Slipping Backwards (and not in a good way)
I am an outspoken proponent of high gas prices. So, therefore, when NWCN tells me that gas prices are coming back down, I get frustrated.
Why am I against low gas prices? A few reasons, though don’t expect these to be well-explained:
- Gas fails to reflect “true cost”. “True cost” is my name for what is usually coined “social cost“, or the actual, social consequences of the manufacture and sale of a particular commodity. A good example from the Wikipedia article linked to above:
Negative externalities (external costs) lead to an over-production of those goods that have a high social cost. For example, the logging of trees for timber may result in society losing a recreation area, shade, beauty, and air quality, but this loss is usually not quantified and included in the price of the timber that is made from the trees. As a result, individual entities in the marketplace have no incentive to factor in these externalities. More of this activity is performed than would be if its cost had a true accounting.
The same can be said for the production of petroleum; we don’t consider the loss of precious natural resources or the pollution cost in refinement (not to mention social consequences that stem from refinement, the economic costs required to transport petroleum, etc.). If these were accounted for, the cost of gasoline would be much higher.
- Low gas prices promote fuel-inefficent vehicles. Keeping gas prices low offer no disincentive for the purchase of sport utility vehicles or other cars with very low MPG ratings (sports or “exotic” cars in particular); certainly, while those who can afford an SUV can likely afford higher gas prices, keeping those prices low isn’t likely to make people think about the amount of money they waste on gas instead of taking a number of measures to lower fuel cost.
- Low gas prices only prolong our dependence on oil. Now, I’m not one of those “we must abolish oil usage yesterday” freaks, though I do believe that we have to conserve our natural resources as best as possible for future generations. The development of alternative energy, whether that be biodiesel, electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, or fuel cell vehicles, is a worthwhile exercise in preserving our children’s future. It doesn’t matter where the solution comes from; fuel/electric hybrids are a great first step for transportation, but they are not the end-all of energy problems. They are also only one of many possible solutions.
- As long as the “panic mentality” of high gas prices is maintained, no progress in bettering the world can be made. The issue of high gas prices affects far more than cars. It also has direct impact on the overall costs of running businesses, the ability of groups to cope with emergencies, and, rather indirectly, the development of community. That last point is a rather interesting one — so long as we can travel far on low gas prices, we aren’t as likely to pursue options that develop community: carpooling, living closer to an urban center, reducing the amount of distance between us and our everyday destinations (work, the grocery store, the bakery, the mall).
I admit, I drive a hybrid; I do this because of some of the reasons above, but also because I like to keep my costs low (and driving a hybrid car does, in fact, help me do this). I hope I will continue to drive hybrids as my primary vehicle for as long as I can drive.