Monday, July 7, 2008

High Gas Prices: The Environment’s Best Friend?

The Freakonomics blog needed something to talk about last month, so they brought up the report finding Americans had driven 11 billion fewer miles in March '08 than they had in March '07, and surprisingly for economists so smart, they took the ethnocentric view that this report demonstrated how high prices are good for the environment.

Trying to come to terms with a world view brought about by spending time with other cultures, I rebutted their reasoning...and was promptly ignored by 43 people. My comment:

I’m not sure we can argue that high gas prices are good for the environment. The reason they are higher is because of increased demand from developing nations with burgeoning middle classes — who now drive cars. Oil is being consumed at as fast of a pace as it ever has. The fact that someone in Dallas, TX will decide to carpool will just make that much more oil available to someone in China or India deciding to purchase a car. Either way, it seems to me we are still consuming oil at a rate exactly equal to the rate of production, no matter what the price per barrel. We are just fighting more over it with our dollars, but our global consumption isn’t going down. We can argue that higher gas prices are good for society because it forces us to be smarter about how we allocate our limited petrochemical feedstocks (i.e. not in giant, empty pick-ups and SUVs or needless trips), but it doesn’t do a damn thing for the environment. Oil will continue to be spent as fast as we can produce it. If not, the price would plummet to meet that level again.

I guess nobody wanted to hear that. Although, I did receive one response from a colorful fellow by the name of David Hodge:

Do all you people really believe all this crap about global warming, there is absolutly no prove of this sudo-science phycobable. You also seem to believe that there is truely an oil shortage, anyone with the brains to question what they have been force fed by the propagandist American media can quickly find out the truth with a little effort. Quit being sheep led to the slaughter and think for yourselfs

And on it goes. Once prices go high enough, we can argue that higher prices benefit the environment by encouraging alternatives, but my older, more mature, and therefore more pessimistic view is that this is just as likely to encourage alternatives that are bad for the environment (liquefied coal, anyone?) as good. Further more, any carbon-free source of energy we develop will likely be added on to the consumption of our carbon-based feedstock, given our near unlimited demand for energy. The cold, hard truth is that we will continue to use carbon-based energy until it is depleted...regardless of price. Sudo phycobable notwithstanding.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I think your critic needs to learn how to spell...