Students at urban schools like Georgetown may not have noticed, but since the beginning of the academic year, gas prices have plummeted. According to the Energy Information Administration, since this past September, when drivers paid on average $3.85 per gallon, the price has decreased to a paltry $1.85. The price plunge is mostly due to the recession – a drop in economic activity worldwide has led to a decline in the demand for fuel, and the best efforts of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to weather market forces have been foiled.

Before Americans celebrate the lower prices, however, they should keep in mind the impact of high fuel prices not only on their pockets, but also on the development of cheap “green” energy.

In 2005, before the energy crisis hit and gas prices hovered at around $2 per gallon, the United States was caught up in the sport utility vehicle fad. The concepts of global warming and green energy hardly existed in the American consciousness.

The energy crisis jolted America out of that complacency. The skyrocketing price of oil made Americans acutely aware of their dependence on foreign oil and the cost of fueling a cumbersome SUV.

As a result, “green” technologies took off. The Toyota Prius ranked high on the sales charts and forced other car companies like Honda, Chevrolet and Ford to look into developing their own hybrid counterparts. Owning an SUV became an economic liability and U.S. power companies began looking into clean energy alternatives, such as wind power. Perhaps most importantly, the phrase “alternative energy” became a hot issue in politics, especially during the presidential campaign.

The recent decrease in gas prices should not allow American citizens to become complacent in their energy consumption habits, nor should it discourage the federal government from pushing for clean, efficient alternatives. The recession may be drying up available funds for companies to dedicate to alternative energy experiments, but the problems presented by fossil-fuel consumption cannot be avoided. Increasingly warm winters and a recent surge in the number of hurricanes testify to the threat presented by global warming.

We should seek to tie investment in energy solutions to the recovery of the American economy. This aim is especially pertinent to the U.S. auto industry: The failure of several major companies to anticipate the demand for hybrid energy contributed to their financial difficulties. Even aside from the auto industry, new investment in energy alternatives like wind turbines and clean carbon fuel would create American jobs and help feed the economy. By keeping these projects on American soil, the money would not leave the country – it would continue to circulate throughout the U.S. economy, further contributing to its recovery.

It is true that the last thing Americans may want to hear in the midst of a recession and low gas prices is that the government is investing tax dollars in experimental alternative energy projects, but success stories like that of the Prius have demonstrated that the technology that will enable Americans to determine their own energy future is out there.

President Obama has taken up the call for a new energy strategy: He expressed his dedication to energy reform during the campaign, prominently referenced it in his inaugural address and plans to set aside $54 billion in his economic stimulus package for “clean, efficient, American energy.”

We support this package and commend Obama for his efforts thus far in the energy sector. No policy, however, will succeed without the will power and demand of the American people behind it. So however low gas prices may be, the American people would be wise to sustain their demand for efficient green energy.

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