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.