09 April 2005

The power to change

I paid $2.45 per gallon for gasoline when I filled up my car early this week.  That is the highest price I have ever paid for gas since I started driving almost 22 years ago.

And guess what?  I'm fine with it.  In fact, I'd be willing to pay more.

I think the price of gas and the way most people of this country react to it is one of the more expressive examples of how we have become a country of excess.  Judging from what I have read and seen on the news about gasoline prices, you'd think people were going without food just so they can fill up their cars.  In reality, American consumers still pay less for gas than most other countries in the world.  I will be traveling to Ireland next month and driving for a week, and I expect to pay upwards of $5 per gallon there.

Recall the weeks before the 2000 presidential election.  Recall how the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, vowed to do something to get gasoline prices, which were only approaching two dollars per gallon then, under control.  Four years later, has he done anything to control rising prices?  Of course not.  If Democratic candidate Al Gore had been elected instead, do you think we'd be paying less now for gas?  Of course not.  There's no reason to expect a president to be able to do anything about the price of gas in a capitalistic economy.  It is up to the consumers solely.  You and I control the price of gas.

I think about that all of the time when I see or hear someone complaining about the price.  What are you doing about it?  What is your plan?

One of the simplest lessons of economics is the law of supply and demand.  It is an inverse relationship.  When supply is high, demand is low.  When demand is high, supply is low.  The latter situation means higher prices.  The reason we pay so much for gasoline now compared to past times is because demand for gas is as high as ever, while supply is lower than in previous times. 

And while there are factors regarding the supply of gasoline that reflect on the companies that refine and supply gasoline in this country, one has to be remember that it is a business, and if there were not money to be made off this, these companies would not be involved in it.

I would be happy to see gasoline prices approach the $3-$3.50 range, simply because I think that once those prices became reality, we would finally start treating the situation more seriously than we do now.  I think it is the responsibility of all Americans to drive sensible vehicles and think about ways to conserve gasoline.  There are both good and bad reasons to drive an SUV.  I respect people who drive them because of the convenience they offer for their job or family situation, but there are also plenty of people driving an SUV that do not have a responsible reason for doing so.  And there are plenty of other drivers and cars on the road that are poor choices. 

I also think higher prices will force a lot of bad drivers to be on the road less frequently.  I drive on local expressways quite a bit, and there a lot of scary drivers out there.  Approximately 40,000 people will lose their lives on American roads this year. 

It really is great to be an American, truly, but I wish we could sometimes get everyone to step back and take a look at how we live.  We are consuming massive amounts of non-renewable energy and have no real ideas of what to do to conserve it.  Drilling for oil in Alaska is irrelevant; whether or not you support the idea, there's not enough oil there to make a difference.  All we are doing there is delaying serious talk of conservation for another year or two.  There have been some improvements in the auto industry in the past few years.  The development and launch of hybrid vehicles is encouraging, but many people are currently unable to take advantage of this technology as it is cost prohibitive.  Unfortunately, the laws of supply, demand and price hold true in the automotive industry as well.

It is a mistake to look at our government for help in lowering gas prices and coming up with alternative ways of producing energy.  The government, despite which party holds power, has a far too intimate relationship with the captains of the energy industry.  Ours is a capitalistic society and as such, those with the most power will always be involved with energy industry.

There are thinly veiled examples of how this relationship works.  For example, this year you could receive a tax credit for purchasing either a new hybrid vehicle or an SUV.  Next year, the tax credit for the hybrid purchase will disappear.  The purchase of which car makes the higher ups happier, do you suppose?

When it comes to gasoline, I believe that the people have the power.  The problem is that most either do not realize it, or that they are focusing on the negative aspects of rising prices.  We have the power to change things, power that lies in our legs when we walk instead of ride, in our wallets when we purchase responsible cars instead of gas guzzlers, and in our brains when we take the time to inform ourselves of the situation and then work towards viable solutions.  The power does not lie in a shrug, in an attitude that says that there is nothing that can be done, while we fill up again and again and again.  

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