04 June 2007

Thresholds?

5 bucks a gallon to clear the mind

By TOM MAST
Star-Tribune staff writer

AAA projected a slight increase in travel over the Memorial Day weekend, as compared to a year earlier, despite the fact prices for gasoline were near or above record levels in many parts of the country.

So despite much grumbling, the price apparently was not high enough to dissuade most would-be travelers from hitting the road. In view of the fact our social structure over the past century has been shaped to a large extent by the automobile, our thirst for gasoline is hardly surprising. But as gasoline prices continue to climb, speculation invariably begins about just what price level will trigger dramatic changes in driving habits and lifestyles.

Last year, some people thought passing $3 a gallon would be a psychological threshold presaging real behavioral change. If Memorial Day 2007 is any indication, there's still some ways to go, although an analysis by USA Today found evidence of reduced driving earlier this year.

An official with the Society of Consumer Psychology thinks $3.50 could be the magic point at which profound change will be ushered in, while a marketing professor at the University of Southern California says $4.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found Americans would significantly cut back on driving if gasoline hits $4.38 a gallon on average.

Clearly, Americans are prepared to pay a lot before reducing use of their automobiles or switching modes of transportation.

In a USA Today/Gallup poll, people overwhelmingly said they would not move or change jobs in order to cut commuter miles, or use mass transit as their main transportation, even if gasoline prices climb to over $10 a gallon. In fact, they reportedly wouldn't take such actions no matter how high the price goes.

What might be more surprising is that 41 percent of the respondents said they would not replace their cars for models that get better mileage no matter how high the price of gasoline climbs.

Such responses probably include a heaping teaspoon of bravado. Myself, I'm thinking $5 a gallon would truly focus the mind. Of course, I don't have any better evidence for this price point than anyone else has for theirs, except to say that forking over a fin for a gallon of gas when a couple of bucks formerly sufficed would be a Zen moment for many.

And if advocates for Hubbert's peak oil theory are correct, such an awakening might be closer than is comfortable to suppose.

If global oil supplies are now, or soon will be, pretty much running down the back side of the bell curve, $3-per-gallon motor fuel in years hence might be remembered with considerable fondness and longing.

I used to think that we would not be able to replace fossil fuels with alternative fuels and just keep driving. At some point there would be a sea change in attitudes and a realization that our personal vehicle ownership paradigm is unsustainable -- too much energy usage per capita at current (and future) population rates. No matter the cost, those vehicles will stay on the road.

But now I'm not so sure. The people of America and Europe who already own cars as well as the majority of the people in China and India who desperately want to own a car will happily agree to cut down every last acre of rain forest left anywhere and replace them with palm oil plantations for biodiesel if that is what is required. Honestly, do you think a majority of people would really care otherwise? As long as their own personal 'needs' are fulfilled?

The supply of petroleum will gradually tighten over many years. Drivers will slowly adjust to $5 and $6 gas just as they have adjusted to $3 gas. Meanwhile, with gas at $6, the economic incentive to level the Amazon and plant endless square miles of fodder for biodiesel will be overwhelming.

So, no, I no longer believe that we will have to give up our cars. What we will do instead is completely and utterly destroy the ecology of the earth by razing the rainforests and whatever else is required to keep a couple of billion cars on the road. This solution will be prefered by 80% of the public.

The average joe will not give up his auto until our planet is overheated, semi-sterilized, poisoned and storm wracked and humanity is suffering a massive die off, and, even then, he won't do so willingly.

1 comment:

RD said...

Americans cannot handle the truth. That is why Americans are addicted to so many things."

Except us select few who post here, right?

Americans have a very solid history of handling the truth but they have always been slow to throw their energies behind causes until there has been a general consensus that if we don't, we will end up suffering some fairly severe consequences.

We committed to putting man on the moon as a response to Russia's success in launching Sputnik. The realization that we had better jump into the space race or Russia would own the skies was a real and perceived threat. Once it was recognized, America responded.

The truths of a limited energy future are not yet a part of the generalized public psyche. Once the threat becomes more highly recognized I have no doubt that Americans will be able to handle the truth. What choice will they have? If gas is $8.00 a gallon they will have no choice but to drive less.

Manufacturers of all sorts of goods will find out in short order that if they do not produce goods that respond to higher energy costs they will not be able to sell them to the public. Cars, refrigerators, air-conditiioners, stoves, computers, etc. etc. etc. will have to be more efficient or they will sit on the shelves. Car lots and retail establishments that currently burn a skidillion lights every night, all night, will reduce this practice to a "security only" status. People that currently jump in the gas hog to go get a gallon of milk, won't. Kids that drive their own cars to school will have to take the bus (which goes past their house anyway) because they will no longer have their own cars.

I am guessing (and it is nothing more than a guess) that tomorrow, the average person could save anywhere from 15 to 50% of their energy useage by merely using their fucking head and stop wasting energy. But they will not until their wasteful ways become painful. When will this occur? In different stages. Those who use up a bigger portion of their paycheck than others for their energy needs will "get it" first.

By the time a group of moronic legislators get around to passing some really supid legislation that ultimately gets it wrong, those in the private sector will have already reacted. Think you need Congress to do away with gas hogs? Look at the current inventories sitting on dealers lots. They will not continue to manufacture what is currently not selling.

The "truth" about energy is not the same as the "truth" about Hitler or Sputnik, or night following day. It doesn't make it any less true it only means that the revelation of that truth will come in waves, not in the blink of an eye.

Posted by: one Eye Open | June 04, 2007 at 01:26 PM


Maybe. Unless Jebus really is coming.