As the economy melts down faster than the polar ice cap, there is a glimmer of good news at an unexpected place — the gas pump. A gallon of gas is more than a dollar cheaper than it was just a month ago.
In a world of lost jobs and evaporating retirement accounts, the falling price of gas is a happy reminder that prices can go down as well as up and that capitalism and the laws of supply and demand still work.
The price of crude oil has dropped by more than half since July. In the Tampa Bay area, that means the record price of $4 gas back in July has fallen to $2.51 now. If you fill a 20-gallon tank once a week, the price difference would put $1,500 in your pocket in a year.
Don't mourn for the major oil companies during this drop in demand for crude — not that you would. They're doing just fine. On Thursday, Exxon Mobil smashed its own record for quarterly profit, netting $14.83-billion in the third quarter. On Tuesday, it was BP posting a net profit of $8-billion, a rise of 83 percent.
There are side benefits to the price decline. The drop in petrodollars might keep the worrisome ambitions of Iran, Venezuela and Russia, among others, in check. OPEC has been forced to cut production to stabilize prices. And now the Republican chants of "drill, baby, drill" seem even more off key.
Falling gas prices reinforce that short-term answers don't solve long-term problems. The nation needs to keep the focus on developing alternative energy sources, demanding better fuel economy and pushing other conservation measures. A drop in gas prices doesn't mean SUVs should again become the vehicle of choice.
But at the moment, enjoy the break at the pump and see the tank as half full rather than half empty.