Time for Gas Guzzlers to Get Innovative

Oregon Daily Emerald
University of Oregon

Gas prices are climbing to $3! Sometimes higher! It’s costing $50 to fill a tank! Every week! In case you haven’t heard.

I understand why Americans are upset about rising gasoline prices, but a national fervor? I have yet to comprehend why so many drivers are so surprised that gasoline, like most commodities, will experience price changes because of demand and availability of the resource. Consumers didn’t get up in arms when the price of Fig Newtons climbed to $4 during the winter months, because it was clear that in cold weather figs were harder to come by, and protesting the growing season of fruit would bring about no change in cookie price.

And yet consumers of gasoline demand explanation and solution from the government and the oil industry, as though oil dependence is the fault of everyone except drivers.

In the case of gasoline, I am frankly surprised that gas prices have managed to stay so low; after all, gasoline is practically a necessity for many citizens, and gas companies could therefore certainly raise prices to sky high levels while losing few customers. Of course, the reason gasoline companies don’t charge extremely high prices and rake in even more extreme profits, is that many states have laws against raising gas prices so far past their fair, national market value as to bring business moguls profits at the expense of citizens who rely on gasoline.

Unfortunately, few such gouging laws are employed against the drug industry, which is allowed to charge obscenely high amounts of money for treatment that often means the difference between life and death for a patient. But that’s a different column.

The point I would like to present in this column is that the uproar against gasoline is being directed toward all the wrong places. Drivers understandably want to voice disappointment that so much money must now be put toward filling their vehicle; however, citizens also ought to realize that perhaps high gasoline prices are more accurate to the nature of this energy resource. Oil must be discovered, drilled for, refined and transported, often across the globe. Once the gasoline makes it to the station and into your car, the energy expended in the burning process is extensive.

Americans have become used to the ease of transportation by automobile, and it seems that our nation has forgotten just how much energy it takes to move a vehicle from one location to another. The simple truth is, we have no right to demand lower prices at the pump.

Furthermore, consider this fact from a recent New York Times article: “-since 1982, the price of petroleum is up less than the price of pulp and paper or lumber, and only about one-third as much as drugs as pharmaceuticals.” This means that although the price of gas is rising, it’s actually not rising all that much.

If consumers and the government want to quell the sea of anxious drivers, a solution must be found that doesn’t involve lowering the price of gasoline, because it’s obvious that gas is not unreasonably high compared to the market in general as well as the specific nature of gasoline. Therefore, gas prices ought to stay high, and the United States ought to decide how to deal with that fact.

To begin with, the government should consider offering tax benefits to young families who choose to move into city neighborhoods rather than suburbia. After WWII, an opposite plan was put into action through the GI Bill, and low-interest housing loans rewarded families for moving into the outskirts of cities; creating our modern notion of the suburbs. In the present, encouraging the revitalization of inner city areas would be a great way to reduce gasoline dependence, by establishing communities of homes, stores and schools which can be easily accessed with a bicycle or a pair of tennis shoes, rather than a car and an interstate.

In addition, local governments could consider putting money into rideshare and carpooling programs. Although such programs are often available over the Internet through Web sites such as Craigslist, creating an official, city-endorsed rideshare program might encourage citizens to become involved. The University could easily create such a program with a simple online bulletin board, and potentially reduce gasoline dependence and spending for far more than 50 percent of students driving to campus.

It’s time for American citizens to stop acting as though we have an inalienable right to gasoline. Yes, many of us are dependent upon that resource, but that dependence is no one’s fault but our own. It’s not the fault of the petroleum industry that they want to profit; nearly every capitalist organization operates in exactly the same manner as the gas industry. Rather than the federal government abetting U.S. citizens with promises that gasoline prices will drop, officials ought to say, “tough luck,” and start planning for how to lower gasoline dependence rather than gasoline prices.