A few months ago, when gas prices were climbing, President Obama’s critics were falling over themselves to blame him for the increase. Now that prices at the pump have started to drop, those same critics should be lining up to praise the president. If he’s to blame when prices increase, he deserves the credit when they go down, right?

Wrong on both counts. The president of the United States has no more influence over short-term fluctuations in the price of gasoline than he has over the weather. Blaming him for rising prices is a political cheap shot, just as claiming credit would be an attempt to trick a gullible crowd.

And that’s because, for starters, a drop in gas prices is not entirely a good thing. It’s great for the guy filling up his tank, but it’s also a sign of a worldwide economic slowdown that has cooled demand for oil. That cool temperature could also be felt by American exporters who will lose business as a result, and those losses will reverberate throughout our economy.

The fact is, there are so many factors that go into pricing a global commodity like oil that we would be foolish to think that we could affect it in any significant way through loosening environmental rules or other changes in economic policy. We could drill for oil in Casco Bay, but if Europe got its sovereign debt crisis straightened out, we would see gas prices take off.

The one thing we can control through policy, however, is our demand. Conservation and alternative energy put us in a much less vulnerable position when the price of oil spikes, which it is certain to do. Investing in those areas may cost more in the short run, but they act like an insurance policy against volatility.

The right reaction to dropping gas prices should not be a sigh of relief that all our troubles are over, but a determination to prepare ourselves better for the next price spike.