Feb 282012

In between all the debates among the candidates for president and how they are going to return this country to the dark ages, you may have heard a few stories about the price of gas. No doubt, if you own a vehicle, the rising fuel prices are having a direct effect on you right now. And you are probably thinking that since I am car free I’m going to be all smug and snarky about how gas prices don’t affect me. Well first off…


And secondly, yes, gas prices do affect me. Maybe not as directly as when I owned a vehicle, but still it has an effect on me. In fact, there is probably nobody in the country that ain’t affected by higher fuel costs. It goes way beyond what we pay for to fill our tanks. Everything we buy, everything we produce, in some way shape or form relies on gas or oil to get from the raw materials to finished product. Food, clothing, everything has some connection to fuel. So when the price of fuel goes up, the cost of goods and services will rise too. There are very few companies out there who will be willing to eat the increased cost of transportation. It’s going to be passed on in the form of increased prices for the stuff they are selling. And while we will all bitch and moan about it, we’ll still pay for it.

If there’s one thing the average citizen in the United States has proven it’s that no matter what the price of gas is, we will pay that price….at least so far. Right now, as of this posting, gas here in Key West is about $3.89 a gallon. It seems to vary around the country with some places well over the $5.00 a gallon mark. And if you believe the media, who love to hype this sort of thing to death, we can expect to be paying a lot more by the summer. In their words, “Prices are skyrocketing!”, while, “Supplies are dwindling!”. This brings up two questions:

First, according to statistics, we are driving even less than in last few years. So fuel consumption is down. I’m no expert on petro economics but I do understand supply and demand. If demand is down, supply should be up, then prices come down..right? But, factor in the impending war in Iran, emerging markets like China, speculators, and the prices are where they are today….very high.

Secondly, who ever came up with the word, “dwindling”? It’s a stupid sounding word. Dwindling. Sounds like the name of a performer at one of the drag shows down on the Duval Street. Sheesh.

Moving on, so far, the price of fuel has not led to any full scale riots, demonstrations, nor runs on electric cars. Our society is still so interdependent on fossil fuels and oil products that no matter what the cost, we will pay it. We have little choice, at least most of us don’t. Our lifestyle is wholly dependent on a vehicle to get around. We need it for work, to fetch groceries, just about everything. So, when the price of gas goes up, we bitch, moan, whine, and snivel….but we pay it. And we will continue to pay for it pretty much at any price. However, if you want to see a complete breakdown in society, rioting in the streets, and general mayhem, stop the supply of fuel or ration it and watch what happens.

You youngun’s under the age of 40 weren’t around during the 1970’s when we had that joyous time known as the oil embargo. The big producers of oil in the middle east decided to flex their economic muscles and stopped the flow of oil exports to the U.S. It got ugly. Very ugly. Long lines at gas stations, shortages everywhere, rising prices. For the first time since World War II there was talk of rationing. People used to plenty of cheap fuel couldn’t cope. Suddenly, everyone become aware of something called gas mileage. Until that time, vehicles where judged by horsepower, heft, chrome, and style. Now with higher fuel prices, small, ugly little powerless turds like the Ford Pinto were showing up in dealer showrooms. The embargo was eventually lifted but the country was changed forever. The years of cheap fuel were over. And despite the promises of every politician to reduce our dependence on foreign oil we have learned nothing. An embargo today, a closing of the Stait of Hormuz for even a few days, and there will be a major crisis in this country.

We are a long way off from electric cars becoming mainstream. The oil business is very big business, one of the world’s largest and they ain’t about to give up all that money in exchange for a car that doesn’t need gas. And in spite of all the environmental concerns, the drilling will continue. But no matter how much new oil is found, now matter how much is pumped out of the ground, prices will continue to rise. That is something you can bet on. And anyone running for president who claims they will reduce the price of gas back to under $3 a gallon is a lying bastard. But then, I am simply stating the obvious. The president has about as much influence over the price of a gallon of gas as you or I do…meaning none.

So how do you cope with the high cost of fuel? Ideally, get rid of the vehicle. I know, I brag on the fact that I’m car free all the time. But trust me on this one. Not having a vehicle has saved me a ton of money. Using a bicycle, public transportation, occasionally walking, I have spent the equivalent of a tank of gas or two on transportation this year. And I doubt I will spend much more over the rest of the year. Granted, I have an advantage. I live in an area where a vehicle is not needed. I can get to anyplace I need by bike, bus or foot in a very short period of time. While there are some minor inconveniences of not having a vehicle, it’s advantages, particularly in cost far outweigh any disadvantages. If you are in a position similar to mine and can go without a vehicle, do it. At least try it. Park the car, don’t drive anywhere, use alternate means of transportation and see how you do. It’s surprisingly easy once you get over the perceived need for a vehicle.

If you have to have a vehicle look to downsizing to something that gets better gas mileage. But be careful here. The price you may pay to replace your old gas guzzler may be more than you would save over less fuel costs. Most people only keep a vehicle 3 or 4 years. Will your fuel savings be enough to justify replacing the car? Look at used vehicles if possible. Sometimes an old beater will get good mileage. So what if it looks like shit. If you do keep a vehicle make sure it is in good running order. Simple things like low air pressure in the tires will affect gas mileage.

As for things like food and other goods, try to shop local. Get foods that are grown locally so save on shipping costs. Hit the farmer’s markets if they are available and buy what’s in season. If you have the time and the means, grow some of your own foods. Learn the fine art of canning and preserving for the winter months.

Plan your trips to take advantage of the fuel you have. Instead of running to the store for a single item like a loaf of bread, only go when you are going to get a bunch of things. Plan your route to hit other places you may need to go at the same time.

Spend more time at home or doing things that don’t involve burning fuel. It’s not so much making sacrifices as it is simply adjusting your lifestyle to the current economic conditions. You don’t need to be full blown minimalist to conserve. Saving money and not being a slave to high fuel prices is in the best interests of everyone. Until the electric cars come out. Until there is free solar energy for every living being on the planet. Until our dependence on fossil fuels “dwindles” down to nothing, high fuel prices will be a fact of life. We just need to learn how to work around it.

Capt. Fritter

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