Fossil Fuels

Or why I want to raise the price of gas.

There is a simple solution to all of this energy crisis stuff.  Tax fossil fuels.  I’m not supporting a Republican or Democrat platform or even Green or Libertarian anything.  I’m an economist.  No political party, just logic.

Unfortunately, this will never happen.  We love our low gas prices way too much to vote for a law such as this that will regulate our use of fossil fuels.  We would esteem any individual or committee who did so as insane, which would in turn lead them never to do so for fear that they would not be reelected.  Even if a high tax law did pass, it would probably last for a few months or days before someone else repeals it.

Nevertheless, a nice, fat tax on gas would honestly be great for the earth.  It would force everyone to conserve, whether or not they want to be environmentally friendly.  It would pace our rapid consumption of fossil fuels, giving us more time to rely on them before we have to switch to renewables.  It would spark developments in technology that would make transportation more energy efficient at a much faster rate than the “were being green” status currently motivating companies to do so.  It would cause people to move closer to their work and drive less, reducing congestion in crowded motorways.  Plus, the government could really use the money to help pull us out of this whole debt thing.  Sure they should really cut a bunch of their programs first (go Romney?) but the extra income they gain from taxing gas couldn’t hurt.

We’re going to have to do all of this anyway when fossil fuels run out, so why not start now?  As much as I support utilizing the resources of the earth, I believe we should do so conservatively (see Conservationalism for more details).  Sometimes it’s hard for us to make these decisions, especially if it is easy to justify being wasteful.  If gas prices dropped to $ 1.50 a gallon, people would drive absolutely everywhere rather than walk, ride (bike, bus, train), or fly (on planes, not by themselves).  This would make it very crowded and dangerous to be on the road because so many other people are also there.  On the other hand, if gas was $ 8 a gallon, people would drive much less than they do now.  Suddenly it’s twice as expensive to commute 50 minutes away to work twice a day five days a week. Rather than live far away, waste commute time, cause traffic, increase the chance of accidents, and pollute the atmosphere, people will be encouraged to move closer to their places of work (or find work closer to their homes), use alternate forms of transportation, or even do more work from their home.

Understandably there are reasons people live far away from work (e.g. in the suburbs).  Probably the biggest reasons my family does is because the schools are better, the neighborhoods are safer, the air is cleaner, and the environment is quieter.  In fact, I’m sure these are reasons why most people live in the suburbs.  Raising the price of gas would force those who live in the suburbs to either leave the comfort and advantages of a more isolated community or bear the increased expenses from travel.  They would have to endure the cost of higher prices at least until technology catches up with the high prices and leads to the development of alternate energy vehicles.  Because the amount of time this could take is unforeseeable yet likely to be inversely related to the magnitude of the increase in gas prices, people in this situation should be considered when making the decision to tax gas more.

There are advantages and disadvantages to every decision.  However, it is important to note that when we do run out of fossil fuels, the people who are in the comfortable situation of depending on living in the suburbs will be at an even greater disadvantage than they will be if they are taxed more right now.  If fossil fuels were to suddenly run out tomorrow, the prices of remaining gas would immediately skyrocket, and only increase from there.  In some places, the world would be crippled because of their reliance on gasoline.  The majority of motor and air traffic would shut down, although I suppose everyone driving the Nissan Leaf would be having a heyday.

Someday, fossil fuels will run out.  It may be a few years from now, it may be a few centuries from now.  Whatever the case, we ought to be prepared with alternate technology and methods of transport so we won’t be as affected by the loss of gasoline as we would be if it occurred today.  Unfortunately, people (including myself) will likely find it hard pressed to be motivated enough to find these solutions soon enough to be effective, so they must be persuaded with the cost of high prices instead.

Let me know what you think.  Honestly, though, I’ll be surprised if such a tax ever passes.

–Brandon

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