Quit Complaining About Fuel Prices and Do Something

peak oil

I’ve officially reached my limit for how much complaining about oil prices I can take. Maybe it’s because I write for Saving Advice, but I suddenly have people coming out of the woodwork complaining to me about high gas and food prices. Today a friend sent along another one of those emails urging me to refuse to buy gas on a certain day in order to “teach the oil companies a lesson.” This is a close cousin to the email that goes around urging me to boycott the big three oil companies. Neither method will be effective, for several reasons. Briefly (I know you’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating if for no other reason than to stop these annoying emails): Boycotting the “big three” doesn’t work because, even those stations that don’t advertise affiliation with “Exxon,” or “Shell,” or whatever are getting their gas from somewhere and it’s probably from one of the big producers. Do you think the gas station owner has an oil well and refinery in back of the store and goes out and opens it up when he needs more oil? Of course not. No gas station is independently producing their own oil so there is really nowhere you can buy gas that your money doesn’t end up in the pocket of a big oil company.

Refusing to buy gas on a certain day doesn’t work either because everyone either buys the day before or the day after the “boycott.” This does nothing to alter the amount of gas or money flowing through the system. The oil producers laugh at this one because they know they’ll get their money, it just might all come on one day.

Aside from their false claims, these emails have one other thing in common: They are both the product of, and perpetuated by, those who would rather complain and look for the easy way out of the oil situation than actually get up and do something about it. It’s easy to sit in front of the TV or the computer and complain about gas prices (and everything related to them) going up, but it’s a lot more difficult and inconvenient to try to mitigate the damage it does to your budget and to try to do your part to end our dependence on oil.

The only way to reduce these outrageous prices is to reduce worldwide demand on a consistent basis over time. The solution is both very simple and very difficult. Oil is a commodity with a finite supply whose price is based on supply and demand. Since demand is at an all time global high and supply is, by most accounts, stable or even dwindling, the only choice is to reduce demand. Yes, we can drill in more places but it doesn’t change the fact that, however much we may dredge up, there is an end point for the supply. The market knows this and prices accordingly.

The sad truth is that even if we in this country reduce our demand we will still probably have to pay high prices because other countries are only increasing their demand. Which makes complaining about it even more pointless. I can assure you that no one in India or China is listening to us complain and, if they are, they don’t care. The only thing they are interested in is growing their own economies and that is, unfortunately, accomplished using oil. You can complain and boycott and send around pointless emails all you want, but you’re only wasting breath and bandwidth. It will not change anything. Oil prices are largely out of our personal control.

The only way to change the situation is to find alternatives to oil while simultaneously reducing our demand for the commodity. The first part of this equation is largely out of your control unless you’re a genius who can develop the “killer app” that does in the need for oil. The job of finding large scale alternatives to oil fall mainly on the legislative and scientific fronts. Until our governments are willing to seriously explore, implement, and legislate alternatives, we’re at the mercy of the oil market for the most part. Unless you’re willing to live off the grid, grow all your own food, spin your own cloth, and walk everywhere, fuel prices will affect you in one way or another and all you can do is try to change your lifestyle and spending to adapt.

If you must complain to someone about high gas prices, try letting your Congressmen know that you’ve had enough and that they need to get serious about finding and requiring the use of alternative energy sources. If they won’t do it, let them know that you’ll vote for someone who will. Your power to change this part of the equation lies in the voting booth. Your Congressmen and legislators the only ones at this point that can make a serious difference in how we provide energy for this country. Admittedly it’s a long shot since most of them make a lot of money from the oil lobby, but it’s got to be better than random complaining on message boards or to people like me who have absolutely no control over anything.

The second part of the equation, reducing demand, will occur quickly once the first part of the equation is solved, but you can take some proactive steps to try to hasten it along. Things like putting solar panels on your roof and driving that hybrid car do make a small difference in the demand for oil and, if enough people take some action, it will make a substantial difference. There are many smaller things you can do, most of which you’ve probably heard before: Drive less, carpool, walk, ride a bike, use mass transit, recycle, slow down when driving to conserve fuel, conserve electricity, use less plastic which is produced with large quantities of oil, drive fuel efficient vehicles, buy reusable things rather than disposable, single use items, consume less unnecessary stuff in general since almost all products use oil in their manufacture and require it for transport to market, buy in bulk to save on packaging, and eat locally grown products that require less oil for their transport.

There are plenty of ways to try to be proactive about reducing your personal demand for oil and the resultant damage to your budget, but these require some change in lifestyle, habits, and thinking patterns. It takes work. For many people, it’s too much trouble. They are so busy defending their current lifestyle and refusing to admit that it wasn’t sustainable in the first place that they will change nothing about their lifestyle, even if it results in financial hardship. When people complain to me, I often ask if they’ve tried this or that strategy to reduce their oil-related expenses. Ninety-nine percent say, “No, why bother? It won’t change anything. It’s too much trouble for no payoff. I just have to suffer.” No, you don’t have to suffer but you might have to readjust your lifestyle a bit to adapt to a world where high gas prices are the norm. The trouble is, most of us in this country have been living a lifestyle that cannot be supported without cheap oil and, now that those days are likely gone, it’s easier to complain about what is lost than to get busy and find new and better ways to live.

True, changing your lifestyle might not change anything at the national or global level, at least not for a while. But the funny thing is, every step you take to reduce your personal dependence on oil gives you less reason to complain. Conserve electricity and your electric bill goes down. Buy less unnecessary stuff and you save money. Grow a few things in a container garden or shop at a farmer’s market or co-op and your grocery bill goes down. Drive less and your gas bill goes down. Drive a smaller car and your gas bill goes down further. Stop buying individually plastic-packaged everything, buy in bulk, and save money while reducing the amount of oil needed to make all that packaging. Think about getting a job closer to home. Most actions that reduce dependence on oil also save you some money, which gives you less reason to complain about high oil prices. You have a choice. You can complain wile continuing to live as you did in the past and watch your bills increase and your savings decrease, or you can take some action, modify your lifestyle and give yourself less reason to complain.

This is the approach that I have taken in my own life. I don’t like paying high prices so, where possible, I change the way I do things to spare me from the high prices. No, I can’t avoid all price increases. If I had that kind of ability, I could save the world. The things I have to buy at the grocery store are more expensive, as are several other things that I buy and do. But I can change the way I live to mitigate the damage and I choose to do that rather than complain about it. High fuel prices require me to make better choices and be more careful with my money. That’s probably not a bad thing.

Complaining changes nothing. Taking action, even small actions, can change how you, personally, fare during times of high prices. It can also make a difference in the future prices if enough people take the same actions. So please, the next time you’re tempted to complain about rising fuel prices on a message board or to your coworkers, stop and think about how your lifestyle is perpetuating the problem. Maybe the only one you should be complaining to is yourself.

Image courtesy of azrainman

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26 Responses to Quit Complaining About Fuel Prices and Do Something

  1. anonymous says:

    “try letting your Congressmen know that you

  2. diane says:

    It’s easy for people who have enough money to pay for gas to say not to complain, but when you have to choose between a healthy meal and getting to work, I think a little complaining is justified.

  3. Alexandria says:

    Amen. In the past few years this stuff has driven me crazy. Because my friends were complaining endlessly about gas while driving SUVs and Hummers. Seriously.

    At least lately I see people making an effort. The same people are selling the gas hogs and even carpooling. Boy, how thing change… They are doing all the things that were so beneath them just a couple of years ago.

    I guess I have hope that these gas prices are the wake up call that people need.

  4. Jay Gatsby says:

    I actually like the fact that we have high gas prices. High commodity prices spurn development of cheaper alternatives. In the case of oil, the alternatives have the added benefit of being environmentally-friendly. Therefore, we’re not only weaning ourselves off of economic dependency on unstable/unfriendly countries, but we’re reducing global warming.

    The process will take time, and we’ll need to deal with the associated costs for a while.

  5. gotgold says:

    Simple solution. I enforced rationing at home. I know the govt doesn’t do it but, being an american is all about self-discipline. The gas tank will be filled, two times a month. Accomodate all schedules around it.

  6. benny says:

    While I feel for the working poor, I say let gas prices go up to $10 a gallon. While it will hurt short term, it will finally make other energy options worth investing in. Technology should bring down prices over time well below what we currently pay for gas plus give us a lot more option on better mileage transportation. Sometimes short term tough love can yield positive results in the long term.

  7. nance says:

    Or, we could start drilling for the oil we have in this country and stop depending on foreign oil sources.
    Yes, alternative sources of energy will be great, but it isn’t going to be practical for decades. Now, we could be drilling in this country!!!

  8. Michael Lewis says:

    It will take years before alternative fuels become practical!

    Neither party has the solution. Republicans are wrong on the war and Democrats are wrong on domestic production. The people need to choose:

    A rapidly devaluing dollar, aggravated by the cost of the War in Iraq, contributes to recent rapid increases in the price of gas. And if the trillion plus dollars the US spent fighting that war had been invested in a Manhattan like project to produce oil from known reserves in the Gulf of Mexico, the Continental shelf and synthetic diesel/gas from America

  9. trendfollower says:

    You can also invest in energy to reduce the impact. There are many new securities that let you invest in the underlying energy commodities such as crude oil (USO) and natural gas (UNG).

  10. Oh Brother says:

    to #2 Diane, complaining is only justitied when there can be results, but constantly whining about high gas pricing serves no purpose but to show that you are ignorant and would rather bitch and moan than do something about it. everyone, we need to stop the forwarding of gas boycotts and other wasteful emails by replying to our friends and tell them they are pathetic fools. after some name calling the complaints do warrant less forwards.

  11. consumer_q says:

    “It will take years before alternative fuels become practical!…END THE WAR & DRILL FOR DOMESTIC OIL”

    It will likely take many more years to find and drill domestic oil for it to be a practical solution.

  12. Meg says:

    I’ve cut back my gas consumption, though it’s tough because I didn’t drive much more than I had to to begin with (I hate driving). For my family out in the country it’s a lot harder. My mom takes a friend to dialysis out of town every other day. They’re both on very fixed, very low incomes so it hurts — but what can they do? There isn’t public transportation there!

    Yes, people can make changes. And every bit counts. However, what’s wrong with complaining? People are hurting and frustrated. Let them rant without feeling worse about it. Most of the time you don’t have to listen if it bothers you that much. Goodness knows, I need to vent every now and then, too (and my friends do the same, so it’s not one way). And you know what, I feel better afterwards.

    Besides, it’s possible to do something and complain, after all.

  13. michel says:

    I think this is a well written article. It’s true that we need to find ways Ourselves to control what we can.

    I think though that another alternative would be to try to get our congressman to pass a tax incentive for businesses that let more people telecommute from home.

    In an age where people are “accessible” 24/7 there is no reason why a vast majority of workes can’t telecommute from home.

  14. Jeff says:

    the only way alternative energies will be explored and brought to market, is if the government gets the hell out of the way and lets the market work. It needs to stop subsidizing oil so that there is incentive to move to new and better technologies. The more the government tampers with the market with subsidies and regulation, the further from energy independence we will become.

  15. willdog40 says:

    the only thing that will effect the future demand is POPULATION CONROL in the USA , which is NEVER going to happen.
    POPULATION has more than DOUBLED the last 40 years , when we had no problems of this magnitude ,and 40 years from now….i’m am sorry to say this BUT , i’m glad i’m not going to be here to see what is happening next.
    sometime soon , someone has to do something , the ever shrinking farmland problem will be next , think food is high now ,wait until the prime farm land dwindles 10 fold.

  16. Anon says:

    Here in the UK, as of 11 June 2008, petrol is about

  17. Pete says:

    Finally, an article that makes sense, that doesn’t imply some sort of entitlement. Stop blaming the oil companies and speculators. If you’re serious, write your congress people and demand a mandatory 50 MPH speed limit on the interstates. Blah, Blah, “I can’t drive 55”, complain, cry, etc. The choice is yours: conserve the supply or get ready for $12/gallon in the next few years.

  18. Pete says:

    @ UK anon:

    Even though it is done often, you cannot compare the US and European countries beause of one word: scale. It is not uncommon in the USA for folks to commute 72 kilometers to their jobs, one way. Because of the way our cities have built out (overtaking inexpensive land) in the past, folks have sought out these newer communities, with new appliances, and fewer urban problems with the assumption that solo transportation in their vehicles would never be a problem or obstacle. Because of that scale problem I mentioned, it will never be cost-effective to build a fully usable public transportation system, like you have in Europe. I can envision a “return to the cities” movement returning here in the USA but it’s going to take 20-30 years. Until then, the people living in the outlying areas will be suffering because that assumption didn’t hold true.

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  20. andrew says:

    only thing u can do is drive smart, and do the repairs that you u need to keep ur car in good shape, one more thing, throw away ur 12+ years old car, the repair and gas will make u mad.

  21. David says:

    Oil prices should stay sky high, infact, they should go higher to make Americans change their attitudes and realize that they don’t deserve the best of everything. I personally hope they’ll go higher, then maybe there won’t be as many lifted trucks doing 90+ on the freeway, suv’s acting like they own the road, and these people will get a clue. I get between 40 and 50 miles per gallon with my car and don’t feel the slightest bit sorry for the majority of americans that have gas problems as I can get a return on over 10 miles for each dollar of gasoline that I put in, even when gas is up to $4.60/gallon. Let the gas prices skyrocket!

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  23. TopWaysToSave says:

    I also think that yes its rough that gas prices are high. I agree that hopefully this does wake up people. There have been heavily poluting low gas mileage SUV’s for too long now. I’d walk to work and see 10-15 sometimes in a rough before I saw one car. Now is the time to look at what we use and learn to save more and get more out of what we have.

  24. gary moore says:

    there no shortage

  25. Harry says:

    Those of us who live in cold areas and have to heat our homes with oil aren’t making a minor kvetch about a few extra dollars at the pump. For many of us, high oil prices aren’t a matter of driving less, but trying not to have frozen pipes in the winter and trying to keep our children warm. For shame, people who are calling for $10/gallon gas!

  26. Dan says:

    Best way to save on fuel – work closer to home. What do you think of swapping jobs to work closer to home? http://www.greenjobswap.com

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