Everyone's Upset Over High Gas Prices -- Including Environmentalists

Column written by James Baughn on Thursday, July 6, 2000

from the maybe-there's-oil-deposits-in-the-bootheel dept.

You might expect that hard-core environmentalists would be happy to see gas prices jump this summer, as that means people will drive less and use more public transportation to save money. Not so. From Al Gore saying that affordable gasoline is a right of every American, to the hordes of eco-freaks paying extra to drive to seminars and conventions, nobody is happy about the oil crunch. Except, of course, oil company executives, but all the money they are raking in might not save them from angry mobs of motorists out for blood.

You might also expect that sales of more fuel-efficient vehicles would increase, supplanting those Sport Utility Vehicles that get 1.5 miles per gallon on a good day. Not so. State law says that, at a four-way stop, the vehicle with the largest tires always has the right-of-way. So naturally SUVs are preferred over anything else. People also like to buy them in the hopes of taking them off-road (i.e. the "Sport" and "Utility" part), although studies have confirmed that when SUVs leave a paved road they have a tendency to flip over and explode. Or get stuck in the mud due to their sheer weight.

You might, then, expect that people who could afford SUVs wouldn't whine about gas prices since they are obviously rich. Not so. Lots of people take out three or four mortages -- and then get some more cash at one of those fly-by-night post-dated check-cashing businesses -- so they can afford the down payment on one of these beasts. The typical Missourian invests more money in their ride than their house (although "invest" isn't the right word; you'd be better off "investing" $30,000 in the lottery). Therefore, the increase in gas prices forces many families to make a choice between their vehicle(s), satellite dish(es), house, beer supply, and food. Food and housing are often first to get the axe.

Finally, you might also expect that motorists would conserve gasoline and drive less to save money. Not so. Crowds of drivers are willing to wait in huge lines at gas stations offering "99 cent" gas or another such publicity gimmick. Of course, they wait with their motors running to prevent anybody from cutting in line. In the quest to save a buck they lose several. It's also become a Cape Girardeau tradition to drive miles and miles to Jackson or Fruitland to save a buck or two on gas. Here the same problem applies; you'll burn more gas at red lights on Highway 61 (a new stoplight is erected every week or so in Jackson, after all) than you save, even if gas is 20 cents cheaper at Uncle Bob's Ultra-Cheap Basic No-Frill Cash-Only Guzzle-N-Save Generic-Brand Gas-O-Rama Station.