Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gas Prices Are Rising - What To Do About It?
(Updated and Edited)

Over the last four weeks I have received many e-mails forwarded from friends about how to combat the rising gas prices. The first was a suggestion to not buy gas on May 15th. The next was to not buy gas from Exxon or Mobil. Just by doing some simple research, it's easy to find that these techniques will have no effect on gas prices whatsoever.

To me, these two brilliant ideas are an example of exactly what is wrong with America today. We want change, but we refuse to make any real sacrifice to get what we want. I'll show those oil companies! Instead of buying gas on Tuesday, I'll buy it on Wednesday - that'll show 'em!"

I got a third e-mail from a well-meaning friend suggesting that we all call the media and write to politicians and tell them how unhappy we are with gas prices.

I think my friends' feelings are the same as many Americans. We feel powerless as their fuel expenses go up and up and up. can anything be done about it? Aren't we one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world? Doesn't our government have the power to provide us with gas at a reasonable price? What about E-85 Flex fuel? How can the oil companies get away with making hundreds of billions of dollars in profits every year? Are they using middle east conflicts and hurricanes as excuses to just rip us off any more? Isn't there anything that can be done for us?

Well, I have bad news and good news, America. The good news news is that you do have within your own power to lower your personal fuel expense. And it's actually rather simple:

Instead of not buying gas for a day, or boycotting one gas station over another, neither of which require any actual sacrifice, how about USING LESS GAS?

Use less gas, and you will spend less on gas.

It's not as fun as a boycott of Mobil, and not as easy as blaming governments or OPEC, but it will actually work.

Use less gas, and you will spend less on gas.

The only way we can do something about the price of gas is to actually make sacrifices ourselves. Carpool, drive slower, drive less, take mass transportation... these things might not be fun but they are in our control.

Or, you can buy a hybrid - I got 52mpg on my last tank.

Use less gas and you'll spend less on gas.

You may have heard or read some reports in the news about how long it takes to recoup your money by buying a hybrid vs. buying the standard version of the car. For example, buying a Honda Accord at $ vs a an Accord Hybrid at $25k vs. an Accord Hybrid for $31k. These kind of analysis is a total spin-job. First of all nobody knows how high gas prices to go so it's impossible to figure out how long it would take. And the savings also depends on what you are comparing to. It's only if you are really shopping between a regular Civic or a hybrid Civic that those figures are even remotely relevant. If you are going from a truck to a hybrid it's a lot more savings. Is anyone really trying to decide between buying a Kia Rio or a Toyota Prius? Nowadays when people buy a car they buy the best car they can get for the monthly payment they can afford. Under just about any scenario you will absolutely personally save money on gas every month by buying a Prius or Civic Hybrid over whatever you are driving now.

Anyway, it is completely besides the point. The three reasons to buy a hybrid are:

1. Use less gas - lessening the dependence on foreign oil
2. Use less gas - reducing the amount of carbon emissions into the environment
3. Use less gas - say "f*** you" to the oil companies.

But no matter what, it all comes down to what kind of personal sacrifice are you willing to make - how much do high gas prices really bother you? Bother you enough to not buy gas on a particular Tuesday? Or does it bother you enough to buy a car that doesn't have the same torque as a Mustang or hauling capacity as a Suburban?

Here's an article from Newsday that proves my point, that people are complaining, but not willing to actually do anything about gas prices: Vehicle size, not gas costs, drives U.S.

Some excerpts:

As millions of Americans packed their cars for Memorial Day weekend trips, gasoline prices inched upward again yesterday and a congressional committee contended that consumers could save several hundred dollars a year and thousands of dollars over five years if the federal government raised fuel economy standards.

But, in coincidental timing, Consumer Reports magazine released a survey suggesting that many Americans still are not willing to trade vehicle size, power and amenities to save fuel.

In Washington, meanwhile, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's Joint Economic Committee of Congress released a report saying the average American household could save about $530 a year and $2,680 over five years if their vehicles averaged 35 miles per gallon instead of 25.4 miles per gallon - the average for new cars and light trucks being sold this year.

"Instead of families sticking a little extra money into their banks, they're sticking lots of extra money into their gas tanks," said Schumer, the committee's chairman.

Yonkers-based Consumer Reports, which polled 1,804 people in late April about gasoline prices, said almost 70 percent would seek a vehicle with better fuel efficiency when they buy their next cars, possibly including a diesel, hybrid or "flexible-fuel" vehicle that can run on gasoline or various gasoline-ethanol blends. But only about half said they were willing to give up vehicle size or capacity, performance or unspecified "amenities."

I am just wondering how pissed we really are when 90% of us won't change our habits. Hybrids are just one part of the solution, true. Bottom line: unless Americans as a whole start drastically changing our attitudes, gas prices aren't going down - they will go up. We're already getting the "bulk discount" because we buy so much, and the oil companies have absolutely no incentive to lower prices. The government will do nothing about it in the short term and in the long term prices will even get higher as it gets harder and harder to find more of this stuff.

And don't sit around waiting for flex fuel. Ethanol is only cheap because corn is subsidized by the government. That's the same reason High Fructose Corn Syrup is in everything - if you can make it out of corn it's cheap. But once it becomes more popular it will be more expensive that regular gas because they won't be able to keep up with demand..

All you can do is use less gas and then you'll spend less. If you already think you're using as little as possible, that you can't possibly be more efficient than you are, then tell your neighbors to do their part. 95% of the time when I see an SUV there's only one person inside.

Tell your neighbor, because the one chance to really affect gas prices is if everyone reduces their demand. If that actually happens, prices will go down for everyone. See, if demand goes down, there will be more supply, and prices will go down too. That's capitalism. Yes, the oil companies are making hundreds of billions of dollars. That's capitalism.

The only way gas prices are going to change in this free market system is if the profiteers and government leaders see a genuine change in public behavior. An article was published last week that said 46% of Americans felt the rising gas prices was causing a financial hardship and that they would consider a hybrid or compact car . However, at the same time, gas consumption for the week increased over the same period a year ago. The oil companies and the government see demand rising against a finite supply - the laws of capitalism say prices increase!

Why should the gas sellers believe us when we say the gas prices are unreasonable when we still keep buying the hell out of the stuff? They are going to keep raising prices until they figure out the true market value of it. That means the highest price they can charge without causing demand to go down.

Think about that: how high will gas prices go before people really start taking drastic measures? $5.00 a gallon? $8.00 a gallon?

That's capitalism.

In the capitalist system, if we want prices to go down we need to reduce demand.

Of course I totally think it's obscene for the oil companies to be making hundreds of billions of dollars a year in profits.

But I'm a liberal socialist!

The sad truth is that until we, as a public, admit that we are part of the problem, we are just barking at the moon if we think someone else will find a solution for us.

Of course you don't need to buy a hybrid or compact car, sell your SUV or race car, or car pool, or turn down your AC, or move to a smaller living space, or do anything at all to reduce your personal consumption. It's your right to live whatever lifestyle you want to live. But there's also no point in complaining about unreasonable gas prices just because you think they are unreasonable.

We have two choices:
1. Keep consuming and accept the fact that gas prices will continue to rise.
2. Reduce consumption and actually affect change.

And reducing consumption doesn't require buying a new car. Driving slower, driving less (car pooling, taking mass transit, riding a bicycle) reduces your personal consumption too. You may not think these things have an effect and are inconvenient, but they have infinitely more effect than not buying gas on May 15th or staying away from Exxon, actions which of course require no sacrifice at all.

But if you're not willing to make a sacrifice, and keep driving a gas guzzler, then stop complaining - be happy you live here instead of in England, where gas currently costs $7.12 a gallon!

By the way, on the subject of price gouging, last week the House approved a bill outlawing price gouging. The White House threatened a veto, saying it amounted to price controls and would lead to long lines at gas pumps.

No one is looking out for us. We need to take matters into our own hands.

I think I may have lost some friends this week...

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