Lou Johnson of Temple Hills writes, "I seldom use my car. Most of the time I use my motorcycle, which gets 50 miles to the gallon.

"If everybody would conserve gasoline, wouldn't it begin to stockpile? They can't drink the damn stuff. Wouldn't they have to release it? In other words: a mild boycott?"

I assume that "they" in the foregoing are the oil companies, and that Lou shares the common belief that the oil companies are deliberately hoarding gasoline to drive up the price. In support of this theory, people cite reports that storage tanks in this area or that are so full that new shipments must be refused.

My own view of the matter is somewhat different.

Oil tanks are always fuller in some places than in others, even in normal times. This proves nothing that we didn't already know about statistics and averages. Some day remind me to tell you about the 6-foot tall statistician who drowned while trying to wade across a stream with an average depth of four feet.

I think there is a genuine worldwide shotage of oil.

I believe the shortage was brought on by a combination of factors: increased population, increased consumption, dwindling supplies, political disruptions that reduced production, and -- most important of all -- the OPEC policy of deliberately limiting production to drive up prices.

Therefore I do not believe the major oil companies created the shortage, or that they could end it at their pleasure. I do believe the major oil companies have exploited the shortage to serve their own best interests, but what's new about that? We live in a selfish world.

Lou's basic premise is sound enough. If everybody in the world would cut his use of petroleum products by a significant percentage, pretty soon the OPEC monopoly would lose its economic cloud.

As Lou's notes, they can't drink the stuff. The cartel would disintigrate as those countries in greater need of oil revenue would seek to sell more by undercutting the prices quoted by those countries with a lesser need for current income.

But that is wishful thinking, and we all know it. The entire world isn't going to change its work and pleasure habits, or its standard of living, by 8 o'clock tomorrow morning.

The need for oil will continue, and those who are now exploiting that need will continue to tighten the vise in which oil consumers are caught.

Our most realistic hope, as I see it, is that we will be forced to learn to make a synthetic automobile fuel at a competitive price.

Our government will not accomplish this feat quickly or willingly. Only dire neccessiity will stir, the sleeping giant into action. Until disaster looms dead ahead, the project will be considered too costly, too difficult, and perhaps "impossible" for good measure.

During World War II, we faced a terrible rubber shortage. We knew how to make synthetic rubber, but its price was sky high. Synthetic rubber just wasn't a practical alternative to natural rubber.

Yet by the time the war was over, synthetic rubber was being turned out by the carload. Its prices was quite competitive, and for good measure we learned to make synthetics that had special qualities particularly suited to special usages.

We will get real action on alternative fuels only when Congress and the White House catch up with the public's overwhelming support for research into every conceivable kind of energy source: solar, geothermal, wind, tides and waves, hydroelectric, shale oil, alcohol, coal, sewage conversion and everything else you can tink of. Until the president and the Congress get into high gear, government will continue to be our biggest problem, not our best hope for a solution.

Some day, there may be so many alternative forms of energy available that we can tell Libyan leader Col. Qaddafi to stick the nozzle of his gas hose in his ear. But for now, thats wishful thinking.