read an interesting opinion article this morning that some of you might enjoy. I'm sure many of you will find holes in this (I've already thought of some), but it raises some interesting points.
Facing Our Energy Dependency
Rising gasoline prices? Terrific! Let's raise them some more!
OK, I realize everyone is worried about rising oil prices, and the painful news you get at the gas pump every time you fill up that 24-gallon behemoth you use to go shopping and pick up your kids. Heck, even filling up your Prius these days can be a harrowing experience.
But let's stop for a moment amid our fear and embrace it. Let's stand still and wonder how we can turn this oil-mad conundrum on its ear and use it to our benefit.
What if we, as Californians, put a huge tax on gasoline, and the federal government followed suit, and so did all the other states? I mean a significant tax, say $6 or $7 a gallon. Make gasoline cost $10 a gallon at the pump. Ouch. Suddenly that SUV costs 240 bucks to fill up. Scary to think about, and what a horrible thing that would be, right?
But let's follow this for a moment and look at the repercussions. With the tax money from gasoline flowing into the state's coffers, suddenly little pesky problems like schools, mass transit, bridges, highways and police officers all go away. For the first time in decades, both the state and federal finances are in order. Fewer cars on the roads mean less stress on resources such as police and fire departments, as well as highway-repair crews.
But not being a macro-economist, I am more interested in the cultural and anthropological changes such a tax would bring to our lives. With the price of gas skyrocketing like that, most people will be forced to take public transportation: light rail, BART, trains and buses. Granted, in the early moments of such a tax, the price of gas would cause some hearts to flutter in the city's maintenance yards where they fill the buses up. Obviously there would need to be money flowing from the state to the cities to subsidize that effort, but with increased ridership -- not a slight increase, but a huge increase -- bus and train revenues would also skyrocket, leading to increased services, more buses and trains, and improved routes and schedules. With better security and increased police patrols, along with better maintenance and lighting at the stations, we end up with more jobs and better public-transit systems.
Now comes the best part: With the decrease in cars on the road, traffic ceases being such a problem. Obviously, rich people will still drive everywhere -- but then, rich people have always done pretty much whatever they wanted to, and this won't stop them. But for the rest of us, we will think long and hard before we drive somewhere.
The effect on our neighborhoods? Think about it. We won't drive to Costco or WalMart when we can walk down to the corner store for some milk and eggs and cookies. That neighborhood movie theater, run down or showing vintage films, suddenly sounds like a fun date, much more attractive than the multiplex in some faraway mall. Suddenly, we walk places we never would have, our health improves, we lose weight and we meet our neighbors and get to know them, because they are out walking to the neighborhood grocery as well. Instead of driving miles for dinner, inviting your neighbors over suddenly sounds way more affordable, and everyone walks home.
All this online shopping slows down, because the price of shipping by truck or air just got more expensive. Web booksellers are not as good a deal as that mom-and-pop bookstore on the corner. When you do come into San Francisco, or use your car, rest assured it will be a special occasion.
Think about this: Freeways that actually have less traffic than they were designed to carry. Bridges that flow smoothly. Trains and light-rail systems that run right where you need to go. Small neighborhoods flourishing, with small family-owned businesses opening up to provide services now available only at large chain stores, and big-box stores drying up, and not because of a few loud-mouthed politically-correct protesters, but because of the natural free-market system. State and local finances would return to where they should be, paying for essential services and no longer running in the deep red. And suddenly, we are no longer so dependent on oil-producing nations.
It is an accepted fact that to change the public's behavior, you must either introduce pain or rewards. It's not that much different than children, really. Undesired behavior must become painful, with consequences (not necessarily physically painful, but painful in some way, and few things hurt as much as a knife into the pocketbook) and desired behavior must be rewarded. When the price of gas goes from $2.81 to $2.97, we are so callous and numb about it that we don't even feel the pain, if in fact we even notice it.
But we will be paying 8 or 10 bucks a gallon soon enough, much sooner than you might want to believe. The question is whether we want to pay ourselves or Exxon/Unocal/Shell/OPEC/fill-in-the-blank. The plan to become less dependent on gasoline, to remove the rope around our neck held by the oil- rich companies and countries, must be authored by ourselves, and waiting until the price of gas is $10 a gallon makes less sense than collecting that money now, and building a society where we know our neighbors and walk to the store, just as we did way back when.
Dave Richards owns a small high-tech business and lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.
Last edited by Jeftichew; 08-14-2005 at 06:09 PM.
[font=Arial][size=2][color=Blue][i]Not quite clean shaven