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Some thoughts about the rising price of crude oil

October 16, 2007

The cost of a barrel of crude oil went above $88 today for the first time. Since we humans love nice round numbers, as it nears the $100 mark we will start to hear more and more about the issue in news reports.

While some fear the rising prices could wreak economic havoc and even a major depression, I fall into the camp that believes higher fuel prices might be beneficial for changing the collective behavior and attitude towards energy consumption. How much does a gallon of gasoline need to cost before Americans seriously change their ways (or affect change in the marketplace with their consumer behavior)? $5? $10?

But, at the same time, we don’t want prices to rise by too much too fast. Even if you don’t personally own or use a car, the cost of transporting goods from A to B will lead to increased costs for the everyday consumer.

So, I’ll pose this question to all of you. How much is enough to affect change but not cause the Great Depression II? Does it even matter? What are your thoughts?

UPDATE:  This post was published a few hours ago…and since then I was thinking about this some more. I mentioned that I fall into the school of thought that high (but not too high) energy prices might be good in the long run. So, how am I preparing for that?

I don’t claim to be someone with all the answers, nor do I claim to be someone who can be excluded from the problem. I hate that ivory (or is it green) tower rhetoric. I am certainly part of the problem. That being said, we (me and my girlfriend) are trying to take steps to reduce our overall consumption.

  • we share one high-MPG car (>30 mpg) between the two of us
  • we take a commuter train to work instead of driving (~90% of the time)
  • we live in a city where we can walk and/or take public transportation for many (but not all) errands or entertainment
  • our city has a great composting program now, so we get those biobags and try and compost as much as possible
  • we are trying to be mindful of purchasing items with wasteful packaging (e.g., no bottled water…tap water is fine)

I don’t know if these steps make much of a difference. But, in a way, it’s more about changing attitudes towards optimizing energy usage and efficiency. I don’t know…if we ever have kids, they’ll hopefully grow up thinking doing all these things (and much more) as “normal”.

What else could we do? A lot, i’m sure. We looked into a hybrid, but simply could not afford it. And, the one thing that keeps our “footprint” higher than we’d like is flying. We both have family scattered about the country and like to visit them multiple times in one year.

If you have thoughts or ideas about this, feel free to chime in below.

Note: Related to this topic, back in May, I posted my review of the film End of Suburbia, which addresses predictions and speculations about what happens to the contemporary American lifestyle when oil (and thus gasoline) gets too expensive.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2007 7:01 pm

    The inflation-adjusted record price for oil is still from the early 1980’s. And, well, the world didn’t end then, even if Reagan was president and John Lennon got shot and the music was really, really bad.

    I had an econ professor in college who argued that it took the prolonged high oil prices of the late 70’s/early 80’s to change demand for oil (and in that case, break OPEC’s ability to keep prices high). So probably $100 a barrel gas is necessary to change behavior. (Economic incentives do more to change behavior than guilt or reason, unfortunately.)

    (And I’m carpooling back from GSA, at least… I can’t carpool to it with my students, because I’ve got childcare juggling that conflicts with their travel schedules.)

  2. Karen permalink
    October 17, 2007 6:30 pm

    My husband and I have found several small ways to limit our fuel consumption. He regularly commutes by bicycle, and I have taken to using public transportation rather than driving on a somewhat regular basis (it helps that parking at my school is a problem). We’ve converted 90% of our household lighting to fluorescent. As we’ve needed to replace appliances, we’ve gone out of our way to find the most efficient ones we can afford. And — this is a biggie, actually — we disable power to various electronic gadgets that draw considerable power even when off. Television and microwave are the biggest offenders here.

    My husband, who habitually works late, goes around and turns his colleagues’ computer monitors off before he leaves work at night.

    And yet, we still consume an awful lot, compared to people in other countries.

  3. October 17, 2007 7:57 pm

    “we disable power to various electronic gadgets that draw considerable power even when off”

    yes…I always forget about that one…do you, Karen, know of some web resources that talk about this in more detail?


  1. Can we just break the record already « Clastic Detritus

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