Gasoline is too cheap

Gasoline is too cheap.

Wait! Don’t leave the page! This is not another tree-hugger train-guy rant. Hear me out.

President-elect Biden has made the argument for weaning us off fossil-fuels, mostly for environmental reasons. Anybody who remotely believes in science or has witnessed the cataclysmic changes in our weather knows we must do something to stop global warming.

Jim Cameron

But I still drive a car (albeit a hybrid) and am not ready to give it up for a bicycle or skateboard like some crazed Gen-Z’er. We need cars to get around in Connecticut despite our meager attempts at mass transit… especially in the time of COVID.

My argument is that price of the fuel we use (gasoline) doesn’t cover the real cost to our environment (or each other) when we drive. Gasoline is too cheap.

Why does a gallon of gasoline, which moves us 20 – 50 miles (depending on your car’s efficiency), cost less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks? Enjoying your java doesn’t destroy the ozone layer.

Why does a gallon of gas in the U.S. cost roughly half of what it does in Canada? Or a third of the price in Europe?

The answer is taxes. Other nations put huge taxes on fuel and reinvest the proceeds into mass transit, subsidizing the fares.

OK, so you don’t want to take the train or a bus. That’s fine. Drive your car and enjoy the crowded highways… and our polluted air. Those are the cost of cheap fuel, too. Did you know that Connecticut’s air quality is, by many criteria, dirtier than Los Angeles’? Sure, a lot of that airborne crud is floating our way from New York City, but we’re not helping ourselves by adding to it. Nor are we aiding our residents who have conditions like asthma.

Caring parents obsess about protecting the health of their kids by buying organic food, but drive to the supermarket to acquire it in SUVs. There seems no incentive for buying a car, truck or SUV that uses less fuel with gas prices so low.

When I visit Europe again (soon, I hope) I won’t see SUVs, but smaller, cleaner, much more fuel efficient cars. With the higher price of gasoline reflecting the actual cost of driving, European motorists don’t waste fuel the way we do. The oil companies get it. That’s why BP (British Petroleum) is investing in solar and wind, expecting to produce 40% less fossil fuels in the next decade.

Wall Street also understands it, witness the more than quadrupling in the share price of Tesla (maker of electric cars) in the last year.

So why don’t we get it? Why is gasoline so cheap? Depending on whom you talk to, we have about 47 years worth of oil left before we run out. That assumes current consumption levels. If we use less, it will last longer. That’s why the price of gasoline should go up so we are incentivized to drive less in smaller cars and make our oil last longer while we transition to renewables, right?

Of course, what do we care? We won’t be around when the oil runs out. That, along with the rising sea level and coastal flooding, will be the next generation’s problem. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Good luck, kids.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

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