The potential of another conflict in the middle east has oil-dependent industries and consumers concerned about the effect it will have on the price of petroleum products, especially gasoline and aircraft fuel. Through the years since the first oil embargo, the U.S. government and the majority of American companies that produce energy-guzzling products have done little to improve product efficiency. Some companies have actually introduced products that are even less energy efficient than previous-generation products. These companies get away with this because the law lets them classify products in a category that permits higher energy consumption.
Although they're technically playing by the rules, these firms are finding ways to circumvent the intention of the rules. This conduct is not unique. The ability to find legal loopholes has become a key aspect of business life. It's so pervasive that it's a part of our folklore, such as Stephen Vincent Benet's story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster," published in 1937. This story, in part, shows how a smart country lawyer could find a loophole to void a contract made with the devil.
Be that as it may, we're still faced with the possibility of energy shortages and significantly higher energy costs. To deal with these issues, one option is to continue using the energy reserves from within our borders and those from friendly nations, and do little else until the reserves run out. However, this short-term solution could have major ramifications when the reserves run dry. Although that day won't come for about another 10 generations at our current rate of consumption, it isn't right to foist that burden on our progeny.
The higher energy costs could make more trouble for our economy with higher travel/commute costs, higher freight costs, and higher utility bills. All of these expenses will further drain the available "spendable" income of the consumer. That reduction will be felt in the form of further cutbacks in the amount of money spent on entertainment and other nonessential items.
Our other option is to bite the proverbial bullet and invest much more effort into developing more energy-efficient solutions. In a few cases, it may mean forcing automobile manufacturers to adopt much higher mile-per-gallon ratings for their vehicles. That, in turn, will push the electronics industry to develop better control systems and better battery systems that will enable better performing hybrid (combined gas/electric) and all-electric vehicles.
Similar efficiency improvements could be placed on air conditioners, refrigerators, and other appliances that consume large amounts of electricity. In the long term, the efficiency improvements will help to reduce our country's energy consumption and bring a savings benefit to the consumer over the lifetime of an appliance.
To help defray the initial higher cost to the consumer for purchasing an energy-efficient product, the government could offer various incentives to make that purchase more affordable. Or, perhaps the government could give incentive to the manufacturers and electronics suppliers by various tax breaks so that they can sell more energy-efficient products at prices competitive with the previous-generation less energy-efficient products.
In any case, the biggest challenge that we face is probably learning how to think and plan for the long term. As a rule, our corporate culture focuses on near-term results and not on the long-term consequences of immediate actions. We must change that by gaining a better understanding of how today's actions affect the future.
In business, the attention tends to be on quarter-to-quarter results. That too must be altered. Public companies must find ways to counter the short-term views of the financial community. But it won't be easy unless everyone gets on the same train. I have my ticket, and I'm waiting for the conductor to call, "all aboard!"