Monday, May 21, 2012

About those "high" gas prices

Americans are typically whining about gas prices believed to be "high". A number of issues come to mind regarding this phenomenon.

First, gas prices in Europe have long been roughly double those in the U.S. Yet you don't hear Europeans constantly whining about it, they just live with it, organize their lives so as not to be so dependent on scarce fossil fuels.

America used to be infused with a "can do" spirit among its people. If there was a problem, we would roll up our sleeves, get to work, and figure out how to surmount it, and then do it. Now, it seems that the response to any setback is to complain about it, to point fingers at those deemed to be responsible. A more sensible approach would be to return to the way we used to be, with a "let's solve this problem together" attitude.

Second, studies have shown that the true cost of a gallon gas in this country is $12 a gallon, factoring in all the costs involved, including military costs required to maintain the Middle East supply of oil. Those who like to complain about high taxes and too much government might want to consider whether they are willing to pay the extra $8 a gallon over what they are paying at the pump.

A third observation on this subject is that many Americans imagine that producing more oil in this country would solve the problem, or at least help the problem. Republicans chant "drill baby drill", which sadly is being done in all seriousness. The fact is that oil prices are determined by the world oil market; that's just the way it is. A marginal increase in production in the U.S. would have a negligible effect on world oil prices, hence would not change gas prices here.

A fourth observation is that Americans seem willfully oblivious to the need to conserve our dwindling supply of fossil fuels. If you walk up and down the street in almost any American town, you see more vans, SUV's, and trucks than compact cars. Too many people seem to think they need to drive gas-guzzlers, when with a little ingenuity and creativity they could make do with smaller vehicles. People buy gas-guzzlers, and then complain when gas prices rise to half of what people in many other countries pay.

A fifth observation is that our love affair with cars has contributed to a breakdown in our national health. The obesity problem continues to get worse and worse, and yet we still drive to places that we could walk or bike to. Along the same lines, cars have contributed to a breakdown in a sense of community, as we zip from place to place, rather than traveling in a more leisurely way that would enhance community instead of destroying it.

A final observation is that, sadly, gas prices on election day will probably go a long way to determining the results of the 2012 presidential election. This says a lot about the sorry state of our politics, but that is a subject for another post.