OK, I don’t really love expensive gasoline. A better title would be “I Hate Cheap Gasoline.” Illogical?
Perhaps, but not compared to the hysterical and incoherent reaction of some of my fellow Americans, both politicians and average citizens, to $3 per gallon gas.
First of all, gas isn’t expensive, except in comparison to the super-cheap gas of the recent past. David Leonhardt, writing in the May 10th New York Times, shows that gas here is not only cheaper by comparison to the rest of the world, but cheaper than it was here in the 70’s and 80’s, accounting for inflation.
The cheap gas of the 60’s led to more powerful and fuel-inefficient cars, and the cheap gas of the 90’s helped usher in the era of the gas guzzling SUV. As Leonardt writes, “cheap gas also means more gas use. And using a lot more gas is about the worst thing we can do right now,” because of global warming and supporting petro-dictatorships, to name two reasons. Low gas prices should make us shudder.
So current gas prices, on the face of it, are not at all outrageous. Not only that, but higher prices are here to stay, give or take a few dips. In the long run, oil prices are going up, and anyone who buys a gas-guzzler thinking otherwise is willfully blind. Rage against the machine, if you must, but get used to it.
I confess that high gas prices don’t hurt me that much. I drive about 10,000 miles a year, and get about 30 mpg. At $2/gallon, I would spend about $660 per year in gas, while at $3/gallon I would spend about $990. The $330 difference is far less than I pay in insurance or repairs per year. So if I’m calculating the yearly cost of owning a car, gas price is a relatively minor factor. If you drive 20,000 miles and get 20 mpg, the difference between $2 and $3 gas is closer to $1,000. For some people, that is surely a hardship. Since higher gas prices are inevitable, we have to support a way to alleviate that hardship, for example, through lower income taxes or credits for buying fuel-efficient vehicles.
But many of the people bellyaching about $3 gas are paying over $30,000 for new vehicles every few years. Their outrage gets little sympathy.
Like my fellow citizens, I am outraged at higher gas prices, but for different reasons. Why drives my crazy is that while gas prices should and must go up, the oil companies should not be pocketing the difference. Partly because they don’t deserve it. But more important, their mega-profits lead to more investment in oil exploration, less in renewable alternatives, and we stay on the oil treadmill that much longer.
Higher gas prices should have come much earlier, but as a result of taxes, which should be levied and invested in alternative energy and transportation. I know that “taxes” is a curse word in my country. But if government does not make energy and transportation policy, then oil companies will.
Admittedly we have a long way to go before gas prices are high for the right reasons. In the meantime I never want to see really cheap gas again. I’ll gaze on $3 or even $4 gas with, if not love, then at least hope, that it will lead to less driving, more efficient cars, alternative fuels and less gasoline use in the long run.