A California Highway Patrol officer travels south with commuters on Interstate 5 as they make their way through heavy morning fog near San DiegoI have a confession to make — I’m glad gas prices in the United States, as elsewhere, are rising. And I’m quietly hoping they’ll keep going higher because there may possibly be no more effective way to promote conservation and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
 
Higher pump prices might be the only way that we Americans will ever even begin adjusting our driving habits and reducing fuel consumption — when it hits you in the pocketbook. The price of gas in the United States may be cresting at over the $4 per gallon level but it is still far lower than it many other countries where fuel taxes are much higher.

In Germany, gasoline is now up to about 6 euros ($9) per gallon. German think tanks have forecast that it would take prices of 10 euros ($15) per gallon to radically change driving habits.
 
Certainly there are fewer mass transit options in the United States than in Europe and elsewhere. And higher fuel prices are especially problematic for people with low or no income. What’s nevertheless disheartening in the United States is that any suggestion of alleviating the price squeeze in the United States through the conservation of fuel by driving less or by driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars or by using public transportation seems to get drowned out by a strange political debate about temporarily suspending the federal fuel tax for a few months during the summer holiday season.

That seems to be sending the wrong message to Americans, who already use about one quarter of the world’s gas. It’s a wasted opportunity, in the age of climate change, to help a global campaign for conservation.
 
I spent an illuminating week recently driving around in California. It was amazing that so many people are still driving enormous SUVs even though fuel prices are high and rising. It was also amazing that people drive their enormous SUVs and other gas-guzzling cars at such high speeds and with such jack-rabbit acceleration.

I was in my mother’s 10-year-old sub-compact and tried to keep to the 60 mph speed limits on the freeways. It sometimes felt like I was standing still. Speeding cars, trucks and busses were passing on the left, on the right and some wanted to run right over me (it seemed). Even at 60 mph I was evidently a traffic nuisance. An attendant fills a car up with gasoline at the petrol kiosk in Manila May 14, 2008. Asian stocks struggled to make gains on Wednesday as the benefits of a firm dollar were offset by weakness in the financial sector, oil prices near $126 a barrel and dashed expectations of more U.S. interest rate cuts. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES)
 
Some especially fast cars can go from zero to 60 in 10 seconds or less. Admittedly I’m a bit obsessed with saving fuel. It takes me about 40 seconds to get to 60 mph. Even getting to 30 mph takes about 20 seconds. To save fuel, I try to avoid braking and never step hard on the gas. I got nearly 50 miles per gallon with that car.

A relative who lent me her mid-sized car was amazed when I went twice as far (600 miles) on a tank as she does. She wanted to know the secret. It’s no secret. It’s just common sense. But with political leaders tripping over themselves with promises of a summer fuel tax holiday, few in America seems to be getting that message.