Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for quick fix solutions that will cure all our energy ills. We’ll suspend the federal gas tax. We can plant oil wells in the Arctic wilderness and off our coasts, assuring us years of worry-free guzzling. Did we mention the $100 rebate? Like a traveling medicine show, members of Congress are scurrying from press conference to press conference to show the folks back home that they’re doing something about high gasoline prices, and by gum, they really mean it this time.What a farce. The time that lawmakers spend promoting showy gimmicks is time that should be used on a long-range strategy for moving our country off its dangerous addiction to oil. Time is not in our favor. Rising gasoline prices are not a transitory market hiccup but an ominous sign that the energy system on which we depend is dangerously unstable. Our economy and security are at risk. If nothing is done, warns House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, the New York Republican, “We are going to lurch from oil crisis to oil crisis, and each one is going to get worse.” This should not come as a surprise. The risks of betting our future on endless supplies of cheap oil have been known for decades. Every day of denial and delay brought the reckoning closer, like a balloon payment on a cut-rate mortgage. Why now? It boils down to supply and demand in the oil market, which is global. Supplies are tight and demand is rising, which has made the market twitchy and prone to price spikes. Any disruption anywhere that spooks the market sends prices upward. Last year, it was hurricanes. This year, it’s been civil unrest in Nigeria, violence in Iraq and tension around Iran’s nuclear dabbling. Tomorrow, it could be worse. Earlier this year, security forces thwarted terrorists attempting to bomb an oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer. Had the bombers succeeded, the result would have been economic calamity. As terrorists like to say, they only have to be lucky once. Even if every oil-producing region were as stable as Sweden, however, oil is a finite commodity. Experts disagree on the timing, but global oil production will peak in the near future and begin an inexorable decline. The biggest gorilla in the closet is climate change. Continuing with an energy system based on inefficient use of carbon-based fuels is a crapshoot with dangerous odds. Meanwhile, fuel demand keeps rising. American demand alone consumes 25 percent of global production. China, India, and other big developing nations that want the high-energy lifestyle are using more oil. Add more oil supply, some politicians insist. Drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Drill off the coasts. Drill the Rocky Mountains. Just drill, damn it. We’re chasing our tails if we try to drill our way out of this mess. American wells already supply 8 percent of world oil production. Since America holds only 2 percent of world oil reserves, we are, in effect, draining domestic oil reserves four times faster than the rest of the world. Once the domestic barrel is depleted, we’d be worse off – still addicted to oil, still vulnerable to dangerous forces beyond our control. What we can control is demand. Greater fuel efficiency is the essential first step that will buy time to phase in oil substitutes, put some air into the oil market, and loosen dependence on petro-regimes. Fuel efficiency is the American weapon that overseas oil barons fear most. Raising fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon would save more than 4 million barrels per day by 2020 – far more than anything an Arctic refuge oil field could ever produce. The most promising mid-term oil alternative is biofuels produced from farm residues, urban wastes, and fast-growing crops such as switchgrass. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles running on a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline could achieve 500 miles per gallon of gas. Changing our unhealthy energy ways will take time and investment. Our focus must not be on quick fixes, but on speeding up a transition to clean and renewable fuels and energy technologies. We must start now, to assure our country of a clean, safe and prosperous 21st century. This op-ed was first published in the Albuquerque Tribune on May 9, 2006, and was republished with the author’s permission. About the Author… Jim DiPeso is the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP America), a grass-roots organization that seeks to restore the Republican conservation tradition.