Friday, July 04, 2008

10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas

I've told my wife several times in the past (as much as 5 years ago) that maybe what the country really needs is $5 gas. People don't really respond en masse unless you hit them in the pocketbook. They won't really think of alternative transportation unless they have a financial reason for doing so.

It's a sad fact. It's just not enough of a reason for some people to do the right thing because it's good for our future or the environment. Cheap gas is not a fundamental right, though Americans seem to believe it is.

Well, I've gotten my wish. Don't get me wrong, I know it hits the lower income people big time. I've been there. But high gas prices hit the big guys too. And when it hits enough people, they will clamor for easier and cheaper modes of transportation: more bus routes, mass transit, park-n-ride, etc. People will stop thinking it's cool to have a Hummer, a Viper, a monster trick with a ridiculous lift kit. Maybe men trying to make up for inadequacies elsewhere (in the Freudian sense) will measure their virility with MPG instead of vehicle size. That wouldn't be so bad, would it?

Here's a list that digs even deeper into the benefits of higher gas prices:

Ten Things You Can Like about $4 Gas
by Amanda Ripley for Time Magazine

The world had long assumed that Americans were just unrepentant energy pigs. If gas prices went up, well, we kept our Explorers aimed at the horizon, and little changed. We truthfully didn't have lots of options. Unlike Europeans, we didn't have jobs we could bike to or convenient public transit. Gasoline prices never stayed high enough long enough to force those kinds of shifts in how we lived.

Now here we are. Gas prices are near $4 per gal., as no one needs to tell you, and they are likely to stay that way. Most of us still don't have the alternatives we need to adapt with grace, which means that many will adapt just by suffering. We will run out of gas on I-80, ease our minivans over to the shoulder and tell the kids everything is O.K. We'll fall behind on Visa bills to pay for gas so we can buy food made ever more expensive by energy costs.

But it's also true that Americans are finding options where there seemed to be none. They're ready to change — and waiting for their infrastructure to catch up. They are driving to commuter-rail lines only to find there are no parking spots left. They are running fewer errands and dumping their SUVs. Public-transit use is at a 50-year high. Gas purchases are down 2% to 3%. And all those changes bring secondary, hard-earned benefits.

"You suddenly are reminded how the economy works," says Eric Roston, author of a new book about energy, The Carbon Age. "Nobody wants high prices for oil. But there's also no faster mechanism to change behavior." The suffering will go on. But the story, like any good tragedy, is not without redemption ...

1. Globalized Jobs Return Home
2. Sprawl Stalls
3. Four-Day Workweeks
4. Less Pollution
5. More Frugality
6. Fewer Traffic Deaths
7. Cheaper Insurance
8. Less Traffic
9. More Cops on the Beat
10. Less Obesity


wunelle said...

I don't disagree with any of your basic premises, though I can't myself find the moral imperative in the situation.

The modern country was birthed with the automobile, and the lay of the land and densities of population would have formed very differently if we were a public transportation society. We're not, but not because of any moral weakness, I'd argue; but because of vast open space and cheap gasoline.

At the time we were forming our society, the problems with finite fossil fuel were not nearly so ominous and imminent as they are now. It's been only the blink of an eye, really, where this triple whammy of global warming, finite oil and skyrocketing prices have come to the fore. So it's not a surprise that the wholesale changes needed to accommodate these things is a hard swallow. Europe has a head start on us, but because their gas has been much higher for much longer, not (I'd argue) because they're inherently more virtuous people.

(That said, a Hummer is still a huge "Fuck You" to everyone else.)

dbackdad said...

I agree that the automobile certainly helped dictate how our cities were formed, especially the western ones. But it's not an excuse for the short-sighted economic and civic planning of the last 20 years when we've known how our choices are affecting the environment. The Phoenix metro area is a prime example. We're giving tax breaks to national retailers to build huge box stores 30 miles out from the city center.

People continue to drive their huge vehicles those distances to work, alone, knowing full well the consequences. It was never right to be in a 4500 sq. ft. McMansion in the suburbs in a gated community -- high gas prices or not. That is moral weakness.

More Europeans believe that global warming is happening and that humans are a major cause than Americans do ... and by a wide margin. That is not because their gas is higher priced. It is because they are better educated on the subject and don't have leaders that tell them conspicuous consumption is patriotic.

Nobody deserves a free pass on this. Obviously changes will take a long time. But that's no reason for not making them. I guess the whole point I was trying to make with the article and my comments on the article is that sometimes people need a nudge, especially an economic one. Just knowing that it's right to change sometimes ain't enough.

wunelle said...

"But it's not an excuse for the short-sighted economic and civic planning of the last 20 years"

You're right, of course. I no sooner wrote my above comment than I thought that we HAD had plenty of warning of these things. We went thru a fuel crisis in the '70s and have subsequently (governmentally, anyway) done... absolutely nothing.

And I do agree that Europe's educational system just seems to be functioning better than ours. The existence of Fox "News" seems a clear indication of this.

I've always thought that one of the great ironies of the Bush presidency is that his horrid stewardship of the planet (or no-stewardship, if you like) has resulted in oil prices having risen to the point where alternatives are becoming economically viable. I think it may be an exciting new age of energy technology, actually...

dbackdad said...

" ... his horrid stewardship of the planet ... has resulted in oil prices having risen to the point where alternatives are becoming economically viable ..." - Very ironic, isn't it?

I don't want to give the impression that I was wishing for $5 gas. I know it's normal folk that it hurts the most. Hopefully there will be enough normal folks complaining to make some changes. My fear (and this is already starting to be realized) is that congressmen and the President think that complaining gives them a right to drill off-shore or in ANWR. Those things are so painfully short-sighted and ineffectual at the same time. The little that we might get wouldn't come down the pike for 10 years, wouldn't help prices at all, and would further damage our environment.

BTW, I've been meaning to ask this, but how adversely are gas prices affecting your work? You fly cargo runs, right?