Annoy Russia and Conserve – The Santa Barbara Independent
German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck has urged his country to reduce car use, observing that “it’s easy on the wallet and annoys Putin”.
Many strategies are being discussed to lower gasoline prices and help Ukraine, but in our country, conservation is not one of them. Many leaders seem afraid to use the “c” word.
Growing up, I remember hearing my parents repeatedly mention how patriotic it was to conserve resources, especially gasoline, during World War II. On several occasions, my father, who was a Republican from Goldwater, proudly stated that reducing gas consumption during the war was critically important to our country and the future of democracy.
Following Russia’s horrific and brutal invasion of Ukraine, the national average price of gasoline, as we well know, is over $4 a gallon, with averages in California exceeding $6. Many options are being explored or implemented, including drilling for more oil, eliminating gasoline taxes, releasing one million barrels a day from the country’s strategic oil reserves, and granting discounts to car owners. These options have very high costs associated with them, including worsening climate change.
There is a much better and more effective alternative. The key to lowering gasoline prices quickly and effectively is to decrease the demand for gasoline. The most basic economic principle of all is the law of supply and demand. When supplies decrease for any reason (including war), prices will increase unless demand also decreases.
Just two years ago, we saw that the cost-cutting effects of reduced demand for gasoline are rapid and substantial. The average gasoline price during the first week of February 2020 was $2.455 per gallon. When COVID-19 hit, demand for gasoline in April 2020 fell by 37%. Consequently, during the first week of May, the average gasoline price dropped to $1.789. That’s a steep price drop of more than 66 cents, or 27% in three months.
There are many local programs, such as those promoted by the Community Environmental Council, to help us reduce our gas consumption. As Putin indiscriminately bombs hospitals, residential areas and shelters, resulting in the deplorable murder of innocent civilians in Ukraine, it seems that consuming less gasoline is the least we can do.
It matters how much gasoline our nation uses. With just over 4% of the world’s population, the United States consumes over 20.3% of the world’s total oil, by far the most of any country.
How does our gas mileage compare to other countries? Unfortunately, we are number one. The United States consumes more than 8,680,000 barrels of gasoline per day. Second, China, with more than 18% of the world’s population, consumes just over 1,900,000 barrels; while Russia, fourth, consumes less than 820,000 barrels per day. We have the technology and the capacity to do much better.
The false solution of drilling more oil to drive down gasoline prices, especially in pristine areas, deserves to be rejected. The development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, would take at least 10 years, according to the analysis of the US Energy Information Administration. It’s definitely not useful now. Drilling in other ecologically and culturally irreplaceable areas, such as offshore California, is also not the solution.
We have, individually and collectively, the power to reduce gas prices when we reduce consumption. We can walk more, buy or rent an electric vehicle, a bicycle, take public transport, carpool, refrain from driving over the speed limit, properly inflate our tires, combine errands, work at distance, connect electronically and encourage others to do the same.
Moreover, it is time for our political leaders – of both parties – to say that it is our patriotic duty to use less gasoline during this heartbreaking humanitarian and geopolitical crisis in Ukraine. To help Americans struggling with generally higher prices, including rising food and rent costs, it makes more sense and is much fairer to fully restore the Child Tax Credit.
As Rosie the Riveter, with flexed biceps, proudly proclaimed during the last heavily militarized invasion of Europe, “We Can Do It!”
Deborah Williams, JD, is a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Studies at UCSB.