High Gas Prices: The Environment’s Best Friend

Are you driving less than you used to?

As Dubner blogged last week, Americans logged 11 billion fewer miles on the road in March of this year than they did in March 2007. That contributed to a cut of 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by the U.S. in the first quarter of 2008.

The rise of gasoline prices, coming at a time when most Americans are tightening their belts, has led to a spike in demand for public transit — leading the Philadelphia Inquirer to wonder whether or not the bell is tolling for America’s car culture.

At the very least, the lean economy might make anti-driving incentives, like those in Seattle, more inviting.

Was Levitt right about the benefits of high gas prices after all?


I had a dream that one day have an own car
It seems more and more fantastic perhaps for most guys in the developing country...


Wanted: People for a March on Washington about GAS

I am not sure how to start a march on Washington, so I will start with a post. Who else is mad about the prices of gas in this country?! We need to let the Democrats in DC know that we want action now! Specifically, congress needs to open off shore and Alaskan drilling and stop the "political games." Email me if you feel the same and want to get this March started. I say a nice 3rd of JULY March would be a good timeframe.

Send me your thoughts and ideas on how to get this thing going? DON'T BOTHER TO EMAIL IF YOUR AGAINST THE IDEA!!


**There is thousands of square miles off the U.S. coast with oil deposits. They hold an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. At current levels of consumption, that would satisfy the nation's oil needs for about 16 years and its natural gas needs for about 25 years.** BOB BARR FOR PRESIDENT IN 2008!!


David Hodge

Do all you people really believe all this crap about global warming, there is absolutly no prove of this sudo-science phycobable. You also seem to believe that there is truely an oil shortage, anyone with the brains to question what they have been force fed by the propagandist American media can quickly find out the truth with a little effort. Quit being sheep led to the slaughter and think for yourselfs


Wanna double your miles per gallon without changing your car? Get the WATER HYBRID CONVERSION guide to learn how to convert your car into a water hybrid @ https://paydotcom.com/r/47165/sabre23/18066767/


Time to put oil behind us, once and for all. Let's hope it stays high.


A coworker came up with a related question today. Several auto makers are offering things like $2.99 gas for 2 years if you buy their car. Given we're already at $4+, how can this benefit the car manufacturers? Are they just doing it on end-of-year models to clear inventory?


If #17 is right, and that it is a "tragedy of the commons," it is an avoidable one.

TOTC happens when resources are not privately owned; people take care of their own property. But if you don't want to actually privatize roads, at least the problem can be lessened with congestion pricing.

Austin Chu

Great post. I just blogged how gas prices just went up $7 a barrel on friday on savvywallet.com. I decided to throw in the towel, when I converted my car to veggie oil. I haven't paid for fuel since Jan, and it's pretty much been paid for. It's a pain in the butt. Let me tell you. I get no greater joy, when I drive past gas stations and I see gas prices soaring, it simply doesn't bother me anymore. You can check out my car at austinchu.wordpress.com.


Your argument is based on the assumption that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, and that man made CO2 has an effect on the environment. CO2 is not pollution. Plants need CO2 for photosynthesis. As greenhouse gases go, its a pretty small one. The biggest greenhouse gas is (are you ready?) water vapor. The biggest makers of CO2 are volcanoes. Oh, and the factor that has the biggest impact on Earth's climate is the output of the Sun, after that would be variations in Earth's orbit. If you really hate CO2 that much, you should give some thought to the fact that every time you breath, you are making CO2.

I agree that a big impact on the reduced driving is due to an increase in unemployment. If you don't have a job you don't have to drive to work and it makes the high prices hit that much harder.


When are you all going to wake up and realize that there is no lack of supply. The primary cause of high oil prices is the lack of good investment vehicles for holders of wealth. They ran away from the stock market first and then the housing market and have now dumped all their speculative wealth into commodities. The number of contracts being traded in oil is far higher than the actual amount of oil being produced. This is the primary driver of prices, a lack of fillable contracts, not a lack of actual supply. The contracts are the short supply item. There are simply too many money grubbers trying to make a buck off of the artificially high price of oil. There is no way that demand has DOUBLED in the last 3-5 years. The Chinese and Indian markets haven't suddenly acquired that many more driving consumers in such a short timeframe. While we may benefit in the long term from high prices now, let's face the real problem. Unregulated markets clearly aren't working. Too many pundits/analysts can throw in their two cents and manipulate a completely naive public market. Too many insiders can manipulate government policy and provide their own monopoly control or market cornering advantages.



#38 and Many others.

Everyone accepts driving is essential. Everyone accepts public transportation in America needs developing.

I think I speak for the rest of the world when I say, WE, DONT, CARE.

Every American since the 70's has CHOSEN to purchase an unnecessary larged engine car, with poor production value, poor manufacturing, poor design, poor economy, and all round piece of ****. (sorry for bad language).

If instead of complaining you can't move to a city to walk to work, instead of complaining that Gas is $5 a galloon. You know what you could of done. You could of bought a car that wasn't rubbish.

I spent ?7k on my 1.2 Clio, I live in the UK where car prices are far more than the rest of europe, and I am a STUDENT.

My car, will last longer than yours, my car is at least 4 times more efficient than yours, and my car does the same thing as yours!

But, still I digress, you are an American, and have no common sense. Because, the Internet is a series of tubes, and America does its own thing, because, this is America.


R. Malachowski

Do we ride less now than we did in the past?
When gas was going up to about the $2.00 mark everyone swore they would drive less.

Now with $5.00 gas on the horizon (probably by July 4, or at the end of the year at best), I can truthfully say, no. I do not drive any less than I did two or three years ago. My workplace hasn't moved and neither have I. Towns in NJ haven't shrunk. As far as I know, the exits on the NJ Turnpike are the same distance. The question is really do we opt whenever possible to stay home more now because it costs more to travel.

Sadly, many people are now wrapping themselves in cocoons, becoming more alienated from the world outside their homes with gas prices being the new reason for this lethargy. Our workaholic addiction plays quite nicely into our employers' hands. We will now live to commute and little more.


Keith (35), chrispc88 (28), etc:

That's true, we don't have public transportation in many parts of the country. I also live in the midwest -- Minnesota -- and there is no public transportation between my home and work either.

However, I'm not sure that railing against high gas prices is going to help the situation for us.

Here are some things that *can* help the situation, from shorter-term to longer-term:

1. Carpool. I think a lot of people at my office have started carpooling recently as a way to save money. I know I save a ton of money in return for a small inconvenience. We're about to start a web-based matchmaking service for employees who want to carpool.

2. Drive a fuel-efficient car. Not only do they save you money now, but they hold their value better. There are a lot of SUVs on the used car lots these days.

3. Pressure your representatives to build public transportation where there isn't any (or put it in where it used to be... the route I drive every day had 12 passenger trains a day in the early 1900s; now it's just freight). Public transportation isn't an unchangeable amenity like a river or mountain. It's something people can choose to build. With rising gas prices you might find a lot of allies who wouldn't care less if it was environmental issue, but who care a lot more now that it is a pocketbook issue.



Concerning my comments on congestion not being an externality. Yes, Brian, by driving we all cause congestion costs to other drivers, and probably do not consider them in our decision to drive. However, the reason most economists don't "like" negative externalities is that the third party who bears the costs cannot escape them by not entering into the transaction. This is not true with drivers. You don't like congestion, then don't drive and you have avoided the costs. Calling congestion an externality is like calling higher prices caused by more consumers entering a particular market for a good an externality to those already in the market. And, Joel, you have made a heroic assumption in that congestion causes less productivity to salaried workers, and their salary is not adjusted for their lower productivity. May or may not have an effect, just that we don't know a priori. The employees themselves may be paying all the costs in terms of longer commutes.



I have to agree with other commentors - 3 factors are influencing the gas prices and none of them are good for the US (the cure is worse than the disease): 1. Increased demand in China and India (the car culture is moving to Countries with bigger populations); 2. Falling value of dollar means less buying power and more jobs lost; 3. Speculators who made a royal mess of the credit system are bidding up oil futures and screwing up that system (only the oil companies truly appreciate that).
Any approach to solving demand that works by transferring money from those who can least afford it to those who least deserve it, is probably not a 'solution', only a technique. High gas/oil prices will have many knock-on effects to the economy, few good. So, instead of focusing on what *can* be used to change demand, maybe we need to focus on what will change demand in an efficient and effective way; or, alternatives to oil/gas which work.
I would chalk up high prices as working as well as *corn* ethanol subsidies (vs. just ethanol subsidies).



I can't believe you people are actually 'for' higher gas prices. Yeah - lets force America back to the stone age! Not all of us live 1 or 2 miles from work. I live in Missouri, there are no buses or cabs that I can take to work - which is 20 miles away. I can't afford to just 'move' to a city, not that I would want to anyway - I like the country.

jon feldman

higher gas prices are having a great environmental impact, severely limiting sprawl. It is no longer profitable for housing developments to leapfrog each other.


I still commute by public transportation, but just purchased a car this weekend, so I'm going to argue against my self interest now and say that gas is still much, much too cheap.

Once it gets to $10 a gallon in something resembling today's dollars, then it may really start to have a positive impact on behavior. At $4 a gallon most car commuters I know are still driving to work, but disliking the cost.


Yeah, I kinda agree...but it still sucks to have to pay enormous gas bills. You can always lower it by driving slower... http://www.slowdowntosavegas.com/


Trza, #17
I have to say, referring to congestion as "Tragedy of the Commons" is particularly insightful. In the classic resource commons, fisheries, regulation is changing to more of a share system. However, the successful systems have been the newer fisheries with not much of a cultural history. Could a share system possibly work here?