The pump price of oil does not include numerous external costs, for example: Researchers have mapped out where cancer victims live; along freeways and downwind of refineries, cancer rates spike. World Health Organization studies conclude that pollution from internal combustion engines contributes to deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year.

A recent RAND Corporation study concluded that 75-85 billion dollars are spent annually for military costs of protecting access to oil, exclusive of the war in Iraq. It's clear that Iraq's oil reserves provided some of the initial motivation for the Iraq war, whose negative legacies -- including care of physically and mentally wounded soldiers -- will last for decades.

Oil spills kill fish, turtles, marine mammals, shellfish, and birds. The bluefin tuna, one of the most majestic creatures ever to swim the oceans, and already being driven to extinction by over-fishing, is being hammered in its Gulf spawning grounds by the BP oil spill. Should the bluefin go extinct, all of us will own some of the blame, even if we’ve never eaten sushi or sashimi.

There is no “American right” to cheap energy that causes such harm. It’s time to level the playing field. Dirty energy from fossil fuels should be priced according to its true costs to society and the environment so that market forces can work their magic to decrease waste and increase efficiency. Taxes should be levied so that external costs are internalized in the cost of a gallon of fuel thus encouraging people to purchase vehicles that run on domestic electricity rather than on dangerous offshore or on foreign oil.

Within a year, moderately priced plug-in electric vehicles are coming to market.

In the future, such vehicles can be powered by 100 percent clean, renewable electricity from the sun and the wind, while their rate of adoption will be determined by the relative costs of internal combustion vs. electric.

It is unrealistic to expect government alone to engender needed changes. Numerous Americans are financially comfortable and should consider purchasing and using electric vehicles even if their price fails to drop to quite the level of a conventional car. We should buy electric because it is the right thing to do. The ample personal reward will be to feel good; just ask anyone who owns a Toyota Prius.

Continued under pricing of oil will encourage more waste and delay the inevitable while exacerbating the harm to our country and the world’s environment. It’s up to us all to pay the price for a clean environment and clean energy.

Isn’t now a good time to see if we can prove Pogo wrong?

Dr. Ben Zuckerman, UCLA Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Vice President - Los Angeles, CA.  Contact Ben at

Paul Scott, Vice President, Plug In America, Santa Monica, CA -