$4 gas is here – and by summer, we may be nostalgic for $4 gas. Any upsides to this? If the last time gas crested $4 is any guide, here’s what we can look forward to:
* Less traffic out there -
If you could still afford to drive, the drive itself was less aggravating when gas hit $4 per gallon than it was when gas cost under $2 per gallon – because there were suddenly fewer cars on the road.
Traffic decreased across the board, nationwide, on both highways and secondary roads as people throttled back on their day-tripping, carpooled – or just stayed home. There was a welcome pause in what had been a relentless annual uptick in the total number of cars on the roads as well as the annual mileage racked up by these cars.
The truth is that driving almost anywhere when gas was $2 per or less was becoming a real hassle; at $4 per gallon we may be driving less – but we can actually drive again when we do – instead of staring at the bumper of a minivan with soccer ball stickers all over it as we bump and grind along at 15-25 mph.
* The argument for telecommuting got stronger -
There are many jobs that do not require the worker’s physical presence at a traditional office. However, most employers have been reluctant to allow workers who could work from home to actually work from home.
Part of this is just the inertia of tradition – “people have always come to an office” – and part of it is the control freakiness of employers who suspect that workers won’t work if they aren’t stuck in a cubicle and being watched all day long like junior high school kids.
But studies of telecommuting find that productivity actually increases when workers don’t have to waste an hour or two each way stuck in traffic just trying to get to work vs. actually working. Eliminating the commute can also be a huge financial incentive for both employer and employee because it amounts to a raise – in the form of savings on gas as well as vehicle wear and tear – that goes right into the employee’s pocket but doesn’t cost the employer a cent.
* It’s a great excuse to ride a motorcycle -
If you have a bike – and a wife – odds are your wife doesn’t much like the bike. Some do – most, don’t. But when gas is $4 per gallon, you can point out to the wife how much money you’re saving by riding instead of driving. Even the biggest cruiser bike (or fastest crotch rocket) can usually deliver 40 MPG or better – as good or better fuel economy than almost any subcompact economy car. Smaller bikes routinely deliver 50-60 mpg or more – which outperforms any hybrid car.
* $4 gas got people thinking (good thoughts) about nuclear power again -
A small group of vocal know-nothings have succeeded in more or less shutting down the expansion of the nuclear power grid in this country. No new plants have been built in decades – even though it’s a fact that not one person has ever been killed by radioactive leakage/exposure in the entire history of US nuclear power. On the other hand, thousands have been killed (and many more maimed and crippled for life) by coal mining – which provides the bulk of U.S. electricity.
The US is not Russia – or Japan. An American nuclear power plant is not Chernobyl – and most of the U.S. is not prone to earthquakes or tsunamis. Designed with the proper safeguards, which we have – and have had for decades – nuclear power is not just clean and efficient, it is safe. Safer, in fact, than any other source of power generation we currently have access to or can expect to have for the foreseeable future – if the actual body count vs. fear-mongering is the measure.
* European-spec high performance/high efficiency diesels are finally available here -
Due to the stupidity of our government and its bureaucratic rigmarole – along with (until recently) higher sulfur content diesel fuel – the US consumer has been denied 40 mpg high-performance diesel sedans from BMW and Mercedes – as well as 70 mpg small cars from Ford Europe, VW and others that handily beat the at-the-pump performance of the best hybrid cars without costly and complex hybrid vehicle technology. That is changing – finally. The US now has low-sulfur diesel fuel – and the legal/regulatory situation (emissions control issues, mostly) has been addressed by dint of the fuel issue having been taken care of. VW is selling a Golf diesel here again Audi has diesels on deck and it looks like others are coming, too. That’s good news with gas at $4 per – and rising.
* Decent small cars are being made -
Models like the ’11 Ford Fiesta (41 mpg on the highway) and the ’11 Mazda2 are just the beginning. Americans will soon be able to choose from a dozen or more 40 MPG-capable little cars that aren’t pieces d’ sheet - as such cars have almost without exception been in this country for as long as there have been cars.
Thank $4 per gallon fuel for putting the pressure on!