Monday, May 19, 2008

How do we solve the gas crisis? Flintstone it

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The major online news sites all screamed the same headline today: Gas prices could reach the $5 mark by the summer.

I'm part of the collective whine from the masses over this, because if you're making a decent but by no means extravagant salary like me, that $5 per gallon is going to hurt. Gosh, just when the stings of $3, $3.50, and $3.75 had just begun to numb...

Forget summer vacations. I'm going to think twice about going anywhere I can't easily walk to.

If you're like me, the whole damn thing makes you mad, and you're looking for someone to blame. My list went something like this: George W. Bush, Saudi Arabia, Exxon Mobil, terrorists torching oil fields. But then I realized that I, like a lot of people, forgot someone:


I know you don't want to hear it, and frankly, I don't want to either, but after doing just a little research, I realized the only person I can blame for these ridiculous prices is myself. Sure, I engage in a good bitch-fest with the guy next to me every time I fill up, but the fact remains that I went to a gas station and paid upwards of $4 per gallon for gas. And that money will go on to line the pockets of mysterious fat-cat people in the world whose identities I'll likely never learn.

Hybrid hijinx

Usually, if I don't like the price of something, I don't buy it. I wish it were that simple when it came to gas. So, I decided to be like those folks on TV with proverbial green plants growing out of their heads and buy a hybrid vehicle. But when I looked into it, I realized it was just as much of a rip-off as the gas prices themselves.

I did a side-by-side comparison of the nicely equipped base model Honda Civic DX sedan, versus its Hybrid counterpart. I discovered the Hybrid cost $6,790 more than the regular old DX. But I'd make that back in my gas savings, right? WRONG. Turns out that based on a gas price of $4 per gallon and an average travelling distance of 20,000 miles per year, I'd only save $740.19, or about 185 gallons of gas each year.

To make matters worse, just about all of the one-time tax breaks offered on these hybrid vehicles have expired. And even if they did still exist, they wouldn't cover the additional cost to purchase the hybrid over a fully gas-powered model anyway.

Sure, having to fill up less is having to fill up less, which means less money in the pockets of those mysterious fat-cats, which is good. But by buying a hybrid, I'm also giving a good $6,000 more to a car company that as a result might be able to fund the presence of more lobbyists pushing for less stringent mileage and emissions requirements on Capitol Hill. And that is not
good. Sure, I could be wrong about that, but that's what I worry about. Car companies, feel free to prove I'm wrong.

So, I started plugging in other numbers, and here's what I learned: assuming the car prices stay the same (won't happen), and the gas prices stay the same (definitely won't happen), the Honda Civic Hybrid, at its current fuel capacity, would have to get way more than 500 miles to the gallon to cash in any real savings for its owner.

Don't worry - here comes a ray of sunshine. Assuming our dollars aren't going to fund special interest lobbyists for the stagnation of the automobile industry, it's safe to assume the more hybrid vehicles produced, the lower the price becomes. And one of the ways to boost production is to keep buying. I believe hybrid vehicles represent the start of some truly smart, common-sense innovations so sorely needed in the automobile industry. Now if only we could get our government to kick in the funding for some R&D...

Sorry, buying a hybrid doesn't fulfill your obligation

Look, I want convenience and comfort as much as the next SUV-driving suburbanite. But that very desire is one of the single largest reasons why gas prices are so high.

Breaking our dependence on oil requires major lifestyle changes: working within walking or biking distance of where we live, powering our homes using sources that do not run on fossil fuels, using public transportation, NOT owning a Hummer or Toyota FJ Cruiser. And let's be honest - most of us would balk at the prospect of doing any of the above.

But if you wouldn't, good for you. I admire folks who are willing to Flintstone it as a proverbial middle finger to the oil companies. Because the best way to solve the gas crisis is simple: stop using gas.

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