Friday, May 30, 2008

$4.00 a gallon for gas--a blessing in disguise?

It's been a while since I posted because Marty and I took a cruise/landtour to Alaska--more about that later. By the title of this post, I'm not meaning to offend anyone. There are many people in America who are experiencing real hardship because of the sudden rise in gas prices at the pump, not to mention the effect on the overall economy including my former employer (who I would really like to do well so my pension keeps coming....). There have also been numerous articles and blogcasts about the profit increases of the big oil companies even with the price of crude rising. But the more I observe how people's behavior, including my own, is changing, the more I think that longer term, this development is actually positive.

The first inkling I got personally was about two months back, when the price was "only" $3.60 or so a gallon. I was thinking to go out to Whole Foods Market, which is located more than 10 miles from my house. That is a round trip of 20 miles, and we only had one car then, a Taurus that gets less than 20 miles per gallon in the city. So I started to think--that's nearly $4 just to drive out there...maybe I'll find someplace closer to home. Since then, I've really gotten conscious of this, and so has Marty. I've seen this on the part of others as well--my Sunday night book club meeting out in one of the more distant suburbs has people in my part of town emailing about car pooling--when before everyone probably would have just driven alone. A recent article in
The New York Times talks about the increase in bus ridership in cities that to date have been heavily car-dependent. Of course, gas prices have been at this level and much higher for a long time in Europe and other parts of the world, so we really don't have that much to complain about even with prices reaching their current levels.

What I'm hoping is that the change in behavior continues and also drives more sensible energy policies, an renewed emphasis on mass transit, alternative fuels, and--better automobiles. However, I think an unintended, positive consequence will also be to bring people closer together. When you carpool, you get to talk to your neighbors and really get to know them. When you ride mass transit, you can chill out, read a book (if it doesn't make you car-sick), listen to music or a podcast, or talk to your fellow passengers (and of course read your email, another scourge in my opinion). In addition to the obvious environmental impact, I'm sure there are other social impacts I haven't even thought of. Since so many people in America are so stressed and rushed all the time, maybe it will even have positive health effects.....

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