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.