I’m not naive — I understand that there are severe hardships in store the longer the price of a barrel of oil soars ever higher. But here’s the thing. Every time I pass by my local gas station and see the numbers a couple cents higher than the day before, I smile. For some that might seem odd — and for those that depend on cheap oil, my sentiments are with you. Unfortunately for all of us, those unaffected and those in dire straits, this had to happen. As someone who champions sustainability day in and out, writes about political hangups to change America’s dependency on oil, and laments our lack of investment in renewable energies, this is a blessing in disguise. My only hope is that this continues — and is less of a “rubberband effect” we all experienced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
Why? Because if we are to shift to an economy that is truly self-sufficient and sustainable, we have to be hit hard collectively in the wallets. It’s the only way. As environmentalists, we can release movies, write articles, hold rallies, and buy all the green products in the world — but to to truly bear witness to real change, it has to come from those not directly involved. In other words, everyone must be faced with a burden. For some, climate change might be their burden and buying a hybrid vehicle or biking to work might be the solution. For others, higher gas prices which affect the bottom line might be their burden. In the end, what matters most is that it is a common hardship. Whatever the personal impact, the demanded outcome will be in unison.
Back in December 2005 — when the price of a barrel of oil was a staggering $70 — Wired magazine wrote an article titled “Why $5 Gas Is Good For America“. Here’s a highlight:
“So what’s a price-shocked, carbon-afflicted highway jockey to do? Keep driving. In fact, drive more. The longer gas stays expensive, the higher the chance we’ll see alternatives. Put that pedal to the metal. And smile when you see a big black $3 or $4 out in front at the gas pump. Those innovators need all the encouragement they can get. Shale oil, uranium, sunlight – there’s enough energy out there for a dozen planets. Where we’ll all park is another matter.”
And Ladies and Gentlemen, that should be the moral of the story. Sure, we went through this BS back in the 70s — but I’m not sure if the world was ready technologically or even mentally to embrace alternatives. Although, I will concede that watching Jack Nicholson drive around in a hydrogen-powered car makes me wonder indefinite “what ifs” had we embraced the future 30 years ago. Alas.
So, to those gritting their teeth over what’s happening at the pump, hang on. Remember, we’re all in this together. From the guy with the Suburban in his driveway, to the woman who rides a bike to work but faces higher food prices. The greatest thing to look forward to in times of strife is the eventual change. And it will come. The days of $1/$2 gas are well behind us. The time now is to innovate and recognize the flaws in a society so dependent on cheap gasoline. And here’s one more sobering thought: No matter how bad you think it is now, it could (and may one day soon) be much worse. In fact, in a recent survey of a 155 countries, the US was ranked as the 45th cheapest — even with the average around $3.45/gallon. Think you’re hurting? It’s $8 a gallon across much of Europe, $12.03 in Aruba and $18.42 in Sierra Leone.
This alone should give you reason to smile as you drive by the gas station. I know I will be.