Gas prices have reached their highest point since 2008, largely due to the instability in Libya and much of the Middle East. The average gas price per gallon in the U.S. is $3.81, as of April 15th. Ever since hovering dangerously close to the $4 gallon threshold, many Americans have been taking steps to reduce fuel consumption, either by carpooling, taking public transportation, or by simply driving less. But what if gas prices DO break the $4 per gallon barrier? Will it really cause drastic changes in America’s daily driving habits?
I believe that it won’t, for a few reasons. The first reason is that public transportation is simply not an option for Americans in rural areas. These people are the ones who will disproportionately feel the brunt of rising gas prices, since they have no choice but to drive in order to go about their daily routines. Businesses will also feel the brunt of higher gas prices, but will ultimately pass these costs down to the consumer in the form of slightly costlier products and merchandise.
Another reason is that Americans will simply grow accustomed to higher gas prices after a while, and accept them. While small cars, hybrids, and electric cars are growing in popularity, many Americans still prefer their gas-guzzling SUV’s and trucks, and will be reluctant to give up their lifestyle in order to save a few bucks at the gas station.
And the biggest reason: Americans still, by far, pay relatively low gas prices in comparison to the rest of the world. In Europe, many countries pay much more than the U.S. The highest country, the Netherlands, pays almost $8 per gallon. And the Netherlands, coincidentally, are consistently ranked as one of the top countries to live due to their high overall quality of life.
Gas prices will eventually break the mythological $4 per gallon price, and it will inevitably happen in 2011. We could possibly even see $5 per gallon prices sometime in our lifetimes. This could be the linchpin for a massive movement to reduce foreign oil consumption, and to depend more on electric cars and public transportation. While this scenario would ultimately be a good thing for the U.S., unfortunately our transportation and energy infrastructure is set up in a way that still makes it cheaper to rely on oil and gas-powered automobiles, even with skyrocketing fuel prices. Until it becomes cheaper to mass-produce electric docking stations to charge hybrid and electric cars, and until we have a national consensus to quit relying on foreign oil and to consider changing the traditional American lifestyle, we will pay $4 a gallon.
And eventually, we won’t even mind at all.