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Paying the high price of automobility

I swore I wouldn’t be able to do it.

As gas prices headed ever upward this spring, I couldn’t imagine forking over $2 for a gallon of gas. Two dollars! Not just one dollar. Two of them!

At that rate, why not simply pour a gallon of milk in the old gas tank (excluding, of course, the fact that it would totally destroy my engine)? What a time we live in when a gallon of gas and a gallon of milk cost about the same.



The numbers hovered on local gas price signs like wasps buzzing around a wasp’s nest. First, $1.95, then $1.97, and horrifyingly as close to the precipice as possible, to $1.99.

Then finally, it hit. The number “2” showed its ugly head.



Yikes.

And I paid it. I paid $2 for a gallon of gas.

Since then, I’ve paid $2 and even more for a gallon of gas, many times over. The first time I paid nearly $40 to fill up my tank, I cringed. I still cringe, but over a couple months, I’ve had time to contemplate how much we spend for the privilege of getting around.

First off, I’ve had time to think about what I’ve paid for gas when I’ve traveled outside this country. Most places, gas costs a lot more than it does here.

In England ” converted from liters to gallons and from pounds to dollars ” gas costs about $5.60 a gallon. That’s true in Hong Kong and in Korea too.

In Rome, a gallon of gas will run you $4.85, and in Sydney, Australia, you’ll pay $2.63.

So, we may moan and groan, but we’re not paying as much as most countries.

Why the big price fluctuations? The way I understand it, in most European countries, for example, gas is heavily taxed ” sometimes making up as much as 75 percent of gas costs.

And then there’s the whole warped supply-and-demand world economy labyrinth we must deal both here and abroad.

Of course, some countries pay far, far less than us. In Venezuela, a gallon of gas only costs 14 cents a gallon. That’s because oil there is produced by a government-owned company which keeps prices low as a benefit to Venezuelans.

I’m not even going to discuss Iraq, where gas prices are rumored to be about 5 cents a gallon. Go figure. Live in terror, but enjoy cheap gas.

In 1962, a gallon of gas in the U.S. cost just 31 cents. But the good old days weren’t all that good, at least as far as the economy was concerned. Adjusted for inflation, that gallon of gas cost 1960s-era consumers $1.19 a gallon. It was cheap, yes, but not 31 cents cheap.

Since we’ve hit and passed the $2-a-gallon mark, fuel-efficient cars are looking a lot better to a lot of consumers and big old American SUV boats aren’t quite as coveted. And that’s good. Let’s face it. Gasoline-fueled cars create pollution, deplete the ozone, and are general hell on the environment.

And as human nature works, our reliance on gasoline is going to have to continue to hit us very, very hard in our pocketbooks to create the economic shift that’s needed to move from a nonrenewable resource like oil to a more environmentally healthy, renewable source. As with a lot of things on this nutty planet, it comes down to money, like it or not.

So, I’m finding it easier nowadays to pay $2 a gallon for gas. World economics and politics aside, I figure it’s part of my penance for relying, like everybody else I know, on a pollution-inducing vehicle to get me from Point A to Point B. And maybe, just maybe, those high prices can help us get that much closer to a better, renewable kind of fuel.

Carrie Click is a reporter at the Post Independent. When she can’t talk her editor into letting her telecommute from her house, she drives 60 miles round-trip to the Post Independent office. Reach Carrie at 945-8515, ext. 518, cclick@postindependent.com.


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