to think we would be unable to simultaneously overthrow a dozen or so nations.

It also seems likely that some small portion of Americans, and the vast majority of the rest of the world, would object to us invading a bunch of places guilty of little more than inefficiently producing oil for us. Even England, our steadfast partner in bullying lesser countries, would probably not stand with us on this particular quest.

With world domination impractical and oil conservation not likely to be enough to stop price increases, the United States clearly needs another answer. Whether it be electricity, hydrogen fuel cells or magic beans, we need something besides gasoline to power our vehicles.

Electric car technology already exists as do hydrogen fuel cells. Making them the answer to our problems simply takes money, research and a commitment to actually solving the problem.

One has to wonder why none of the candidates running for president has promised to make ending our dependence on foreign oil a priority or why car companies would not be racing each other to be the first to solve the problem. Eliminating our need for foreign oil would, of course, be bad for the oil companies and the politicians they support.

Under the current system we have rising prices, endless wars and general misery. With my plan we would have reasonable, predictable fuel costs, peace and a cleaner environment. I'd still probably never take a trip to Nigeria, but at least I won't have to go there in order to get people to stop fighting in front of an oil pipeline.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His new book, a collection of columns, "Easy Answers to Every Problem," can be ordered at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at dan@notastep.com.

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