Here's something I posted on a bulletin board I visit regularly, where there was a a thread on "the gas crisis":
Whether there was a crisis prior to Katrina hitting the gulf coast is debatable, as evidenced by the discussion here. But now is a different story. My 2 cents' worth:
The constant, sickening rise of petroleum prices prior to Katrina was driven mostly by rapidly rising demand, due mostly to an improving US economy and an ever-thirstier China and India. In this scenario, petroleum prices can go up up up without truly f#cking up economies because it is demand-driven (i.e. people and countries are willing and generally able to pay more to get the oil/gas they want).
Post-Katrina, as all of us have seen with overnight 20-cent to 50-cent per gallon gas price increases, the super-rapid rise in prices is being brought on by a severe disruption on the supply side of the equation. I would think that this is exactly what economists would consider a supply shock. To the US, at least, this has the potential to be REALLY bad. Because now, even if demand were to hold steady (i.e. just give us what we need day-to-day), prices will rise because of increased competition for a resource (oil/gas) that suddenly became much more scarce. In the blink of an eye.
As an aside... some statistics to keep in mind: The Middle East has over 30 percent of global oil production, and over 60 percent of proven oil reserves. Until we truly begin to shift AWAY from an oil-based economy, we will remain dependent (actually even more so as the years go by) on Arab oil.
Bottom line... we need to shift away from a petroleum economy. Somehow. And we need to start the process in earnest now. Not later. Now. The US needs to be at the forefront of this. We have only 5% of the world's population. Yet we consume 20-25% of the world's total energy output.
We should have more emphasis on:
1) Real improvements on fuel efficiency standards, with absolutely no loopholes for big SUVs and pickups.
2) Nuclear power. France does it safely. So can we.
3) Alternative energy sources - the government really should fund way more research into this stuff on top of what private industry is spending. If it's not a matter of national security now, it will be in the future.
4) Recycling. Yes, recycling. We conserve resources. Plus, keep in mind that a lot of our plastics come from petroleum.
5) Better urban planning. Make cities AND suburbs friendlier to mass transit, walking, and biking. The traditional American model of sprawling mega-metro-areas with people in 3,000-square-foot homes driving 30 miles to work each day really isn't good for our energy outlook, or for the environment.