Monday, July 15, 2013

Gas Should be $20 per Gallon

I was driving to Bend, OR (one of my favorite places on earth) listening to the Planet Money podcast entitled "The One-Page Plan to Fix Global Warming" and was reminded of an email I wrote Annie a few months ago ranting about how I think gas should be $20/gal. The podcast briefly sums up what is an elegant 2 word answer to global warming: carbon tax. It basically would slowly increase the price of gas over time, so as to not shock the economy which heavily depends on oil, but to give the country incentive to move in other directions than oil consumption. Economists, after all, tend to believe incentive is the root of all action, I tend to agree.

In addition to reducing the effects of carbon emission on our planet, which is most likely the gravest problem we face right now as a community of people living on earth, I think it would have a great number of added solutions to problems that we face as a country.

1. Health Care (Exercise)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on their website that over a third of adults and 17% of children in the United States are obese. They also note the cost of that epidemic:
In 2008, overall medical care costs related to obesity for U.S. adults were estimated to be as high as $147 billion.
 $147 Billion. In the 2012 fiscal year the United States Government Federal Education Budget was $121 Billion. That is $26 Billion more than our government spends on schools. Granted, that does not include individual state spending, but this is just for perspective. I should not have to cite any specific research, as there are thousands upon thousands of studies all linking exercise to a reduction in chronic diseases resulting from obesity. And lets not forget to mention that a large portion of the population that are diagnosed with high blood pressure, heart disease, or chronic stress which are synonymous with obesity, are not considered obese and are therefore not included in the $147B figure.

Another study, "Waging War on Modern Chronic Diseases: Primary Prevention Through Exercise Biology" Estimates that the total cost of epidemic chronic diseases in this country is nearing $1 Trillion and attributes 250,000 premature deaths a year to conditions related to insufficient exercise. Our country's gravest health problem is that of chronic disease, which is preventable. How might we circumvent this preventable epidemic? Well, if your car cost you $250 to $400 a week to drive to and from work, you might just consider, well I don't know, a bike?

I agree, you live far away, it might take you an hour to bike to work. Here is a simple solution to that. MOVE! You think that is a big deal? I just talked to a guy the other day who went in for a check up and left with a quadruple bypass. Are you telling me that the fact that you don't think you can, or just don't want to, relocate, is the reason you sit in traffic not exercising every day? That is a terrible reason, and its a choice you do not have to face thanks to the modern marvel of the car. In order to make positive change, you have to make changes. Moving is not hard, and if it is, you have too much stuff. Move near to where you work, increase your productivity by commuting and exercising, and take another car off the road which will also emit less carbon. Save money. Save the environment. Save your life.

2. Industrial Food

You've read Omnivore's Dilemma. You've seen Food, Inc. You've heard about how industrial agriculture works. If you have not, I suggest you start with either of those publications that can do a much better job than I can explaining how we feed our population in this country. This is my best attempt to paraphrase what I think is the most important part of this issue:
Natural Food Cycle
Industrial Food Cycle
Get quickly acquainted with the industrial food industry here, then check out the farm featured in Food Inc. and Omnivore's Dilemma here. Fascinating differences between two groups of people doing essentially the same thing (feeding people) while also doing so much more. For the sake of my article, however, its the gas that is important. Raise the price of things you do not want. The simple fact is that its cheaper to buy something processed than fresh, and that is due to subsidies and cheap gas. If veggies at my farmers market were cheaper than oreos, we might have some significant changes in diet in America, which relates to the first topic of this article: Health. My bottom line: a McDouble should not cost less than kale, but it does. (The relationship between food and health in America is greatly explained in the documentary Food Matters, check it out!)

Since I'm not an expert at all, but I feel like I am trying to sound like one, I should include a rap lyric from Lupe Fiasco here to break the serious tension that I feel I have so far conveyed:
How many fries can these arteries take?
I'll give McDonald's a little help here
I think they should expand into healthcare
And then you'll have all ends covered
Even make caskets, have it all umbrella'd
Speaking of covering all ends....

3. Government Policy

In 2012, according to (the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy), the Energy and Natural Resources sector and Transportation sector combined to spend more on lobbying ($622 million) than any other sector in the United States (even more than the health care sector, which spent $487 million). That makes those two sectors combined the most powerful force in influencing government policy of the most powerful government in the world. For me its safe to say that from time to time you get what you pay for in US Politics, and with the Oil and Gas industry dominating the Energy and Natural Resources sector with $140 million in 2012, they are having a great influence on our government policy making. The interest of these sectors is inversely related to the interest of the environment and the health of the people who live in it. They ignore scientific proof that our earth is changing (According to Greenpeace, in 2000 Koch Industries contributed $61 million to “climate-denial front groups.”), and profit from every second we sit in traffic.

Think back to when people actually smoked cigarettes in earnest. I want to think of oil companies as modern day 1970's tobacco companies, which were reduced to a helpless pulp by people making changes in the way they live their lives. Its just better for everyone.

Ahhh yes, everyone, my segue train keeps on a rollin'...

4. Community

What do cars have that bikes do not? While there are many right answers, the one I am looking for here is giant steel boxes with sound proof windows surrounding the driver. Another answer that I would accept: "empty seats."

If gas is $20 a gallon, maybe, just maybe, people may begin to go out of their way to team up and buy gas together. The easiest way to do that is let a bus driver do it for you, or a person who gives you and 2 other people a ride to work, or even to just not buy gas at all. Cars help us ignore what is happening around us. The exhaust pipe is situated as far away from you as possible which helps us ignore our impact on the environment. The radio is there to help us ignore that we are alone. The power they possess help us ignore how far away things are. Their design make us feel less responsible for our actions on the road, like cutting someone off or buzzing a cyclist. We are separated from our actions in a car, which is bad for us as a community. As a pedestrian you would never cut someone off to show rage, or stop in front of them, or run by them so close that you nearly knock them over, because you are accountable for your actions. Even when you pass gas you are IMMEDIATELY aware of your impact. I truly believe you are more courteous and considerate when you are held accountable for it, and you owe that to the people around you. 

I also feel, in my own utopia, the idea of streets filled with bikes and people would be an amazing thing for a community. Increasing the interactions between people within a community would no doubt increase its tight-knitted-ness. 

5. All those opposed?

What about people who cant get around without a car?

I believe THIS is what subsidies are for. Since we are talking a tax, which would be a great source of revenue, it would be very easy to subsidize legitimate need for gas. I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if a person were to claim that due to their obesity they would need a subsidy. I agree you are free to do what you want, so that is a tough one. 

You seem to think people can just up and move their entire lives.

Yep. I do. People are amazing.

What about vacations? You love those!

I do! Man, I really do, and this would destroy me as a person who puts nearly 30,000 miles a year on his car driving around the country. Maybe airlines are not subjected to this tax. After about 5 seconds of the country knowing about this, companies will be building rails and buying buses to make good money running long distance transportation companies. I am saying that it needs to be a serious decision to drive a car, a decision that takes into account your impact on the people around you, and I believe that you should be accountable for that, and if you want to spend $1000 driving half way across the country instead of taking a $300 plane, that is your choice. A big part of this is accountability for actions, and $20/gal might just be the cost of my actions in a car.

It would take me about an hour to bike to work, I dont have that kind of time.

This is the crux! This is how we can be sure our priorities are a mess. Lets start out by noting the average commute time for a worker older than 16 not working at home: 25.2 minutes. (Check out the study, as well as a map of commute times by state here) Its 25 minutes to get to work. In 25 minutes, at 15mph average (you can do it, I know you can!) that's 6.25 miles! Imagine all the houses you could find within a 6.25 mile radius of where you work!

Here is why it is the crux of the problem: who does not have the time to stay healthy and improve the outlook of the global environment? What are our priorities in this country that we cant spare an additional 30 minutes to an hour commuting to work, when we would not even have to go to the gym once we got home. We are so focused on being here and there and getting this and that and making this other trip, but when you just stop and think about it, why are we so caught up in all this crazy running around? Sitting in our cars for an average of 50.4 minutes a day getting to and from work? Say it takes you 2 hours to bike to and from work every day, is the additional 35 minutes in the morning and 35 minutes in the evening so hard to swing when you consider the benifits? I almost hate to ask, but why are you not doing that already?

I have to pick the kids up from soccer, or school, or Bobby's house, etc.

This is a lifestyle change that I propose. Hopefully school is close, just like work is close, and car pooling is an option. Burley makes a great thing:

So Happy!
The bus is still a great option for kids, and moving close to your school is a very good idea. We have to make changes to prevent the things I listed above, and they are big changes, but they are good changes. All we would be doing is creating people who understand that cars are not the main form of transportation, and that is a good thing. We cant keep letting the car excuse us from making real changes in our lives. When we drive somewhere, we make an impact!

6. Closing

We have the most unhealthy population of all time in America. Fully preventable diseases are the primary health threat in this country. Our food system is subsidized and Doritos are cheaper than spinach. Industrial food and cars both allow us to ignore the consequences of our actions (eating and moving). It takes energy to move places, and it takes food to get energy, and the addition of gas to that equation has toxic waste products that harm us and our planet. Gas should be incredibly expensive if you consider its consequences. I truly believe that increasing the price of gas to what it should be worth would have positive effects that far outweigh the negative in this country. We would be healthy, our planet would be healthy, our community would be stronger, and our government would be stronger. $20/gallon gas for everyone!!!!

Add your comments below and let the conversation begin!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting & well laid out. Now all we need to do is convince the masses & the politicians will follow?

  3. Meh, lets just all ride bikes instead

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.