Keeping up at the Pumps
by Jillian Terry
Whether or not you drive a car, it seems as though recent spikes in gasoline prices are acting as a proverbial thorn in everybody’s side. From talk-radio show airwaves to the line-up at the coffee shop, virtually everyone in town is complaining about the expense of fossil fuel that, at the time of this column’s writing, costs about the same per litre as that medium double-double you crave every morning. Of late, even online social networks have acted as a soundboard for consumers’ fury over gas prices, with dozens of Facebook events and groups in Newfoundland alone dedicated to boycotting and protesting in order to reduce the financial pain felt when filling up.
The focus of the lynch mob is widespread: multinational oil companies, the provincial government, and individual gas retailers are all to blame, according to critics, since they all aid in the increase of prices in order to line their own pockets. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, those most outraged by the high price of gasoline tend to lack any self-reference when it comes to the current situation. By looking at consumption levels and mentally reviewing their notes from that first-year Economics course, perhaps the individuals calling for tax breaks and boycotts can come face to face with the reality of North America’s addiction to oil.
As I hastily learned in an introductory microeconomics class last semester, it’s all about supply and demand. This mantra proves not only vital to a student’s success in a beginner Economics course but is also useful in dealing with the current high price of oil and its eventual products. There need not be complex economic theory – it’s easy to see that this province, along with the majority of the developed world, is guzzling gas at astronomical rates never before seen in the free market. Thus, extremely high demand exists and leads to a decreased supply, increasing prices. The seesaw balancing act of finding an equilibrium where supply and demand are equal is virtually impossible in our society of supercharged eight-cylinder engines and sport utility vehicles capable of driving an entire hockey team and their equipment to practice.
It is therefore evident that boycotts are not the answer, nor will tax rebates and subsidies from government change the dependency that we have on both domestic and foreign oil producers. The dilemma has become so embedded in our culture that it seems many are too close to the problem to even see a solution that may be right in front of their noses. Of course, reducing consumption isn’t easy. In a time where urban sprawl, four-lane highways, and big box stores are becoming the norm, having access to a car is often imperative to the lives of even the most environmentally conscious among us. However, the answer to high gas prices could potentially be as easy as riding a bike.
As a student, I drive the most environmentally friendly vehicle I can afford. Would I love to use a hybrid car, aiding in the reduction of my own carbon footprint as well as my gas expenses? Absolutely, but it’s not possible given the often-frugal budget of undergraduate student living. Instead, I use a subcompact car that offers excellent gas mileage, and take advantage of public transportation wherever possible. If we ever see our fair share of a so-called summer season, feet and a bicycle are incredibly inexpensive and practical ways to get around, although given our province’s weather track record, year-round reliance on two wheels isn’t a guarantee. But it’s not difficult – no matter how you slice it, virtually everyone can find at least one way to reduce their consumption of gasoline, even if it’s simply abiding by the many idle-free zone signs posted in parking lots around campus, or using the RideShare program instead of driving by yourself.
Yes, the high price of gas is a problem that deserves to be talked about. But the blame game currently being played out in the media is inaccurate at best, as those most responsible for the cost increases are those creating the demand, not the oil companies who are profit-seeking organizations like any other or the government wishing to capitalize on the expenditures of its citizens. These external factors evidently play a role in the high gas prices facing drivers today. Perhaps a glance in the rear-view mirror by those behind the wheels of the thousands of cars on Newfoundland and Labrador roads will reveal the missing link in the solution to this problem. So before you start planning that road trip to help you unwind this summer, think not only in terms of the strain on your own wallet but also on those supply and demand diagrams from first-year Economics. To reach an equilibrium, there must be substantial change by a large sector of our society, but it only takes one to start.