It is a site that none of us wanted to see after 2008, the year of the economic collapse. At about this time last year, we were dealing with $4 a gallon gas in a time span between Easter and Labor Day, with some cities dealing with prices at or over $5/gallon, like Chicago, New York, and Dallas. It was a site where everyone was fighting the windmills in cutting costs, just so we could keep the cars in the garages as often and as long as possible. We took whatever forms of public transportation needed if we didn’t have a bicycle. We focused on vacations that were more local and did not even bother with a trip to places far and away. And last but not least, since the oil prices went as far as $147 a barrel, resulting in prices of other commodities spiking as well, we had to go on a diet in terms of our shopping habits, as everything was way too expensive- food included.
While prices did go back down to $2.50/gallon by the middle of last year, guess what? Â Have a look at the picture below:
Yep, gas prices are back on the rise again, and this time, there seems to be no stopping the trend. We’ve seen gas prices increase by an average of 70 cents a gallon since this Christmas and it would not be surprising if the entire US faces $4/gallon gas by the time Memorial Day comes around. Already, six states have broken the mark with many more yet to follow, including Minnesota (where the photo was taken). By the time July comes around, travellers will be dealing with prices never seen before- $4.50 to even $5.50/gallon gas! Â There is no doubt in the minds of many that many highways will be at half-full capacity at the most when this happens.
If you look at the European shores now, a lot of Americans would feel a lot of sympathy if they saw how much we usually pay on average- that is if the situation is normal and not what it is right now. It is usual to pay 1.30 Euro/Liter unleaded gasoline in Germany, and at a time back in 2006, diesel was less than that. Converting the figures into the English measurements, that would mean about $7 a gallon.Â However, as you can see in the picture below, weâ€™re also feeling your pain. While travelers normally pay more for gasoline than in the US, gas prices are skyrocketing to levels never seen before in modern history, even though the country invests more in other forms of infrastructure, like passenger rail and busses.
So who do we have to blame for all this? Many people would blame Moamar Gaddafi in Libya for torturing his Â people through a civil war, something that the allied troops are trying to put an end to by toppling his regime. That would be a first reaction given the fact that the country has been supplying 20% of the worldâ€™s supply of oil. But other countries in northern Africa and the Middle East have been trying to keep up with the growing demand for oil plus Big Oil has been working on finding new supplies. We can blame Big Oil for dictating the gas prices and for quashing other forms of alternative energy, like hydrogen cells, wind, geothermal, and even solar energy. Highly conclusive argument since it has been destroying the environments around the world with reckless oil drilling, and despite regulations passed by the Obama administration and other governments to restrict deep water drilling, in light of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the companies are finding ways to circumvent the laws through perverted measures, like cozying up with the politicians.
But what about us?Â Perhaps we as a society should rethink the way we have been using energy resources and not pay attention to the external influences that have been governing our way of life for at least three decades. In the past three decades, we have been consumed by all kinds of stuff that we have been told what to do or what to buy and not think about the long-term consequences of our actions. Whenever there is an SUV that is big enough to fit eight people and eight cupholders, we buy it without knowing the consequences of using it (namely paying more for gas and maintenance). Instead of borrowing a cup of brown sugar to make a sweet potato casserole, we commute 30 km to the nearest supermarket to purchase a package.Â If a highway is too narrow and a bridge too light for traffic, we replace it with a six lane freeway and a bridge that is bland but serves as its only function: to be 100% â€œfree of maintenance,â€ not knowing that it would encourage more driving, more wear and tear, and in the end more money for maintenance. Yet we still continue this process as if there is no tomorrow, and it is not surprising that we are all in a fix that may no longer possible to break out of.
End result? We are cutting back on what we enjoy the most, like photography tours, long distance travelling to various exotic places, and running separate errands individually, embracing our neighbors like we knew them for many years (even though we don’t know them at all) taking advantage of whatever public transportation is available and doing some things differently in order to cut costs wherever needed. In one case, an American student living in Germany recently decided to fly from Copenhagen to Minnesota instead of flying out of Frankfurt as flight costs are much cheaper in the Danish capital, a city that is worth seeing and accessible by train. While the last part may be a bit crazy, these measures show the willingness to people all over the world that there are alternatives to using the car which costs a lot of money. It’s more of a question of how to do it without hurting their own interests, and this is exceptionally hard, given the current circumstances.
While we may have seen gas prices fall in light of the economic crash in 2008, it is highly unlikely that this will repeat itself again. And like the Europeans who have done this already, we need to rethink the way we travel, and politicians need to rethink the concept of expanding public transportation, instead of cutting funding for many projects, as more people are demanding alternatives to the car. It may be expensive at first, but in the long term, it will save households much money by reducing the costs for travelling by car, and families will benefit from these alternatives in many different ways.
It is highly unlikely that the debate over high gas prices will be the focus of the next elections in 2012 (US) and 2013 (Germany), but it will hang around the chambers of the two houses of parliament, to a point where politicians will be so annoyed by it that they will investigate this and ask the public about htis topic. Nine times out of ten, they will be due for a shock…..
Note: Thanks to Kari Lucin for providing the photo of the gas prices in the US at present.