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Our volcanic society

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By John Pawlak

In the movies, volcanic eruptions are dazzling in their ability to take people by surprise. Filming an eruption like Pompeii would be rather boring. In a matter of minutes, everyone is choked to death by a massive onslaught of volcanic dust. End of story.

It’s much more exciting to see lava flows gushing towards towns as people run for their lives. For about an hour, the lava oozes toward its victims, outracing and engulfing them in horrible (ooh, so spectacular on that big screen) death scenes.

But in the real world, lava flows can last much longer and can be extremely slow. In 1983, Kilauea Volcano (on the island of Hawaii) erupted. This eruption did not cease an hour later. It’s still erupting today and very slowly.

By 1990, the Kilauea lava flow had buried

43 square miles of land and was encroaching upon the village of Kalapana. When the villagers realized that they would soon be entombed in molten rock, panic spread and people ran for their lives.

Yes, the lava that had raced toward them for seven years at a breakneck speed of two feet per minute had finally reached them. For many villagers, it was too late and they lost everything. Kalapana was never known for its long term planning skills.

Watching a volcanic flow creep up to you and slowly ooze over your feet can be like watching Congress discuss health care reform — very slow and very painful.

This is true for any activity in Congress dealing with problem resolution.

Back in 1973, President Nixon called upon the nation to shed itself of foreign oil dependence, citing this dependence as a “national emergency” and saying, “Our independence will depend on maintaining and achieving self-sufficiency in energy.”

In later years, Nixon said that his efforts to achieve energy independence had been stymied by partisan politics and impeded by a nation unwilling to curtail its insatiable thirst for oil.

In 1979, President Carter gave a speech, again warning of impending doom if America did not reverse its trend for foreign oil dependence. Carter said, “We can’t go on consuming 40 percent more energy than we produce. When we import oil, we are also importing inflation plus unemployment. Our excessive dependence on foreign oil has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people.

In little more than two decades we’ve gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries.” He added, “These changes did not happen overnight. They’ve come upon us gradually.”

Gradually? And no one was panicking? Anyone smell lava?

Both Nixon and Carter were right on the money (so to speak).

The volcanic flow of foreign oil dependence continued to ebb its way across America, consuming everything in its path and burning the elected toes of our sloth-like leaders.

During Nixon’s administration, we imported

34 percent of our oil. During Carter’s, it had risen to 45 percent. Today, foreign imports account for

65 percent of our oil consumption.

Holy oil gusher, Batman! I think I see a pattern!

Oil prices are down from the nerve-wracking highs of last summer, but don’t worry, they’ll go back up. The impact of foreign oil imports on our economy is staggering and will worsen as consumption and prices continue to rise.

We currently spend $400,000 a minute on foreign oil. As Congress argues over how to stem the tide of eternal national debt, $200 billion a year is added to that debt just as a result of foreign oil.

We are well lubricated on our way to achieving the doom Nixon predicted.

Pundits on both sides of the debate have drowned us with statistics and it is difficult to wade through the facts and fiction poured over us. The Department of Energy currently estimates world oil reserves at around

1.2 trillion barrels. The world consumes about

80 billion barrels of oil a day, so if these estimates are correct, we have about 40 years of oil left.

As Asia’s thirst for energy increases, one only need apply basic algebra to predict the future. America has less than

5 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 25 percent of the oil. As the rest of the world catches up to us in their ability to burn Earth’s assets, that 40-year estimate will find itself on a very oily and rapid decline.

Some people argue that oil reserves are far greater than currently estimated. Maybe they’re right, but whatever the numbers, it’s still only a matter of time before we suffer the same fate as Kalapana.

The Kalapana villagers had one huge advantage however. They had some place to run to.

Where do we tell 300 million Americans to run to?