I feel bad writing about rising gas prices during the middle of a national tragedy, but there is so much discussion about it in the media that I got upset and had to offer a counter argument. There was a great article published recently in the Lansing City Pulse about how some people are welcoming the higher gas prices in hopes that America will invest in more walkable places and mass transit, and this was before Hurricane Katrina devastated the South. Already Lansing, Michigan is seeing a large increase in public transportation ridership because of the gas price increases. The article also has a striking graphic on how much other countries pay per gallon of gasoline in comparison with the US. Both the UK and the Netherlands pay over $6 per gallon of gasoline! An interesting note on the picture above: I shot this photo last year in California to show to people back East how expensive gas was. Now, with prices over $3 a gallon in California, people would be lined up for blocks for those prices…
I commute to work like most Americans, and I certainly do not enjoy the effects the rising gas prices have on my pocketbook. However, if this is what it takes for the US to start investing in walkable communities and public transportation, then so be it. I feel that in the long run my quality of life will be higher. When I used to live in Sydney, Australia, I did not have a car. And I easily got around the city. The city was filled with walkable neighborhoods with local retail establishments and it was well-serviced by the local transit systems.
I do realize that this will cause a serious problem in many communities, especially for rural or poor Americans. But this has been the underlying problem since the post-World War II era of the United States, our petroleum costs have been too low, there are barely any taxes that fund public transportation, and our country has developed too much around the automobile. The true costs of the automobile are rarely realized by the average person. People complain about the government subsidizing mass transit, but many do not know that everyone subsidizes roadway infrastructure, and rarely do we have a choice in the matter. Perhaps if we started paying for road infrastructure solely out of gas taxes we could solve some of our pressing transportation issues.
So, bring on the higher gas prices (even though I tried to buy a Prius, but it was too expensive). For those that live in rural communities, perhaps there can be a reduction in gas prices (although unlikely because of the fuel shipping costs). For places well-served by public transit, perhaps there should be even higher gas prices. This is a sad price to pay for commuting in America, but this situation is inevitable. Reaching peak oil will happen, gas prices will soar to non-affordable levels, and who knows what will happen to rural and suburban America? Hopefully we will develop more sustainable and walkable communities and the effects will be minimized. But I think that this will not happen in many places before it is too late and we have a serious economic crisis.
A good website to visit about the effects of Peak Oil on the World and on the economy is The Community Solution to Peak Oil. They are hosting the Second U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions upcoming this month in Yellow Springs, Ohio (a funky, walkable small town near Dayton).
Article source: Centerlines