No More Driving to the Fridge…
The more I think about it, the more I realize that the rise in gas prices, painful though it may be to some, is actually a good thing from many perspectives. This is because gas prices haven’t really been going to unnatural highs, it’s more accurate to say that they have been unnaturally low for decades and are finally reaching a long overdue correction. In a very real way we’ve been spoilt by low gas prices and have developed some very bad habits as a result. And with any bad habit, the sooner it is dealt with, the easier the cure in the long run.
The first bad habit is driving everywhere. Americans are finally waking up to the fact that driving to the store to get a pack of smokes is ridiculous, especially now that the drive costs more than the smokes. So traffic is measurably down across the country, a nice bonus for people (like me) living in urban areas where congestion on the freeways was a huge problem. It’s like the eighties again, I can head out to the freeway and actually drive where I want to go without sitting in traffic. WooHoo! And of course, less traffic means less air pollution. Less traffic and less air pollution are good things by any standard, and these are a direct and immediate result of rising gas prices. Less pollution also means fewer pollution related health problems. And less driving coupled with more walking and more bicycle riding is also going to lead to an immediate health benefit for millions of people. If people really understood how much health care costs them in the USA through their taxes, they would be even happier to see less driving.
There are also all sorts of indirect ways that the rise in gas prices is going to help. It’s going to encourage a lot of research into alternative energy supplies. From converting biowaste to fuel, to electric cars, to hydrogen cars…there are a lot of technological solutions that have been waiting in the wings for decades because cheap oil made them uneconomical. Now industry and individuals have an incentive to develop these alternatives, and as a general rule that’s good all around. The dominance of gasoline has been like the old “cotton is king” thinking, when forced to diversify people are finding out that they are better off not being enslaved by a single commodity! The very same way the South’s cotton based economy really only benefited the rich while impoverishing the rest is mirrored by gasoline dependency. I don’t think anyone will be dedicating any statues commemorating high gas prices in the near future, but stranger things have happenned.
Another indirect benefit is that we can start building our cities for people again instead of for cars. Bedroom communities have always been silly, now they are both silly and uneconomical. The day of the suburb is numbered, and none too soon. More emphasis on public transit and development that puts people close to work, play, shopping, and other amenities is going to make our cities far more pleasant places to live and work in. Most people I know like to live where they can walk out to get a cup of coffee or buy a quart of milk. It will take awhile, but we may see the return of the neighbourhood grocery store. I could live with that, I find these modern mega grocery stores with whole villages inside them kind of creepy, and I know many of my friends do too.
The kicker is that the higher price of gas is actually going to benefit American manufacturing in many sectors. This is because the cost of shipping, especially across the Pacific, is becoming prohibitive. American concerns can now compete with cheap Chinese goods. The American steel industry is already seeing a renaissance as imports of Chinese steel drop. More manufacturing means more jobs for Americans. By the same token, firms will be relocating manufacturing in Mexico from Southeast Asia. And more factories in Mexico means fewer Mexicans trying to get into the USA. Yes, higher gas prices are going to help with the illegal immigrant problem in the long run. Who knew? Most would agree that’s a god thing.
Shipping by rail is also booming, while trucking suffers. I’m sorry about the truckers losing their livelihood, but they were one of the unnatural industries created by cheap oil, and ultimately we will be better off if they become a shadow of their former self. More products produced locally again means less pollution, and while long haul trucking will suffer, short haul trucking should prosper. And fewer big trucks on the highways will wildly extend the lifetime of the highways, since big trucks do most of the wear and tear on them. Considering the sad state of America’s roads and highways, fewer big trucks will save us all money in the long run.
It’s not going to be easy weaning ourself from our national addiction to cheap gas, but in the long run and in many ways the short run, this is a very good thing for America. I know it’s going to be hard for some people to admit that maybe the “greenies” were right about this, but it’s hard to feel superior at the gas pump in your Canyonero while maxing out a credit card to fill up…next to the smug hippie with the hybrid topping up using his pocket change. Yes, it’s time to stop whining and change our lifestyles.
Of course this is America, so likely we will rush out and elect a president who promises he can “fix” the high price of gas so we can all go back to living in never never land. Then we will be stuck with a liar for a president and high gas prices as well, fun times ahead folks.
(The above image of the Canyonero is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Arguably the opposite. Credit and copyright: Matt Groening/Fox Network. To listen to the Canyonero song and other fine Simpson’s audio clips click here.)