Oil-Soaked Dead Bird

It’s too early to tell if the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will have a profound and lasting impact on personal attitudes toward oil consumption—or if the public will soon grow weary of the issue. But for now, the tragic spill is forcing the issue of oil dependence to the forefront.

A non-scientific online poll by MSNBC of about 1,200 web visitors has 57 percent of respondents saying that they are trying to rely less on oil, while 43 percent respond that it’s simply not practical.

On one extreme, you have a comments like this: “I will never own another gasoline burning vehicle. I will walk, take public transportation, and ride a bike. If I need to go a long way and haul my property, I will use a horse and wagon or a fully electric car.” Horse and wagon?

On the pragmatic end of the spectrum, another commenter wrote: “How else am I supposed to get to work? I consume what I consume due to necessity…There are simply no alternatives that are economically viable at this time. The Chevy Volt would be a great alternative if it were not so expensive.”

Economic Disconnect

It’s great to see rising awareness of electric-drive cars like the Volt enter the public dialogue about oil. Yet, as Tom Baruch, founder and managing director of CMEA Capital, reminds us in Forbes: “There remains a disconnect between the events in the gulf and both consumer behavior (in terms of energy usage) and energy policy (or lack thereof).” Baruch calls for Washington to put a price on carbon right away.

In other words, pictures of oil-soaked birds may make us sad, but we change our behavior only when the pain hits our pocketbooks. That pain might be on its way. Following President Obama’s decision to put a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf, drilling for oil and gas in the region dropped by 50 percent last week to the lowest level in 16 years.

In fact, the U.S. government slashed its forecasts for Gulf of Mexico output by 6.1 percent following the BP spill. As a result, many analysts see a significant impact on oil prices, but not for another year or two or three.

In the meantime, the oil continues to gush and we drive on. In the wake of the spill, it’s more important than ever for car shoppers to consider a hybrid or one of the plug-in cars heading to market later this year.