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.
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.
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.