Friday, April 6, 2012

Gas Prices, America, Europe, and Green Hippie Thinking.

According to the highly-scientific surveying that is my Facebook friends, a lot of people in America are freaking out about gas being over $4.00/gallon. I'm not trying to one-up you or tell you that we have it so bad over here. I just don't think Americans know that the US is actually one of the cheapest places in the world to fill up your tank.

Since I've been visiting the United Kingdom regularly (2008), gas (or "petrol" as they so eloquently call it) has hovered around $8.50/gallon. Most of Europe has been around $8/gallon for years. Think about that for a minute.

To address some backlash I know I'll get, let me say I know it's not so simple as to just say, "Stop driving so much." Folks who work minimum wage jobs and have no viable public transportation means are, in many ways, screwed. I also know that oil is priced in dollars, no matter where you are in the world, so a weak dollar means other currencies can buy more (Still, it cost about $80 to fill up a Honda Jazz -- a "supermini" that holds only 10-11 gallons on my last tour.) Nonetheless, petrol has, historically, been much more expensive in Europe, and people consequently think differently about living in the suburbs or heating their homes (the ol' Jimmy Carter method -- Put on a sweater!).

For the middle class -- for those of us who are seeing rising gas prices seriously affecting their monthly budgets -- it's a nice opportunity to re-think our way of life. Why do families keep buying houses farther and farther from the city or where they work? I don't know. But maybe part of it is because they can. Gas prices have been kept artificially low in the US for so long that Americans assume $4.00+/gallon is highway robbery.

Honestly, this blog isn't meant to be about oil prices or taxes. I just wonder how high gas prices need to get before people start actually changing their daily lives.

I'm not talking about people who already have a sense of environmental responsibility. I'm talking about people who don't feel guilty about throwing away an aluminum can or who always drive the half-mile to their grocery store. At some point, I would think rising gas prices will make people think twice about running their gas driers on a sunny day. Or washing their clothes in unnecessarily hot water. Or driving to the post office down the street. I mean, if you don't believe the environment is in danger, I'm pretty sure you still believe in your pocketbook.

I don't know if it's because gas has always been high over in the UK or if they just have a bigger sense of history and the environment, but I'm really pleased by some of the little things that are common over here. Just this morning, I met a neighbor while I was hanging laundry out to dry in the garden. (I only know one person in this city who owns a drier -- and this in a country known for its rain.) Also, the Edinburgh city government even has weekly curbside compost pickup to decrease landfill waste -- a perk that still blows my mind. I've also met many friends in this city purely because I walk everywhere. A smile on the sidewalk goes a long way.

Anyway, that's enough deep thoughts. I just wonder if the US had started charging a higher gas tax years and years ago, we wouldn't have lost so much green space to sprawl. Okay, I'm going to stop being a hippie now and go buy a cupcake. Though, knowing Edinburgh, the cupcake was surely made with free range eggs and other ingredients. Maybe I should rent a car and go to ASDA.