Waaah! Americans whine about high gas prices

So how bad are gas prices for you? It’s $3.00+ in the Bay Area, and it’s only going to get worse. We haven’t even hit summer driving season yet. I met this bitter left wing loon this past winter who bitched that the only reason that gas prices dropped was because Bush got his oil company cronies to lower it to help his poll numbers. I told her that was nuts, and the only reason the price was lower was because demand is much lower in the winter, because people don’t drive as much. I told her come spring and summer, it’ll spike again, and lo and behold…

For some reason, some of the replies in this CNN thread just made me laugh. I’m sympathetic to some, but others deserve their fate, particularly Mr. Beef Jerky. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a joke or not, but coming from the South, I’m thinking it’s not.

http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/04/19/feedback.gasprices/index.html

And for posterity, Mr. Jerky:

I fill my car with 50 dollars worth of gas. I drive to the store to buy a 6 dollar bag of beef jerky. It takes me 3 dollars to go 14 miles to buy the jerky. I eat it all before I get home so I must go back to the store to buy more jerky for 6 dollars. Again it costs me 3 dollars in gas. I finish the jerky just as I arrive at home only to get an upset stomach from 1/2 pound of dried beef swelling in my stomach. I now have to spend another 3 dollars in gas to buy a 7 dollar bottle of Rolaids. This 1 hour of my life cost me 28 dollars. With the price of gas these days I think its time to give up on beef jerky. Another pleasure gone due to gas prices.

Joe Stain, Atlanta, Georgia

All those people whining about how this is a crisis and that politicians should do something about it also make me laugh. We got ourselves into this mess despite all the warnings we were given, and now it’s biting us in the ass. It’s the simple rule of supply and demand. There’s only so much oil that can be pumped out of the ground each day and refined around the world, and that’s all pretty much spoken for now. And sure, we can drill more holes and build more refinery plants, but the demand will still outpace production, thanks to China and India. India just now is starting to transition to a highway and automobile society. That’s hundreds of millions of new drivers in the coming decade right there. Then there’s China, which is even bigger than India.

Frankly, sometimes I seriously think that $4 or $5/gallon gas might be the best thing that could ever happen to this country. We’ve built a society predicated on driving huge distances each day just to do mundane tasks.

Disclaimer. I own a car, but I maybe put 1,500 miles on it every year. And I think that’s generous. I live in a city and rely on public transportation and walking to get me everywhere.

People in colder climates might want to point out that the whole “heating” thing often requires some sort of fossil fuel.

Frankly, sometimes I seriously think that $4 or $5/gallon gas might be the best thing that could ever happen to this country. We’ve built a society predicated on driving huge distances each day just to do mundane tasks.

At least it’ll weed out all of the old people in the northeast who can’t afford to heat their homes.

We weed out the old people down here during the summer, when they can’t afford to fix or turn on the air conditioning.

Amateurs! Here in Chicago they weed out the old people during the winter, when they can’t afford to heat their apartments and in the summer, when heat waves kill hundreds.

In the spring and autumn they just send robots to steal the old folk’s prescriptions.

So we should be punished? People don’t drive significantly less when gas prices go up, because people mostly drive to work and school and other places they have to go, whether gas is one dollar a gallon or ten.

Did I ever tell you my idea for how the government could help with this mess, if they weren’t beholden to oil companies? Offer tax incentives to businesses that allow/encourage telecommuting. Based on my own entirely unscientific estimates, telecommuting cuts people’s driving by one half, if not more. Half the driving = half the gas. It’s excellent.

People could drive smaller, more efficient cars, or a thousand other things (like telecomute). Higher gas prices will change gas consumption patterns over time.

The benefit of high gas prices is that when the cost of gas exceeds the cost of hydrogen, hydrogen cars will suddenly be important, and hydrogen manufacturing will ramp up, which will result in the price of hydrogen going down. It will rock.

I love it when folks who happen to live where they can walk or bike or take a bus to work lord it over us schmucks who have to drive to work. In an ideal world you’d be able to pick your job, pick a place to live that has the quality of life you like and is within walking distance, and then stay there forever. It usually doesn’t work that way. Even if you’re lucky enough today to be able to walk or ride or bus to work, that doesn’t mean that five years from now you’ll be able to. Our economy is increasingly built around mobility of workers, and that means changing jobs much more often than in the past. When you change jobs you don’t always get a chance to live near your work, and even if you could, often you wouldn’t want to for a variety of very good reasons.

Yes, smaller, more fuel-efficient cars are a good step. An even more useful step would be a new paradigm (other than fossil-fuel powered internal combustion) for powering personal transportation. Mass transit is great, but for many if not most Americans it isn’t a substitute for a car. Again, if we all lived in cities like New York or Chicago we could ride the busses and trains (and we do when we’re in those type of places), but many of us live in small towns, or suburbs, and work 20, 30, 60 or more minutes away. Yes, that’s not exactly a good example of optimal planning or development, but that’s the way it is, and it’s not going to change soon.

Telecommuting is a great idea. So is shaping new development so that the places people work, live, and shop can be closer to gether or at least linked by effective and convenient mass transit. In most typical cities with a “ring” layout–urban center, perimeter highway, radial suburbs–mass transit only goes in from the various suburbs and then criss-crosses the urban core; it does nothing to shift people along the rim of the ring, where often many of the jobs now are.

And hell, even if we get cars under control, petroleum is used in a zillion other products, from home heating, for which there is no good substitute for oil or gas and even electric is made usually from–surprise–fossil fuels, to plastics, to fertilizer. And then there’s the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians, et al, who all want there slice of the oil-fueled prosperity pie: cars for everyone!

Toss in the whole peak oil thing, which however you parse it still points to a diminishing supply of a finite resource, and you don’t have much in the way of good solutions that are cheap, easy, or quick. Higher gas prices will end up screwing average folks more than anyone, as we’re the people who drive to work and the store and have no real alternatives to that driving. Rich people just pay whatever it takes. Higher pump prices might curtail recreational driving and riding, I guess, but I suspect that’s a fractional part of the oil used here.

And then there’s the US military. If ever there was an institution that guzzled gas like it was going out of style, it’s the military.

While in the very short term, there is limited connection between gas prices and gas consumption levels, in the longer term, there is enormous cconnection. There are myriad ways an individual can (over the long term) reduce their gas consumption. Obviously, the amount they’re willing to reduce consumption depends on the price of gas. If gas prices go up $0.20, there’s not too much effect, short or long term. But if gas prices sustained, at say, $5 a gallon, then we’d see many (but not ALL) consumers reduce gas consumption in the following years as follows:

Smaller cars
Less leisure travel
Better trip planning (i.e. make one weekly trip for shopping rather than two)
Carpooling
Live closer to work, and/or public transport (either by moving homes, or by moving jobs)
For long distance travel, reductions in the amount of it, and more efficient means (trains, buses, and even big airplanes are more efficient than 2 people driving 500 miles in a mid-sized car)
Tele-commuting
etc.

This is aside from the issue of alternative fuels, whose production is directly linked to the (long term) price of gas.

So what do you say to someone like me, who’s happy to have a job that barely pays for his living expenses, and can only afford a suburban house with a 20-mile commute because nothing within range of the city is remotely affordable?

NATIONALIZE OIL DISTRIBUTION. That’s my solution. Take the commodity off the free market and make it a regulated commodity.

Yeah, that’ll happen in today’s United States.

I didn’t say it was realistic.

I just said it was a potential solution to the problem.

The other solution in my mind is the creation by people who give a flip of a non-profit oil company, but you of course would never get something like that to start up, since you couldn’t buy the infrastructure without significant up-front investment, and no one’s going to give you money they’re not going to get back with more on the top.

I had this idea once, and someone told me Cosco does it.

If the situation gets bad enough, it could. But let’s hope it doesn’t get that bad.

I personally don’t see a huge problem with nationalization of what is, properly, a strategic resource. Oil companies are making a killing off what has become a necessity of life (I know, debatable) while giving themselves things like, I don’t know, $400M retirement packages.

Phil, where are you located in St. Louis that you have abundant access to public transportation? The only place I’ve lived with worse public transport than St. Louis seems to have was Detroit.

Me, I’m moving from a West County 'burb to a Metro East 'burb in six months, and public transportation doesn’t seem to be a great option in either location.

The quality of public transportation will increase as the demand increases. So in the long run high gas prices will bring that about.

I thought the solution was fairly obvious. Two men enter. One man leaves.

Not necessarily. Geography plays a big role. If it was merely a matter of putting in public transportation into areas that could logically have it but don’t, that’d work. For far too many places in the United States, though, putting in mass transit faces severe obstacles. I’m not saying it won’t or couldn’t get a lot better, but it’s not that likely.

Unlike urban areas, where you have high density populations intermingled with all sorts of economic activity, suburban and semi-rural areas where large numbers of working Americans live are the opposite of concentrated. There is little to no relationship between where you live and where you work, and indeed, many of the pathways of daily travel shoot off in a bewildering variety of directions. It’s not simply that there isn’t public transport, but that it’s very hard to build transport systems that facilitate the lifestyles and habits of the people who would supposedly use the transport.

The obvious solution is to change habits, but that is a very long-term prospect. It took decades for these extra-urban communities to grow up and become dominant. It’ll take at least as long to reverse that trend and redirect development and economic activity to support a reconcentration of housing and more co-location. Trouble is, the social forces that pushed for suburbanization in the 1940s and 1950s are still strong; it remains to be seen whether merely turning the price screw on oil could actually change that behavior.

Ultimately, few individuals can do that much about their own situation. It will take a collective transformation–one that will shift jobs and housing and shopping so that it all works within an area easily served by mass transit, for example–to make a big difference. You can try and change your own situation as you are able, but there are so many aspects of decentralized and dispersed living that are central to our self-image and conception of success–greenbelts, space, proximity to neighbors, choice of schools, perceptions of quality of life–that it will be very very hard to make much change I think.

That’s not necessarily true though. A city without a subway system, for instance, is stuck using surface transport in the form of busses. Unless they are going to implement a city wide electric line system like Vancouver uses (and toronto, to a limited extent), you are still stuck with using fossil fuels, you just greatly increase the people moved versus the fuel burned.

The cost of adding a subway (or even an above ground train solution) is gigantic, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most cities couldn’t come close to affording them. On top of that, a subway system is only as good as the bus system that connects to it, so you are still reliant on moving people over the surface.

On top of that, as has been said previously, even solutions that use electricity often fall back to fossil fuels. We need to solve the problem at the root, which is bulk power generation. More nuclear power, and more environmental power (solar, wind, hydro) are needed to replace other solutions, and then on top of that, we need far more efficient ways of storing power from peak days (windier/sunnier) so that it can be used later on.

Ultimately what would probably be the best is environmental power as a focus, with nuclear as a fallback.

'cept that you have to use petroleum fuel to create the hydrogen in the first place, so higher petrol prices = higher cost to produce hydrogen

And while I’m at it, while we’re here, should I add that Peak Oil commands the same amount of respect among Geologists as Young Earth Creationism? Yes, I think I will. It’s hysteria that serves no purpose other than artificially driving up gasoline prices, thus lining the pockets of Big Oil.