The most recent round of exorbitant gasoline price hikes is hurting working Americans directly in the pocketbook and indirectly by feeding inflation. It is high time to seek alternatives.
We cannot overestimate the danger posed by global warming and the over-consumption of carbon-based fuels, while America’s ongoing aggressive resource wars seem to pose an equally great a potential threat to human survival. But cutting oil consumption by uncontrolled gasoline price increase is not the way to go. All it means is that those who have the money can continue to drive as though there was no tomorrow, while the rest of us suffer. Or, as Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake!”
The problem is real and immediate, but how do we address it?
We have no short- or medium-term ways to change the irrational urban and rural structures built up over the last half-century that make most of us pathetically dependent on gasoline to get to work or school, and force us to travel miles and miles just to buy a pair of socks. In most of the United States, decent public transport networks are lacking, but these cannot be created from scratch without years of planning and construction, a massive public commitment, and a change of mindset, overcoming the heavily indoctrinated idea that “my car is my freedom, my car is myself!”
Nonetheless, there are still viable short-term alternatives, even though they would demand sacrifice from all of us, not just from the most vulnerable. Among other options, we could significantly lower gas prices, reduce our nation’s oil consumption and slash our production of greenhouse gasses virtually overnight by rationalizing fuel use as was done during World War II, applying price controls and rationing.
The problems of world over-consumption of oil, oil price competition and global warming are not going to be resolved with half-measures, much less by penalizing those who can least afford it. In the ’70s, millions of gasoline ration coupons were printed in this country, only to be destroyed when the immediate crisis passed. This time the crisis is here to stay, and it is time to urgently reexamine our options. Price controls and fuel rationing are desperately needed to save both consumers and the planet. Of course, such “radical” measures will never be approved while the current leadership is in control, but as gas prices keep on rising and climate change becomes more and more lethal, mandatory controls on oil prices and rationalization of consumption are demands we all can and should make.
Owen Williamson is an English teacher in El Paso, Texas