Gas prices and meeting people’s needs

I’ve been thinking about gas prices recently. I am, personally, pleased to see the prices rising, because when you think in terms of cost to the environment, gas should cost much more than it does now. I also hope that more people will be encouraged to use alternate means of transportation as gas prices continue to rise. However, I am also sheltered from the rising costs of gas. That is, I already use alternate means of transportation for the vast majority of my various trips in and around town, and thus I buy gas quite infrequently. In addition, I could afford to pay that much for gas if in fact I needed to.

I don’t usually express these thoughts (in particular, pleasure to see gas prices rising) when talking to other people because most people express concern over how much of their salary they are spending on gas. Sure, there are some people who are just lazy: they earn plenty of money to fill up the tank of their SUV, they could easily bike or take the bus to work, and they still complain about the cost of gas. I don’t have sympathy for such people. But there are other people who really do not have such options. This hit home when I was on my bicycle trip in eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. This part of the midwest consists of tiny towns and large farms separated by many miles; there are no buses and many of the small towns do not even have grocery stores. What can you do when you live on a farm in eastern Colorado and the nearest grocery store is 20 miles away? A 40-mile round trip by bike to buy groceries? I don’t think most people will go for that.

There are several possible responses to those people who are truly affected by the rising cost of gas. We could say “too bad, sucks for you” and let them sink in to poverty, we could subsidize the price of gas, or we could work on putting alternate means of transportation in to place. The first option is not productive and will result in unhappy people who have to struggle to make ends meet. The second option will encourage people to continue to behave in a way that harms the environment. The third option is the most productive: it will support the people’s needs in an environmentally friendly way. Although it seems like the second option, subsidizing the prices, is addressing people’s need, it is actually addressing a false need. It says, “these people need to be able to buy gasoline, so we better make sure it is affordable”. But, in fact, people’s need is not to be able to buy gasoline. Their need is to be able to get where there are going. If we provide them with a good, usable alternative to driving where they need to go, then their need to buy gasoline will disappear. In other words, by looking at the actual needs of people we can start to think of positive actions that both encourage environmently friendly behavior and address those needs. Subsidizing gas prices is a false solution. So, back to my pleasure at the rising gas prices: yes, I am pleased about it, but I am not pleased with the government’s response to it. I think it is a recipe for disaster if the prices continue to rise (and then be subsidized) without the government starting to seriously and actively work on alternate means of transportation that meet people’s true need: the need to get somewhere.

In general, different people in different life situations have different priorities and needs. One of the most critical things one can do to create and maintain peace is to take the time to truly listen to people and figure out what will address their particular, individual needs. Only by doing this will we be able to solve problems and conflicts in a sustainable and peaceful manner.

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2 Responses to Gas prices and meeting people’s needs

  1. Nick says:

    Excellent post. It’s easy to be glib about rising gas prices by saying that it will get people to drive less, while forgetting that poorer people are hit disproportionately hard. There are plenty of people who are barely making ends meet who need to get to work every day and who don’t have public transportation options, either because they don’t exist in their area, or because the scheduling doesn’t work. The long-term solution is, of course, a much better public transportation infrastructure in all parts of the country.

  2. saurduriel says:

    Hello Sarah! Thank you for your thoughtful comment on Breathing Peace (http://breathingpeace.blogspot.com/). It is very encouraging for me to hear from other people who try to utilize “alternative” forms of transportation too!Interestingly, we are both currently living in the Colorado region, if of course your profile is up-to-date. I moved here about a year ago from out east, from a small town in which living car-free was practically impossible. I have found that Denver and Boulder are a lot easier to get around in without a car than first meets the eye and all the biking stores and bikers I constantly meet are also very encouraging. I think I just need to invest in a better bicycle!Anyway, I completely agree with what you said in your comment. I see the same thing everyday too: people getting in their cars to go around the block! People riding alone in their SUVs to get to work when they can easily car-pool or take public transportation! When did one car per person become the norm anyway?!Well, keep up the car-free lifestyle! I think that it is definitely worth it!

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