What To Do About the High Price of Gas

In a word: nothing. There is not a thing you can do about the high price of gas. Nope. Carbon companies are in business to maximize their price, margins and profits. If they don’t, their stockholders can sue them. They are not, after all, B Corps.

And please: if you see something like the following

Think about this for one minute

ignore it. It’s delusional, and Snopes debunked it years ago. Saying that we shouldn’t buy gas on this day matters to carbon companies as much as if you said we shouldn’t buy gas between the hours of 3 and 4 PM. They don’t notice, and wouldn’t care if they did. What you don’t buy between 3 and 4 you will buy before then or after then.

There are three problems with this suggestion, the least of which is that it won’t work.  The second problem is that it ignores the waste and pollution occasioned by cheap fuel. The third, and most important, problem is that, as activism goes, it is passive, not active. It makes us dependent on carbon companies to operate against their interests.

Let’s start with the good news: this protest won’t work. Not all misguided efforts benefit from being utterly ineffectual. If all we are doing is buying the same amount of gas a day earlier or later, it won’t raise a blip on the carbon companies’ weekly, much less annual, reports. Oil is becoming scarce. We learn in Econ 101 that as a commodity becomes scarce, it becomes more expensive. The most this protest will do is inconvenience protesters.

A friend in the auto industry declared that oil companies have no moral obligation to keep prices low, and he’s right. If anything, he said, their obligation to the environment would lead them to keep prices high, because high prices reduce demand and discourage waste.

Which suggests the next question and its answer: why would we want this protest to work anyway? We’ve had among the lowest gas prices in the industrialized world for the better part of a generation, and we have the lowest fuel economy of any auto-making country. The desire for lower gas prices is incompatible with environmental concerns. The only reason to want lower gas prices is that it costs us too much. That issue looms so large for some people that they can’t think clearly.

It’s like reading about the collapse of bee colonies around the world and worrying about whether the price of honey will rise.  We may understand some of the implications, but we’re missing the main point, which is close by.

Lowering the price of gas is not the only way to lower its cost to us. We are not so dependent and helpless as we think.

Whether we write letters, wave placards, sign online petitions, or send checks, we are sending one consistent message: we are unable to do anything about this ourselves, so we are asking the people in charge to help. But what if that’s not true, and not just about the price and cost of gas, but about other things as well?

Small changes can cause big change. If we stop focusing on price, and start focusing on cost, everything tilts. Suddenly we are in the position of taking action instead of asking for help with something we can do ourselves. We can begin to address environmental and other issues that we may be surprised to find are connected to the way we deal with our gas problem.

Here’s how to lower your costs. And I promise you – I guarantee you – that, unlike the April 15th placebo, this will work. It will be like magic: you will be able to lower your cost without the price of gas going down a penny. You can wait for someone else to lower the price for you, but they won’t do it. They don’t care. It’s not their job, anyway. It’s up to you, and it’s something you can do without asking permission.

Here are some alternative ways to spend April 15th. Go online to cars.com. Click “Research Cars”. Find a used car that gets at least 20% better gas mileage than your current car. You want it to be significantly better to make it worth your trouble. Do this for each and every car you own. It may take you an hour, but probably not. If you have a car that gets 22 MPG, combining your usual city/highway usage, and you replace it with a car that gets 20% better mileage (26.5 MPG, roughly) you will, in effect, lower your cost of gas from $3.75/gallon to $3.00/gallon. You don’t have to wait for some overpaid CEO in Gucci loafers (does Gucci still make loafers?) and a Rolex watch to give a damn.

Want to do more? If your used car has a lower insurance rate attached to it, you’re saving money on insurance. If you send e-mails to co-workers or friends and begin planning to carpool one or more days per week – and maybe have breakfast that day before work, or play pool and have a beer after work – then you have kept still MORE money out of the pockets of Big Carbon and Big Insurance and in your own, and you’ve had a chance to network or visit with friends. Without having to ask permission. It gets better.

Are you paying to go to a gym and ride a stationary bike? You know where I’m going with this. Get a real bike and ride it to work. Spend less on gas, insurance, and that gym membership. Also, save visits to the doctor about your cholesterol, your high blood pressure . . . That’s not all.

By doing it yourself, all manner of things begin to fall into place. Opportunities arise to spend more time with friends and co-workers, to get into shape, to make the difference you told yourself you wanted to make after New Year’s or during Lent or after your last doctor’s visit.

Doesn’t it make you wonder why we’ve allowed ourselves to become dependent on others to do what we can do, especially when they are unlikely to do it?

If we can, single-handedly, lower the cost of gas, the cost of owning a car, and diminish our impact on the environment, all without asking permission, without waiting for a response, without the price going down a penny, what else can we do?

Don’t like the commercialism of Christmas?

Don’t like stores selling you food sprayed with poison and dripping with trans fat?

Don’t like what the US government is doing with your taxes?

Worried about the mass extinction that is already under way?

Don’t like how banks can play fast and loose with the rules (which they have written, remember), and yet get bailed out?

Using the model above, we can do something significant about every one of those things, without waiting for someone else to fix it. If we just can’t abide that these problems persist, we can enlist friends and family members to join us in getting it done ourselves.

We must begin with the realization that being concerned or angry is not enough. Asking corporations and government to fix it has not, and will not, work. Have you noticed them do anything to turn back climate change? Even the ones who squeal about debt have had no trouble borrowing and deferring payment when their party has been in office. Hell, who knew you could buy a war – or two – on credit?

Action is no longer just one option. It has become an urgent necessity.

We need to begin by doing, rather than by asking someone else to do what is against their interest – a futile request if ever there was one. Once we’ve begun, we find that we can affect more than we thought possible on our own. But what do we do when our government suspends habeas corpus? Or when a corporation, in a Mordor-like frenzy for short-term profits, fouls the food, air and water needed to sustain life itself?

We don’t ask them to stop. We tell them they must stop. If they have bought politicians who have allowed them to write laws to say that they can do what they want, putting profits before people, as they are used to doing, we either run for office (people do, you know), or we come to understand that these are, truly, matters of life and death for us and our children. And then we do whatever is necessary.

We made dozens of advertisers flee Rush Limbaugh’s show.

We made the Komen Foundation reverse their decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

We made the US Justice Department and a grand jury investigate the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Spring has just begun. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Timequake, “We have been sick for a long time, but we are better now, and there is work to do.”

This is a Do-It-Yourself Revolution. Outsourcing is so 20th century.

Making the Old Ways Obsolete

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