Environment Forum

Hoping for higher energy prices?

July 31, 2008

A resident refuels his car at a gas station in Valparaiso city, about 75 miles (120km) northwest of Santiago, July 2, 2008. Chilean state oil firm ENAP said on Tuesday it would sharply raise fuel prices to wholesalers from Thursday, with gasoline prices rising 5.0 percent, kerosene up 9.0 percent and diesel up 6.7 percent. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez (CHILE) Are gasoline and energy prices too high? What’s high enough? 

It may be a distinct miniority opinion, but if you were to ask me, I’d say I think they’re not high enough — and I sincerely hope they keep rising. It may be the only way the world wakes up to the perils of climate change — hitting people in their pocketbooks where it hurts most.
 
The higher energy costs are truly a blessing in disguise for anyone concerned about climate change and worried about the inability of world leaders to take any tough measures to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the growing scientific evidence that global warming has been happening, there’s no excuse for this generation’s inaction.

And with the WTO talks ending in abject failure, who could possibly be optimistic about the world ever agreeing on taking the costly, pain-inducing steps necessary to at least slow global warming in our time?
 
So it is the soaring energy prices are filling the void the cowardly political leaders have left. Rising prices for petrol, natural gas and electricity are causing pain and leading to conservation — and reduced emissions of carbon dioxide It’s a good thing.

 Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan speaks at the Per Jacobsson Foundation Lecture on the Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, pointed out in his excellent book “The Age of Turbulence” that as honourable as the fight against climate change was, he didn’t think there would be any significant reductions until economics figured into the equation. “I fear that a more likely response to global warming will be to quibble until the dangers it poses to national economies become more apparent,” Greenspan wrote. He was criticised by some for that but those “dangers” to economies are now now happening faster than anyone could have imagined. And it’s a good thing.
  A woman knits a traditional Faroese wool sweater in Torshavn June 01, 2007. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (FAROE ISLANDS)
Those who don’t see the light need to feel the heat. The finance minister in Berlin, Thilo Sarazzin, has been criticised this week for his suggestion that people turn down their thermostats and put on sweaters in the winter if they feel cold in their apartments. He said room temperatures of 15 or 16 degrees — with a sweater on — would be the best answer to rising energy prices rather than introducing a new government energy subsidy for low-income households as some other political leaders were clamouring for. Sarazzin has been getting bashed in the German media for his suggestion — but he’s right.   
 
In Britain, the announcement this week that natural gas and electricity prices would be raised sharply in the months ahead got a lot of people upset. But what better way to promote conservation and spur the development of renewable energy — which becomes increasingly attractive with every increase in the price of fossil fuels. In the United States, by far the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, fuel tax revenues are down sharply this year — because people are using less fuel. That’s a good thing.
 
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the prices are high enough yet to really make a difference. A recent German news broadcast found several motorists who said the higher fuel prices would not change their driving habits and they said they hoped the higher prices would nevertheless force other drivers off the road so the streets would be less congested. So I do hope they keep rising — to the point those smug motorists will think twice about their driving patterns.
 
My personal answer to rising prices? I’m driving a lot less (one 60 litre tank now lasts six weeks instead of three weeks about two years ago), I use wood rather than natural gas for heat as much as possible, have taken a number of energy-saving measures on my house, commute by bicycle and have converted my monthly electric bill into a monthly windfall profit with the help of solar panels. I’m unfortunately still far from zero emissions. But that’s the goal — and an increasingly rewarding one.
 
So no, if you ask me, energy prices are not high enough. And I hope they keep rising.

…What do you think? 
 

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I am in agreeance that higher prices will create change, which withouth a doubt, is neccessary. But to say that you actually hope fuel prices to continue climbing is not very…well, for lack of a better word, its not very “humane”. Energy costs that rise to fast will create increases across the board: food, transportation, medicine, etc. All these goods/services depend on cheap energy to get from one place to the next. And poor people, the most affected by this, are the least equipped to handle.
So, in essence, yes this will spur world leaders to rethink energy sources, but at what cost to human life? Don’t go wishing for quick fixes with no side-effects. Ask any scientist and he will tell you that, in the long run, there is no such thing as “having your cake and eating it too” in the world we live in.

Posted by Ptrizzle | Report as abusive
 

Until we remove the need for transportation we need an energy source that provides that function.
We have a SUV and still only fill up about once a month. Until the cost of gas gets to the $6 mark changing to a more effecient car for us is not cost effective. Consider how much energy was used to create the automobile you drive? Throwing that away for a small increase in your gas millage is also a waste of energy.
Besides that we were able to bring back a snow blower (yes it uses gas. I challenge you to shovel 8 inches of blowing snow 10 times a year from your driveway! Global warming BHAH!) ,lawn mower , wood for home improvements and much more not possible with other vehicles.

Posted by DS1Roger | Report as abusive
 

I hardly see how using wood instead of natural gas is reducing emmisions…. you are most likely making it worse.

Posted by greg | Report as abusive
 

Hi Greg, Thanks for the question and the chance to clear up a common misunderstanding. Burning wood is carbon neutral. The burning wood gives off the same amount of CO2 as the same piece of wood would release if it were decomposing on the ground.
This link has more info:
http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/ask/sto ve

A properly engineered woodburning system is by far a more eco-friendly source of heat than gas, oil, or electricity produced from non-renewable resources. Like all renewable energies, though, attention to every aspect of the process is necessary—from the origin of the fuel to its final release as gas and smoke. In this way, wood can be fully exploited as a smart alternative to non-renewable energy sources.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive
 

Cars with fuel injected engines can be modified to burn natural gas for around the price of a remanufactured transmission. Homes can be rewired for 12 to 24 volts which can operate lights and computer and small electronics. Industrial farming gets all of its fertilizer from oil. Then diesel fueled trucks must transport that food across the continent. Much of this food is nutritionaly lacking, and in the meantime all the good farmland near our big cities has been developed into housing, industrial parks and shopping malls. Clearly the free market is not equipped to provide solutions. We should stop debating amongst ourselves, and make all our voices heard in Washington D.C..

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •