Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do You Really Want Lower Gas Prices?

It looks like we are on the roller coaster again, with gas prices moving up suddenly overnight again and again.  Just this morning as I began my drive from Weimar to Columbus to go to the hospital to visit a sick parishioner, I noticed the price of gasoline at the two stations near the freeway had gone up a dime overnight.  So, I thought that was the highest I would see today since gas prices are usually the highest right here in our town that you will see anywhere in our area.  I was actually wrong, because when I got to Columbus and made a smart purchase of gas at a station where it was 12 cents a gallon less than in Weimar, I drove on toward the hospital and saw that the stations there near the freeway were actually a dime higher than the ones in Weimar.  That was amazing!  We always have the highest gas prices in the area and suddenly our neighboring town has them ten cents a gallon higher making ours seem like bargain prices. 

This roller coaster seems to happen about once each six months or so.  I have my own theory about why it happens.  I do not work for, nor have I ever worked for, gasoline industry groups at all and know very little about what makes the price of gasoline what it is.  I do have a very suspicious mind though and imagine persons within the oil industry getting together now and then and deciding to create a scenario so that they can push the price of gasoline up for a while in order to make a windfall of profits and when the American consumer gets enough of it and begins to make enough noise then they back off again and let the price come down so that the public will be partially satisfied.  I also think that the oil industry wants to condition consumers so that we will get accustomed to paying a certain price and when they boost it up to the point where we yell about it they back down but not below the price to which they have conditioned us. 

So, when gasoline was about $2 a gallon and suddenly Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused a disruption in the oil industry for a while and the price of gas went to $3 a gallon, we yelled and made noise and the price came down again but not below $2.  Then when the price crept back up to around $3 and we got adjusted to paying that, then the price began its climb up again and now it is nearly $4 a gallon, the yelling will begin again and we may see a decline in prices but it will not go below $3 again or maybe even $4 if we can get adjusted to paying that price. 

It sounds like a conspiracy theory hatched by the oil industry executives and maybe it is...or maybe not.  Who knows?  I do know from driving our local roads and freeways that there are still plenty of SUVs and trucks and other gas guzzling vehicles on the road that get very little gas mileage.  I also know that there are lots of cars on the road.  I only drive 15 miles from Weimar to Columbus on I-10 but in that short space today I bet I was passed by 100 cars of more going toward Houston.  I was driving 75 mph so all those cars were going faster than I was.  None were willing to drive the speed limit or close to it. 

So, do we as a nation actually want lower gas prices?  We may say we do but are we willing to make changes in our lifestyles so that we put into practice changes that will help us to use less gasoline.  I really don't think that we as a nation want to make any of those changes.  Some of us drive cars that get 30 mpg or more but we are outnumbered by all those other cars that get 10, 12, or maybe 15 mpg and many of those vehicles have tanks that hold huge amounts of fuel in comparison to our small cars.  When will the driving public finally decide that driving a compact car instead of a behemoth SUV makes more sense? 

Living in a rural area gives us few options when it comes to public transportation.  Living in a city offers the option to ride a bus or take a train or carpool with others.  We can complain all we want about high gas prices but until we are willing to make changes in our own lifestyles that will help us use less gas then we will be at the mercy of whoever decides to set the price at any number they wish.  It is only by using less gas that we are in control of how much it costs us personally. 

We have visited Europe several times in the past couple decades.  I am always amazed at the number of very small cars driving on their roads.  When I rent a vehicle in Europe, it always gets around 50 mpg.  That is important because gasoline in Germany and England and France and the rest of Europe costs about twice as much as we pay for a gallon of gasoline.  The last time we were in Germany we rented a Fiat 500 and it got about 50 mpg.  I rarely had to buy gas and I drove everywhere around Germany.  When I did buy gasoline, though, it cost about 1.37 Euros for a liter of gasoline.  That means a gallon would cost roughly 5.48 Euros.  A Euro in Dollars when we were there took about 1 1/2 dollars to equal one Euro.  So in dollars, that gas actually cost us $8.22 a gallon.  If I lived in Germany and solely used Euros, then it would be that nearly 5.5 Euros for each gallon.  We who visit there help their economy by trading our money for theirs and then buying their products with their money.  Europeans are hurt by the rise in oil the same as we are...but we still spend much less of our income on gasoline then they do each time we all buy a gallon of gas. 

Europeans seemed to learn the lesson of more frugal living through the years because of hardship, war, and economic necessity.  They have mostly adjusted by driving smaller cars that gets much better gas mileage than even our best mileage vehicles.  When will we decide that it is worth the effort to also give up our huge cars in exchange for better mileage ones and to adopt habits that will encourage conservation?  At what price will we decide that making changes is worth the effort? 

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