One wonders, had all those dinosaurs and all that tropical vegetation not perished eons ago to decompose and compress into the vast stores of oil that man has been depleting for the past century or so, would we have been able to develop the motorized transportation systems that have facilitated such great advances in our society?

Had there not been all that oil, readily available, and suited to the crude engines that powered the first motor vehicles, as well as the more sophisticated ones we use today, would the ingenious inventors have developed an alternate fuel?

It seems providential, in retrospect, that all that oil is there, that it has so nicely meshed with the evolution of motor vehicles, and that — despite our increasing gluttony with it — there are reserves enough to last us, the experts say, for at least the balance of this century. By which time, surely, alternate (and renewable) fuels will have become practical, allowing us to at last sever our dependence on imported oil.

But the sad reality is that, for the foreseeable future, our transportation system will continue be mostly petroleum-fueled, and we will remain subject to OPEC's supply/pricing whims and the increasing instability in the Mideast. More than 90 percent of all the energy used in the world's transportation sector now is derived from oil, and usage increases yearly.

The sadder commentary is that, with 2003 marking the 30th anniversary of the Arab oil embargo, we have squandered three decades without making any significant progress toward alleviating the situation. A sizable portion of the U.S. citizenry wasn't even born when the embargo occurred, and probably half of the population has no firsthand knowledge of the chaos that resulted, or the mega-billions of dollars drained from the economy as higher oil prices imposed higher costs on consumers and businesses.

Beyond the intense flurry of federal/state research programs that followed the embargo (and lasted only until OPEC relented and allowed prices to drop), little more than lip service has been paid to efforts to develop alternate fuels and the infrastructure needed to utilize them. Why spend billions of federal dollars on lessening our dependence on foreign oil when those billions can be used to fund all manner of political pork projects? And besides, Big Oil has a mighty powerful lobby to look after its interests.

But…if those billions had been spent, on a consistent basis over the past 30 years for alternate energy programs, we could've been well along the road to telling the Mideast sheiks where they could stick their oil.

The transition to alternate fuels will require massive costs for research, for development of new engines and vehicles, and for the infrastructure to support those new fuels. The Bush Administration's energy package, which failed in the 2003 Congress, did include increased funding for ethanol, which would've been a benefit to agriculture, and there were a few other token efforts for alternate energy programs. But it was mostly too little too late and too slanted to special interests.

There'll be another try in the '04 Congress — post-embargo year 31…and counting.

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com