Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How to beat the high cost of driving (June 06 News Advocate)

Why is everyone so upset about rising gasoline prices? We've seen it coming for years. It’s not like we were taken by surprise. What we should really be upset about is why we care about high gas prices, or more specifically, why we've become so reliant on gasoline. Overcoming high gasoline prices can be accomplished through cultural, rather than economic changes. Unfortunately, we live in a society where we find it necessary to seek happiness by consuming as much as possible, and by owning lots of toys. How often do you drive by a huge house that requires millions of cubic feet of natural gas to heat, there’s a sport utility vehicle and a luxury sedan in the driveway, a large boat on a trailer in the backyard, and Lord-only-knows-what assortment of jet skis, quad-runners, snowmobiles, and other fun gas-powered gadgets are jammed into the shed and garage? These same people probably have a home in the suburbs and another one up north near the lake that they motor to every weekend, pulling all of their gas-hogging toys on trailers behind them. Do we really need all of this stuff? Is the path to happiness found by zooming around a lake or in the woods? Yeah, I enjoy zooming around sometimes, too – but in moderation. I also have other hobbies that aren't powered by fossil fuels at all, believe it or not. Our parents and grandparents didn't have all of that junk and they still managed to entertain themselves somehow. Lets roll back the hands of time to pre-World War II America. They had things called streetcars in major cities that provided public transportation and folks rode them instead of using their gas-guzzling cars. People used busses and taxis, too. This is no longer the case. Currently, the U.S. passenger automobile fleet accounts for one tenth of the world's petroleum consumption. Long-distance travel was a whole different animal back then, too. Americans took trains and Greyhound busses when they wanted to get somewhere. It was a less glamorous way to travel than in the mini-van with the DVD player setup for the kiddies, but it used less gas. People also walked places or rode bicycles more, and when they did use their cars, they shopped in their own neighborhoods instead of driving 30 miles so they could go to some big-box or chain-store. Americans have the wrong idea about rising petroleum prices. They need to look at the total amount of money they’re spending on gasoline, rather than the per unit price. If we all changed our behavior and our cultural habits just a little bit, we wouldn't sweat rising prices so much. Instead of waiting for the government or the oil companies or the auto companies to fix the problem with sanctions or new technologies, let’s fix the situation ourselves. Ride your bike to work, take public transportation, shop closer to home, take one fewer long car trip this summer, and walk somewhere instead of driving when you can. Simple economic theory tells us If we decreased the demand for gasoline, the price would surely lower on its own. Perhaps this gas crisis is just what we need to get everyone to change their habits for the better. You won't hear me complaining, even if the prices go over four dollars a gallon, because I can control how much money I spend on gas overall, and everyone else can, too.