Smiling at the Gas Pump

Think badly of me if you must, but I’ve actually enjoyed watching gasoline prices rise to their recent unprecedented levels. When the local TV news crew does a story on higher gas prices at the pump, I smile as the owners of big SUV’s whine and complain to the reporters. I laugh when I see a Hummer with a “For Sale” sign in the window. To tell you the truth, I cheer for rising gas prices like most people do for rising stock prices.

Is this just my contrary nature? Do I get pleasure from watching working people struggle to pay their bills? Am I just being a smug, self-satisfied, I-told-you-so environmentalist smart-aleck?

Actually, there are several good reasons for all Americans, not just environmentalists, to applaud higher gasoline prices.

First, there is nothing that will hurt the popularity of our oil-industry-controlled White House. Americans are finally waking up to the years of deception, dishonesty, and disregard for the future of the human race that this administration has shown. Americans know that both the President and the Vice-President came to politics from the oil industry, and they will and should hold them responsible for the prices at the pump.

And wait until Americans learn that the new Energy Bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies and tax write-offs to oil companies that are already swimming in an ocean of profits. Then the fur is really going to fly.

Secondly, higher gas prices are good because people are starting to trade in their big SUV’s and pickups for more fuel-efficient vehicles. That’s good for the environment and it’s good for public safety. Smaller vehicles pollute less, so our air will be cleaner. There will be less greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. And our roads will be safer without enormous SUV’s flipping over every time a gust of wind blows across their bow. As the driver of a small car, I will definitely appreciate being able to see down the road without the obnoxious derriere of a Chevy Suburban blotting out the sun.

And more people will walk and bicycle to work to save money. That’s good for heart health, good for our waistlines, and good for worker productivity.

Finally, higher gas prices will wake people up to the reality that oil supplies are indeed limited. Maybe we as a nation will get serious about planning for a future with less oil. Maybe we will get serious about renewable energy and conservation – finally. Maybe in three years we will elect a president with a clear vision for a self-sufficient country powered by wind and solar, instead of dirty, antiquated fossil fuels like coal and petroleum.

Yes, I do have sympathy for those struggling with high gas bills. But there is a solution, and it’s as close as the daily newspaper classified section.

You don’t have to buy an expensive new hybrid to start saving big on gas. While the Toyota Prius is a great car, and owners give it rave reviews, it is rather expensive, and the current high demand means little room for negotiating price at the dealer.

Instead, I suggest to anyone worried about high gas bills that there are many small, comfortable, well-made used cars available such as the 2000 Honda Civic, which gets around 35 mpg on the highway. Or the 2000 Toyota Corolla, which gets 38 mpg on the highway with a 5-speed transmission, and 37 with an automatic, according to the EPA website:

Or if you want a domestic car, there is the 2000 Ford Escort, which gets about 35 mpg. Or General Motors’ Saturn SL, which gets over 40 mpg with a 5 speed standard transmission.

All of these vehicles are available second-hand for less than $10,000, and the used Saturns are dirt-cheap (I’ve had very good luck with my 99 Saturn SL, although it is a rather small car). Note that some of these used cars get even better gas mileage than the new Honda Accord Hybrids.

For those who drive a big SUV because they feel safer: I’m afraid you are deluding yourselves. SUV’s are much more prone to rollovers than small cars. SUV’s handle poorly in emergency maneuvers. And SUV’s are extremely hazardous for pedestrians. If you really want a safer car for your family, get a Volvo.

Finally, for those who really want to smile at the gas pump, consider getting a scooter! I bought a battered old Yamaha Jog for $500 this spring, and it’s really fun to ride. It goes 45 miles per hour, gets over 50 mpg, and it makes running errands fun instead of a chore. And best of all: no license, and no insurance required. And the chicks really dig it.


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