Gas price rebuttal

Reposted from the Flickr: Gas Pump Sticker Shock message board. I think I was fairly reasonable and civil, considering that we were supposed to be discussing a series of photos of people flicking off gas pumps in a weak-kneed attempt to blow off steam.

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I believe that gas prices are too LOW. If it takes $4/gallon gas (or $100/barrel oil) to get Americans to consider alternatives to oil addiction, then bring it on.

Apparently, even “BusinessWeek columnists”:tinyurl.com/dbqkk agree.

Many people living in urban areas already have great transit alternatives. 40% of the trips that Americans make are less than two miles long–a great distance for walking or cycling. New technology makes sharing trips or replacing trips much easier, whether telecommuting, finding someone to carpool with, or shopping online (thus sharing delivery trucks, instead of everyone driving their own deliveries).

If you’re really mad about gas prices, you could do something really radical: never buy gas, ever again. Oh wait, I did that already.

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I am very much for real, and I really have never bought gas, ever. Maybe other people shouldn’t be lazy, or at least maybe they shouldn’t complain loudly when they have to pay the price for their laziness.

I don’t get ten bags of groceries at a time. Buying smaller quantities more often means fresher food. Even when buying for parties, I can carry it easily with a bicycle trailer or a small cart, or have it delivered. (I don’t know what you buy from Best Buy, but most of my electronic stuff is small.) And most of the time, people aren’t traveling very far with loads of stuff. They’re just lazy, as you say, and so they drive.

I, and other non-drivers like me (about one in four Americans), DO make a difference. Imagine if the 300,000 families in Chicago without cars suddenly bought cars tomorrow: imagine how much higher gas prices would be, how much worse traffic or parking or pollution would be. You should be thanking, not belittling.

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Artesia, you’re right that the higher costs eventually get passed down; for instance, taxi and air fares have increased. However, someone who drives has to pay both higher air fare and higher gas prices; I only have to pay the former. Gas taxes here in Chicago rank among the highest local taxes in the country, at around 30c/gallon, but residents of, say, the Netherlands pay gas taxes of over $4/gallon. Since they’ve paid those taxes for a long time, though, the entire economy uses gas more efficiently. Food is grown and processed closer to cities, things are sent by boat or rail instead of truck, etc. So, the market prices for food and other necessities end up being no higher than here. Transit operators do end up paying more for fuel, but fuel is only 3% of my local transit system’s budget.

It’s not an optimal situation for anyone, really, since even I’d prefer that higher prices be offset by better transportation alternatives or for rebates to lower-income consumers. However, let’s hope that today’s high prices will provide a strong impetus to begin using gas more economically, so that we’re not caught in a similarly bad situation during future oil-supply crunches–which, by all indications, will happen more frequently.

Serge, your fatalistic attitude towards pollution is neither encouraging nor correct. We’ve successfully cut pollution: for instance, the Clean Air Act cut carbon monoxide pollution by 90% and sulfur dioxide by 60%, while CFCs have almost disappeared in 10 years since the Montreal Protocol. Many large (and quite wealthy) cities like Vancouver, Copenhagen, Singapore, Zurich, Melbourne, and London have used proactive policies to reduce car traffic and increase transit ridership, walking, and cycling, sometimes dramatically: walking has increased 60% in Melbourne and 50% in Vancouver. Here in the USA, our economy became 33% more energy efficient between 1970-97, and higher prices will accelerate that trend.

Note that I said “many people living in urban areas” — 75% of Americans live in urban areas. I agree that it’s tougher on people living in rural areas. Countries with higher gas prices usually have fewer people living on farmsteads and more living in villages, where there are some alternatives to driving. Farm equipment also gets exempted from gas taxes in most places, which makes a big difference in other countries where taxes are 50-70% of the cost of gas.

The key is to use transportation appropriately: instead of driving half a mile, as many people in cities and suburbs do, maybe we city folks should consider alternatives. That way, we can make sure there’s more scarce gas available for those who truly need it.

Edit: One economist calculates that a program combining a $2/gallon tax and a “gas guzzler buyback” (to ease the transition to higher prices) would save two million barrels of oil each day in the first year. By contrast, Hurricane Katrina knocked out production of 0.86 million barrels of oils a day. Smarter energy policies today will help us when future crises hit.

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