Sunday, February 19, 2012

The High Cost of Cheap Gas

Jennifer S. Roberts wrote one of those posts that gets me up and blogging at 4:00 AM because, to my mind, it manages to both illustrate the problem of gas prices and miss the main reason why someone like me, who is fairly depicted as a cycling advocate, welcomes higher gas prices. In her post

Jennifer argues that people won't change their behaviors, a lot of places have lousy car-only infrastructure and poor people get hurt by high gas prices. The point that I think Jennifer fails to make, the point I am hoping to make here, is that the way out of the trap is to recognize the true costs of the trap.

Brad Pitt made this point quite nicely in an appearance on The Daily Show where he was promoting his film Money Ball. Mr. Pitt asked:

"What if we invented the automobile today? Would we say, I know, we’ll run it on finite fossil fuels, we’ll export a half-trillion dollars of our GDP, we’ll spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to protect that interest, and it will pollute the environment?”

I can think of a few more questions. Would we build a national system that kills one person every 13 minutes by "accident", spews poison into the air every time we drive, paves an area larger than the state of Connecticut just for parking and makes it so a person like Jennifer and millions of others like her are routinely doing 29 to 50 mile commutes?

I welcome higher gas prices because the artificially low prices we've had created the dismal landscape Jennifer describes. The true cost of cheap gas is seen in the poor quality of life we've built for too many Americans.

Here in the Seattle area we are "lucky" because we have light rail running from downtown to the airport. It took us years to get that "luck" and we would have been luckier, sooner, if gas prices had been higher. And the neighborhoods along that light rail corridor are seeing more growth now. The McMansions in the 'burbs? Not so much.

I had a couple in my bike shop yesterday asking about my walk-to-work, walk-home-for-lunch life. A few decades ago I decided $1.25 (or whatever it was) was too much to pay for a gallon of gas. Actually, I decided my life was too valuable to waste sitting in a car. This young couple are not alone in looking for ways they can live without spending so of their life and their dollars supporting their car.

High gas prices do hurt. But cheap gas has been killing us for years.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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