As a finance and conservation nerd, I’m excited about higher gas prices. I realize that I’m in the minority in this opinion and I know full well that most people will think I’m nuts. I have to admit that I don’t enjoy paying higher prices, but since there’s nothing I can do about it and prices aren’t likely to come down, I’m choosing to focus on the positives that may result from these prices. So what are the positives? Read on.
1. It gets SUV’s off the road. I’m thrilled that people are trading their SUV’s for smaller cars. I’ve never cared for these behemoths, especially the largest ones. I can’t see around or over them, they are safety hazards prone to rolling over, they kill people who drive smaller cars, and they are horrible for the environment. Fewer of these things on the road is a good thing.
2. It will force investment in new technologies. We should have learned our lesson in the 1970′s and started aggressively pursuing alternative fuels then, but we didn’t. I’m hoping that higher prices will finally force businesses and the government to invest in new technologies. Sustained investment would create new businesses and new jobs that would grow and benefit the economy.
3. It’s better for the environment. This is completely obvious. Fossil fuels are big polluters, both in their use and their production. I’m hoping that higher gas prices and the resultant turn to other sources of energy will cut down on the pollution in the environment.
4. The increased prices force people to think about their finances. For too long we’ve been spending too freely, in part because our transportation expenses have been a fraction of those in the rest of the world. This has resulted in an unsustainable level of debt, both personal and institutional. Maybe higher gas prices will force people and institutions to be more careful and wise with their money, resulting in a stronger overall economy.
5. It’s better for our waistlines. Obesity is one of the number one killers in this country and it’s costing us a fortune in health care costs. Why are obesity rates so high? In part because we don’t have to walk or cycle for our primary forms of transportation. In other countries, biking and walking are the primary forms of transport, thus they get more exercise and don’t have the obesity problems we do. China, which is starting to use cars in large numbers is also starting to see an increase in obesity rates. See a connection? Maybe higher gas prices will force us to walk and bike more and help ease the obesity-related problems we face.
6. It may make us rethink development. We’ve become a nation of suburbs. With gas prices rising, suburban living is becoming more and more difficult. Maybe high fuel prices will force developers to rethink their plans, concentrating on compact mixed-use developments with schools and offices near the homes. Maybe developers will become more willing to install sidewalks and bike paths. These improved developments would reduce commute times (and thus pollution) and make it easier for people to walk to work and school. We’d also stop the sprawl that is taking over the country.
7. It may finally force the U.S to increase fuel economy standards. I’ve long envied Europe where cars routinely get fifty-plus miles per gallon and they aren’t hybrids. I would certainly purchase such a car if it were available here. But thanks to our government which has been loathe to require higher MPG’s, we’re still stuck with cars that, at best, get 30 MPG, non-hybrid. Maybe higher gas prices and the resultant consumer demand will force our government to get with the program and require higher fuel economy standards from our car manufacturers. Bring on the European models!
8. We might become more community oriented. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about financial prosperity leading to a loss of civility. I hope that higher gas prices will force commerce to become more local and lead us to respect and depend upon those around us again. If we have to depend on each other for carpooling, barter, and our unique skills, we might be nicer to each other.
9. It may force more employers to allow telecommuting. It’s very easy for many jobs to be done from home these days thanks to huge improvements in technology. However, too many employers still believe in “face time.” They believe that if you aren’t visible at all times, you must not be working. I’m hoping that higher gas prices will force many employers to rethink telecommuting. The resulting decrease in cars on the road will be great for the environment, and the happiness and reduced stress of workers will be great for our health. Think what your day would be like without having to sit in rush hour traffic every day.
10. High prices may force us to invest in our decaying rail system. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe where train travel is the method of choice for traveling long distance. You can go anywhere on a train in Europe, for a very reasonable price. With the high speed rails they have, it doesn’t take long, either. In the U.S, we’ve neglected our rail system (which is just about the most efficient way to travel) in favor of fuel guzzling cars and airplanes. I hope that high gas prices force investment in our rail system and ultimately make it possible to go anywhere in this country by train. I hope to see high speed rail become common here, with train routes available to every major city.
11. Crisis brings out the best in the U.S. I wasn’t alive when the U.S. went to the moon, so I missed out on the feeling of unity of purpose that my parents talk about. I’ve heard the stories form my grandparents about how everyone pulled together during the Great Depression and WWII. Those were all times of crisis for this country and everyone united to make the best of them and do what needed to be done. Those crises brought out the best in this country. Lately we’ve become a divided nation, split down party lines. I’d like to live through a time when everyone in this country pulled together to meet a crisis head on and accomplished something great. Maybe high gas prices, the resulting economic troubles, and rising environmental problems will lead the U.S. to do something great to reduce or eliminate our need for oil. I’d like to see it.
I don’t deny that high gas prices will cause some pain in the near term as people adjust their spending and driving habits to cope. Those with lower in comes will really struggle. But if we can look beyond the short term pain and see the opportunities to re-create this country without its oil addiction, it’s exciting to think about the possibilities. We might be able to not only reduce our dependence on oil, but improve the environment and our own health. We might lose weight and reduce stress. We might get to know our neighbors again and be kinder to one another. The long term economy might improve as we open new markets, create new technologies, and create new jobs. This may be our chance to create a better, more sustainable lifestyle. I’m excited to see what happens next.
Image courtesy of don sorsa