Good thing I'm not running for office, because high gas prices make me happy

I'm a bit conflicted about gas prices. Whenever prices go up all the stories on how expensive gas is hurting average people starting showing up - like here and here, or this one on taxi drivers in Beijing.

Yet I also feel a certain sense of satisfaction when I read about how prices are finally forcing people to stop wasting gas and start considering different ways of moving around, or cutting down on frivolous car trips. It's important to see energy consumption in context. The process that makes car use possible - car manufacture and oil extraction, refining, and transportation - as well as the kind of (sprawling) cities that follow widespread car use exact a terrible toll on the environment. That is, the convenience of cars is bought at the price of the destroyed lives of huge numbers of animals and plants.

Car culture also exacts a severe toll on future generations, which will have to adapt to the possibly catastrophic effects of global warming and will have to deal with all the toxins associated with producing and using cars. Finally, keeping gas cheap also involves a long and bloody American foreign policy of propping up reactionary, authoritarian elites willing to sell their oil at US-determined "reasonable" prices and fighting wars to preserve American domination of the global oil industry.

Add to this the fact that many countries impose taxes on gas that raise prices to more than 2 times current American prices and the howls of pain we hear from Americans start to seem a little petty. Only massive sacrifices of the environment, foreign lives, and future generations have allowed Americans to enjoy low gas prices for so long. The sooner these terrible subsidies come to an end, the better.

The embarassing spectacle of Republicans' flailing attempts to buy off angry gas buyers - quickly withdrawn after business tugged on the reigns - has been matched by the Democrats' embarassing demagoguery on the gas price issue. Certainly the best way to deal with this would be for a powerful, radical environmental movement to lead a less painful transition to sustainable public transit as part of a larger shift to a more egalitarian economy and a progressive foreign policy. But since no such movement currently exists, high gas prices are probably the only thing that can force Americans out of their complacency. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed for $4/gallon - and higher - as soon as possible.


Chris said...

i'm happy to say that i've switched to an all-bicycle commute, despite jenny's predictions to the contrary. now all i need to do is move somewhere with reasonable weather year-round to make this commute a year-round solution.

Patrick said...


Chris said...

well, it's not so much the weather, i'm just too depressed to summon the necessary energy to bike.