The Price of Mobility: Increased Gasoline Prices Will Not Curb Consumption
There is somewhat of a disconnection between the public consensus on gas prices and oil consumption. People want cheaper fuel, yet many people agree that global emissions should be reduced. In an article entitled “High Gas Prices, Limited Impact,” Ron Scherer and Alison Snyder explain, “In fact, demand for gasoline increased a robust 1.6 percent in April, according to the Energy Department. But the cost of tanking up has become so high that some gasoline stations report almost 80 percent of their customers are using credit cards to pay the bill.”
The Energy Information Agency website lists transportation as the second highest energy consumption source, with electric power coming in first. Rather than hoping the increasing costs of gasoline will deter consumers from driving their vehicles, Americans need better socio-economic policies and better incentives to change consumption behavior patterns.
Much of the economic and social landscape of the United States is tangled around the axle of gas guzzling vehicles. The United States uses far less diesel powered engines than do Europeans, mostly because there are few diesel engine passenger vehicles and because the price difference between gasoline and diesel offer little incentive to buy diesel. Tara Baukus Mello, for Edmons.com writes in an article entitled “Diesel, Dirty no More,” that “Of all the types of internal-combustion engines, the diesel engine is the most efficient: A given amount of diesel fuel can make more power than the same amount of gasoline.” In most of Europe, the heavily taxed gasoline prices are offset by the reduced tax prices for diesel. The French government, for example, lessens the tax burden for diesel because of its efficiency and economy.
While diesel prices in the United States aren’t much lower than regular gasoline, the geography of most U.S residential areas makes the necessity for driving a vehicle much less dependent on price than on driving distance. Industry in many cities perpetuates a suburban sprawl that requires residents to commute by vehicle daily. Peter Ford, with The Christian Science Monitor, in an article called, “Gas Prices Too High, Try Europe,” writes, “In Paris, for example, about half the trips people make are by foot, by bicycle, or on public transport, says UNEP’s Mr. Fulton. In America, that figure is more like 20 percent.” The differences in the way Europe and the United States are structured economically show why, despite hikes in gasoline prices, Americans show very few changes in gas consumption behavior.
Trends in petroleum consumption among Americans may seem dismal, but strides have been made by Federal organizations to curb national dependency on crude oil products, particularly gasoline. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA) along with the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), regulate a program called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, (CAFE), which was first enacted by Congress in 1975 to reduce energy consumption and to regulate the fuel economy of passenger cars and trucks sold in the United States.
There are some people who oppose the foundations of CAFE. Charli E. Coon J. D, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Thomas A Roe Institute for Policy Studies, wrote an article for The Heritage Institute entitled, “Why the Government’s CAFE Standards for Fuel Efficiency Should Be Repealed, not Increased.” In the article, she writes, “Advocates of higher CAFE standards argue that increasing miles per gallon will reduce gas consumption. What they fail to mention is the well-known “rebound effect”–greater energy efficiency leads to greater energy consumption.” What the “rebound effect” refers to is a heightened use of any product that is cheaper to consume. In short, people use more than they did before the innovation in product. The behavior of the consumer changes very little.
Because neither increased gasoline prices nor gasoline conserving vehicles have made a big difference in fuel consumption trends of Americans, socio-economic policy should take into account the differences between American culture and European cultures. Industry and economy, for Americans, plays an integral roll toward why the consumption behavior changes very little. Public transportation, environmental planning with regard to highway and road access, and tax incentives for decreased commutes are all aspects of public policy that could help to curtail fuel consumption.
Coon, J.D., Charli E.. “Why the Government’s CAFE Standards for Fuel Efficiency Should Be Repealed, not IncreasedTry Europe.”. The Heritage Foundation July 11, 2001: May 12th, 2007. http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/BG1458.cfm>
Ford, Peter. “Gas Prices Too High? Try Europe.”. The Christian Science Monitor Aug 26th, 2005: May 12th, 2007. Mello, Tara Baukus. “Diesel Dirty No More.” Edmonds. May 17th, 2006.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. http://www.NHTSA.gov>
Scherer, Ron and Alison Snyder. “High Prices, Limited Impact (Cover Story). Christian Science Monitor 99.114 (2007): 1-10.Academic Search Premier. May 14th, 2007. http://search.ebesco.com