Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Gas Prices: A Silver Lining?

No question, it sucks paying $3 a gallon, with $4 or even $5 per gallon staring us in the face. But since these prices are probably here for the long haul, they might lead to some long-term changes in America’s driving habits.

A new trend has just (barely) started: some people are moving out of the suburbs and into the cities. There’s no groundswell or anything, but it’s a beginning. America’s entire infrastructure — our entire culture for that matter — is centered around cars and driving.

This might have made sense when gas was 32 cents a gallon. It’s really a kick to watch some of those movies from the 1950s and ‘60s where people are cruising along Highway One in Southern California, and there’s no traffic. Sorry folks, those days are gone. Get over it. Will the American people adapt?

There’s a popular psychology parable about rats in tunnels. If a rat goes into a tunnel and finds some cheese there, this rat will keep going into the same tunnel expecting to find more cheese. But if no more cheese is put into the tunnel, the rat will eventually get the drift and stop going into the tunnel to look for cheese. The difference between rats and people: people never do get the drift. If there was once cheese in the tunnel (figuratively), a person will keep going back and back and back into that same tunnel, determined to find some cheese.

For the past 30 years we’ve had one energy crisis after another. Everyone says unprintable things about the oil companies for hoarding supplies. Everybody rants about those &%$#! treehuggers who won’t let us ransack every last acre of wilderness to look for more oil.

But nobody will change their driving habits. You can’t blame them (well, a little). Our entire infrastructure is geared toward everyone driving everywhere by themselves. Housing prices are forcing everyone to move out to the boondocks where they can afford to rent or buy something, and then commute 40, 50 or a hundred miles to their jobs.

And we’ve all seen subdivisions that are no more than 200 yards from a mall. But the mall is across the freeway and/or separated by a huge wall. So you have to drive out of your housing tract and get onto the main boulevard (which has no sidewalks; you’re risking your life if you try walking or cycling).

There have even been studies linking obesity to the fact that walking in the suburbs is difficult to impossible.

So maybe, just maybe, the reality of paying extortionate prices for fuel (just like everybody else in the world) will force us to adapt.


Blogger Cynnie said...

People need to freaking walk once in a while

August 16, 2006 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Cynnie: That's for sure. If the human race keeps driving everywhere, we'll "evolve" into creatures without legs.

August 16, 2006 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger frstlymil said...

As a city dweller - if more people are planning on moving into the cities, then does this mean they will be selling their homes for the opportunity of renting a studio apartment for $1000 a month? Or more (New York or San Francisco, you can pay even more) In L.A., people move two hours away to Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Valencia, etc. in order to buy homes that will accomodate their families at a price that won't kill them, then communte two hours each day to their jobs in the city. Those of us that remain - are mainly renters. A one bedroom condo in L.A. proper sells for about 450-500,000 on average. A two-bedroom, one bath house goes for about 1.2 milion. If people move back into the cities it will certainly cut down on the commuting - but they are going to be scaling back a lot more than gas prices.

August 17, 2006 at 7:03 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Frstlymil: Yeah, moving from the suburbs to the city would involve a total lifestyle change and lots of cutting back on everything. But I can see the attraction. For a long time I had a 40-mile commute through bumper to bumper traffic. I took the bus; it was about 90 minutes each way, plus driving to and from the bus stop. It sucked, and I can see why some people would be ready to make the change.

August 17, 2006 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger frstlymil said...

I can understand that. I drive from Hollywood to Studio city - about 7 or 8 miles - not very far, but takes an hour in rush hour.

August 17, 2006 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

A hour to go 7 or 8 miles -- yeah, that sucks.

August 17, 2006 at 7:59 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

I firmly believe the rising price of gas is the best thing that could happen to this country. It's the only thing that will get us out of SUVs and into electric cars or whatever they come up with.

I also think people need to seriously think about if their commute is worth it. California is nice but there are a lot of great places to live in this country where the real estate is comparatively cheap and you can get to work in 15 minutes.

August 18, 2006 at 5:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

J. Marquis: That's exactly right. People are going to have to make changes. Mass transit, electric cars, moving closer to the job (or taking a job closer to home) -- something has to be done.

August 18, 2006 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

A conservative friend and co-worker of mine saw the Al Gore movie, and she said "It hit me in the gut!" She wants to get rid of her Yukon and get a hybrid vehicle of some kind, and she says she is quickly becoming at least a moderate because she realizes that our treatement of the earth affects us in more ways than we can begin to realize.

She was also complaining about how the pastor at her church, and just about all the congregation, were disappointed with her newfound awareness... and about how most all of them believe global warming is a myth and that the GOP has all the answers because Democrats don't believe in God (abortion is the main reason her churchgoing friends say they would never vote for a Democrat).

I encouraged her, and made it a point to bring each of our Toyota hybrids to work for her to see on consecutive days. I've gently been working on her for a couple of years re. political things, mostly just by asking some questions... but I'm glad she went to see the Gore film. For her, it was an eye-opener. Now she just needs to arrange for her church's congregation to see it!!

August 19, 2006 at 1:03 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: Well, I’m glad there’ll be at least one less SUV and one more hybrid. I can’t believe how many religious people are against environmental causes just because they associate it with godless liberals. I’ve also read that some churches are in favor of environmental protection, but they call it Creation Care so they won’t be associated with Leftists.

I’m glad your friend is coming around. That would be a real coup if she could get her whole congregation to see the Al Gore movie.

August 19, 2006 at 11:53 AM  

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