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Coulmn: U.S. Should Invest In Alternative Energy, Despite Low Oil Prices

This story was written by Christopher Linebaugh, The Battalion

Amid the financial turmoil and increased strain many people have felt in their pocketbooks, Americans have at least been able to experience some relief at the pump. Crude oil has dropped to $50 a barrel, according to the Energy Information Administration, a significant decrease from earlier in 2008. However, it is crucial that Americans approach this situation with discretion and foresight. It should be perceived as a chance to continue the task of investing in alternative energies with a renewed vigor rather than halting investment in energy efficiency because of lower prices.

Though the lowered oil prices might seem like an immediate blessing, they are a result of a large problem. The credit crisis and economic downturn has resulted in a decrease in consumer spending. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that consumer spending had fallen 3.7 percent in the third quarter, along with the 0.5 percent drop in gross domestic product. Americans have less money to spend these days. This decline in consumption affects companies, causing a reduction in their output and decreasing their need for oil to transport their goods across the nation.

Since the decline in oil prices is a result of an economic downturn, it will hopefully not last too long. In light of this, efforts toward enhancing alternative energies must not be abandoned. A window of opportunity for advancing this goal has presented itself in the form of financial struggles for Americas automakers. Detroit's big three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, are on the verge of bankruptcy and are pleading to Congress for financial assistance. However, this dire financial situation that the automakers find themselves in could be a gray cloud with silver lining. A bailout of the automakers could be used to advance America's course toward energy independence by providing financial assistance under the condition that the automakers have to set a higher standard for fuel efficiency.

If the government invests millions of dollars in the Big Three, it is only logical to ensure that the automakers change the habits that set them up for financial failure in the first place. In a world where oil has become increasingly scarce and prices are volatile, foreign auto makers have come out on top by quickly responding to the changing economy with more energy efficient vehicles. American automakers, however, have been left behind.

The United States is in an economic crisis and is already dishing out millions of dollars to financial institutions that have gotten into trouble, so further economic stimulus must be appropriated carefully. Though it is important to prevent the loss of jobs that would result from the bankruptcy of the Big Three, if the automakers do not retool their industry into one that can compete in today's global market place, how long will it be until the automakers are in trouble again? It would only be wise to invest in these automakers if they are held to higher standard of energy efficiency.

Other efforts should be taken to build an energy efficient future. Construction on a new electric grid to help transmit power obtained from sources such as windmills, solar and geothermal plants should be started as well as progress toward a green-infrastructure. These efforts would create a more energy independent future for America and create jobs amid the economic crisis.

Americans must not be fooled by the recent trend in oil prices. Rather, a long-term energy efficient outlook must be adopted. Bailing out the Big Three under the condition of more efficient energy standards while pursuing other green programs would be a great way to stay on track during a period when low gas prices might discourage alternative energy investment. Hopefully in the future there will be economic improvement along with increased consumption. Then, gas prices will rise and Americans will once again be reminded of oil's scarcity. America needs to press forward in the struggle to create an energy efficient economy, so that when the prices do rise again, America will not be left behind in a world that is becoming increasingly energy independent.

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