Oil subsidies, gas prices, and treating the symptom

(I had this post sitting, wondering if it was too rawr-politico-crazy to post. Then I saw my sweet aunt posting about ending gov’t handouts to oil. Sweet. Let’s press play.)

I read this: It’s Official: Oil Subsidies Don’t Keep Gas Prices Down – Environment – GOOD. And I thought, ok. Let’s stop giving more money to the industry that’s making money hand over greasy fist. And polluting. And committing crimes against humans. And generally just being jerk-faces, I’m pretty sure.

But then something caught my eye in that original article from GOOD. It reads “Rather then [sic] redirect that money to programs that will actually cut our oil demand, immediately save American families money, and more efficiently ease gas prices…” My emphasis. Because why, indeed, aren’t we aiming to use less oil and gas? The problem isn’t that it’s expensive and we should pay less for it by any means necessary (such as subsidies, or underhanded dealings, or lower quality, or drilling in Alaska, or fracking or whatever else craziness there is out there), the problem is that when the prices go up, most of us have no option for any other transportation. Our cars run on it. Our buses and trains run on it. Our heaters run on it. When it’s expensive, people go hungry, freeze, and sometimes lose their jobs (if they can’t afford to get themselves to work).

We need options, people. We need to be able to say “no, today I’m not driving my single-occupant vehicle. Today I’ll a) carpool. b) take public transportation*. c) take my bike. d) walk. e) work from home. And while we’re at home, maybe it’s under the roof where my solar, wind, or other non-oil fuel source is gaining energy. Or in my energy-efficient house that doesn’t need as much heating (or cooling for that matter). Maybe we should take the GOOD challenge and stop driving so damn much this month.

I did the math recently for myself (you can, too, with this quick calculator). I based mine off of my expense history, which gave me a handy-dandy chart divided up by gas, repairs and maintenance, and of course tags, inspections, and insurance.

Thanks, I'd love to save $3500 bucks a year!

I’m betting that not everyone is like me: I live fairly close to work (I planned it that way when I bought my house). I have an old beater that gets pretty good gas mileage. I have the bare bones insurance plan. And I’m at the tail end of investing in my little beater. I might get it some new tires, but when the big stuff hits, I’m not planning on investing more big money into it. When the time comes, I’ll try to go car-lite and then eventually car-free.

But maybe folks live farther away from their work. Maybe work is along freeways that offer absolutely zero chances for cycling or walking, and no public transportation. These are the kinds of options we need to grow as a community, and they’re options that can only be requested locally.

At worst, there’s carpooling and maybe even working from home. If one person could carpool with two other people three days a week, then work at home one day per week, that person could save 60% of his or her normal commuting costs. That’s without any gas subsidies, no extra sidewalks or re-striping for bikes, no bus fleets, and no public transportation of any sort. And, by the bye, how about we take those oil subsidies and put them into public transportation, bikeways, and sidewalks? New projects like those mean new jobs to boot.

I dunno, I’m just thinking out loud here. I just wish people would open their eyes a little bit and see that making gas cost less at the pump, making cars go further on a gallon of gas, and even finding other fuels for cars isn’t really taking care of the problem. It’s just lessening the symptom of high fuel costs.** If fuel subsidies really don’t bring the costs down, then let’s stop with them. Everyone can still pump as much—or as little—as they want. They can drive as much or as little as they want. But geez-o-pete, let’s get some options for the ones who don’t want to pay or drive as much, mk?

*Ideally, any options we give for non-fossil fueled vehicles will also extend to public transportation. In the short term, though, public transpo is cheaper for a person than operating his or her car.

**Just like making disposable bottles from compostable materials is solving the symptom of too much waste.

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