Last night my friend Jean gave me the first chapter of Lester Brown’s book Plan B to read. Whoa.
I learned that when the International Center For Technology Assessment studied the entire cost of the gas in our cars, including the military costs of protecting access to Mideast oil and the health care costs of treating illnesses created by air pollution, what our country is really paying for gas is not $3/gallon. It is $15/gallon.
Lester Brown is highly readable because he’s so succinct. “In order for markets to work . . . they must give us good information. But the market is giving us bad information, and as a result we are making bad decisions — so bad that they are threatening civilization”.
My takeaway here is that if we were paying even close to the real cost of gas, we wouldn’t just drive less and carpool and walk more. We would make sure we were living and working in places within reasonable distance of each other. Instead, in the past four decades our citizenry has steadily increased our commuting distances and also the sheer number of cars we own. We can be choosing differently.
As for dealing with sticker-shock around raising the price of gas to depict reality, think of the shock it was when we all left our parents’ homes where we paid no rent and got into our first apartment, complete with utility bills and groceries that actually cost us money out of our pockets. It wasn’t easy to start paying all those costs of living, but they were reality. And we all rose to the occasion and started living in reality, even though we had to live somewhat differently than we had before we moved out on our own.
Similarly, it won’t be easy to eventually start paying the real cost of gas instead of letting it be subsidized for us. But we’re adults and we’re strong enough to deal with reality.