Gas lines? Rationing? Is it the '70s again?

Back then, America's economy was over-reliant on oil. Now, its dependent on an electric grid that needs to be modernized.

Frank Eltman/AP
Motorists in wait in line for gasoline outside a Hess station on Wednesday in Farmingdale, N.Y. The shortage of open gas stations got so dire that New Jersey has imposed gas rationing that took effect Nov. 3, 2012.

No one who lived through the first OPEC oil embargo of the early 1970s can forget the shock of that era. The United States seemed helpless economically. And Americans realized just how dependent they had become on oil from the Middle East.

The scenes this past week of blocks-long gas lines in New York and New Jersey are eerily similar.

Taking a page from Richard Nixon, New Jersey Gov. Christie imposed gas rationing on 12 of the state's 21 counties, effective noon Saturday.

But for all the similarities, this isn't a replay of the 1970s. The challenge then was a long-term shortage of oil. Today, it's a temporary shortage of electricity.

If there is a shock to the regional crisis that now engulfs the Northeast, it's our increasing reliance on electricity. The digital age is great, but it blinks out in an instant when the power goes down and it depends on an electrical grid that's a 20th century throwback.

That's not to say the electric grid has evolved and modernized, but it's based on a centralized model that looks out of place in our distributed Internet age.

"The electricity industry is today where the telco industry was 20 years ago, which at that time offered little or no customer service, hardly any competition, and no choice of devices and applications that suited the user," concluded a Research and Markets report late last month.

"The fundamental architecture of today's electricity grid – based on the idea of a top-down system predicated on unidirectional energy flows – is becoming obsolete, and is unsuited for the increasing diversity and variability of power generation," a Navigant report stated, just days before hurricane Sandy hit.

Micro-grids, dynamic pricing, better batteries are pieces of a more efficient and storm-proof grid.

Implementing them into a 21st-century grid will cost money. American ratepayers will have to pony up.

But there are some long-term savings to moving forward. According to a Congressional Research Service report from August, storm-related power outages cost the US economy between $20 billion and $55 billion.

The stranded people of New Jersey and New York will understand.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Gas lines? Rationing? Is it the '70s again?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today