Economic Behavior towards Oil

I have long contended that the artificially low cost of fuel in the US lends itself to its’ inappropriate and irresponsible usage. While it is ultimately the responsibility of the citizen/consumer to consider his/her actions and the long-term (environmental) effects thereof, other factors are at play.

Some recent research, summarized here, calls into question the extent to which higher prices, reflecting “real” costs, alter the behavior of consumers. An often-missed aspect is the fact that a considerable amount of driving is to-and-from work. This does not change the fact that commuting tens of miles to work suggests the need to reassess your living / work location(s). Nor does it justify the number of SUV’s or other inefficient vehicles, especially in the US. But it does bring up a real obstacle in the way of reducing dependence on driving, and ultimately on fuel. There remain few alternatives for most Americans to driving to work.

And as the non-reaction to higher fuel costs in the study are in European locations, it is hard to extract trends applicable to the comparatively-dismal state of sustainable transportation in the US. That is, for example, places like England boast twice the average MPG than the US. Alternatives such as hybrids are widely used and “conventional” vehicles are often subjected to taxes in metropolitan areas. Therefore, the capacity to “react” to higher prices is relatively lower than that of the US.

But the fact remains, vast rural areas, non bike/pedestrian-friendly cities, little public transportation infrastructure, and the lack of a real alternative vehicle fleet make it more difficult for Americans to curb old habits. Unfortunately, this is inherently speculative in nature, as gas prices are being artifically lowered and the current political campaign is flooding media outlets with misinformation on the state of oil geopolitics. The available avenues – vehicle purchases, use of public transit, and other measures – are showing measurable changes, but full reaction to high fuel prices are yet to be realized, pending (unlikely) equilibration of gas prices.

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