By Pete Kotz
|Illustration by Peter Ryan|
On July 11, 2008, the price of oil rose to $147 per barrel, a record high. Gas stations engaged in hot pursuit as the price of a gallon rocketed past $4. All hell was about to break loose.
The country's largest banks had already begun to implode through arrogance and ineptitude. Now the oil market had moved in with a thundering uppercut.
Airlines and trucking firms watched their costs punch through the roof. So did every other business great and small, because 90 percent of American goods are shipped in some form or another.
"That was the breaking point of the economy," says Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., government-watchdog group. "That's when businesses said they could no longer fuel their trucks and that fuel costs were overwhelming their payroll."
So began a surge of layoffs that would push well into the next year.
America's political leaders could only muster a simpleton's response. Demand had outstripped supply, they claimed. And it was all the fault of radical environmentalists. If they'd only let us drill for more riches offshore — or on protected lands in Alaska — we could all go back to cranking Toby Keith in our Chevy Tahoes.
It was a fabulous, made-for-TV narrative. Who can forget Sarah Palin shaking her fist at the Republican National Convention, exhorting the legions to "Drill, baby, drill!" What began as a rallying cry soon became an article of faith at cafés and kitchen tables, executive suites and editorial meetings.
There was just one tiny problem: Absolutely none of it was true.More »