Tuesday 25 May 2004 — This is 19 years old. Be careful.
Everyone’s upset about the price of gasoline. Seems like everyone agrees that we’d be better off if we could use less. Taking swipes at Hummers isn’t going to solve the problem (satisfying though it is).
Of course, there are simple things people can do to reduce their gas usage: Drive slower, and check your tire pressure. I know these solutions are not popular, but why not? In a time when we’re at war and people are getting killed, when we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars trying to stabilize the Middle East, why won’t people sacrifice just a little to help?
And once you’ve done those things, drive a little less. Like most of us, you could use more exercise anyway!
However, upping your tire pressure is a no-lose proposition. Higher pressure tires perform better (in both curves and straightaways), contribute less to the consumption of the tire itself and really does improve gas mileage.
In North America we have become adicted to cheap energy. While the current price escalation has all the hallmarks of being driven by speculation, in the long term this isn't always going to be the case.
Weaning society off of cheap energy and looking for alternatives a little more seriously is going to be in everyone's future.
There is an underlying message though that we should internalize a distaste for waste. This is one of those little values that we usually inherit from our parents (alongside our spending habits), and there's a pretty wide spectrum of standards. For instance, when I'm getting rid of something functional I make sure to do it on a nice day so someone else can pick it up -- I'll never know who takes it, but there's something that pains me to waste something, even if I don't care to use it myself.
Other values are important too. Personally, I would be ashamed to drive an SUV (unless I lived in the country or someplace where it made sense). I'd consider it immoral, because waste itself is immoral, as is vanity and selfishness (and an SUV is tied up in all three). I wish more people had these values and the thoughtfulness to apply them to their lives -- we can transfer these values to our children, but our children are small in numbers, and we can't wait generations for change.
So I think the little things won't do it. They might be a byproduct of other efforts, but alone they mean little. We need a change in values, a shift all around -- so the Hummer people own small SUVs, so the sedan people own compacts, so the compact people own bikes, etc.
We got this way because of a shift in values, because of the gentle pressure of a society culturally dominated by commercial interests. I think it has to be a cultural shift to take us back.
Another option: work from home -- avoid the drive entirely. I know it's not an option for everyone but I avoid 50 miles of driving a week this way with a 20% reduction in weekly gas consumption (it's a commuter car and rarely driven on the weekends).
Of course, it's also a *diesel* so it's only $1.85/g and that's at the convenient-but-expensive spot. I expect diesel isn't going to go up beyond where gas is anyway - the semi's that deliver food are diesel too, and the price of food in cities would directly reflect the increase, and *that* would get people to actually worry.
(Some other salient points: (1) there are only a couple of thousand hummers anyway - so while they make good showy rallying points for protest, if they all went away it wouldn't actually *matter* (2) European gas prices have traditionally been about four times US prices; don't know if that's still true with the dollar's current slide relative to the euro... but that's also led to a much bigger market there for high-efficiency turbo-diesels (3) Hybrids haven't yet gotten to "worthwhile" gas mileage - then again, they're not supposed to, they're about reduced emissions, but that doesn't save end-users money (4) Two companies made HMMWV hybrids - with excellent performance, and about 2x mileage - one of them won't sell to civilians, the other never made it into full production.)
Oh, random point: I don't commute in the Hummer (any more) and if I could get an interesting/pratical electric car here, I'd drive it - but we don't have CAFE, so no E-RAV4 for us (Zipcar has some, one of which was donated by the manufacturer) and the acpropulsion.com t-zero is awesome, but impractically expensive even for a Hummer owner...
We owe our standard of life and economic potential to cheap energy. Imagine where we'd be without it... like rural China - only rural China 'wants in' too and so will other relatively light per capita users of energy too.
Commodity prices are up far more than they should be for this type of economic recovery - there was barely a recession let alone a serious dent in economic output yet commodities are shooting through the roof and it is not all speculation causing it. Capacity in some areas is at max.
When the under-developed world demands the same access to cheap energy, it suddenly won't be cheap for anyone.
Those ripples are going to happen, no matter what. Rising demand alone will do it; if the petroleum doomsayers are even 1/50th correct in their predictions, rising demand and declining supply will tip the boat keel over.
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