High gas prices not a crisis

Just about every grandparent in the country has told his or her grandchildren of the good old days, when children had to hike six miles uphill in a foot of snow just to get to school.

I always thought they were just saying that to make us grateful we had a bus to ride or a parent with a car and enough time to take us.

But after days of walking across campus — when it really was pouring down rain or snow — I longed for the days of being dropped off at the door.

Today I long for those days again. In Washington, like most big cities, parking is about $20 a day. Knowing this, I left my car at home. Not having a car has given me one of those “back in the old days” stories to tell to my grandchildren.

It goes like this… “I had to walk 17 city blocks to get to the grocery store, only to pay $4 for a gallon of milk, $1 for an apple, and exuberant prices for everything else as well. And then I had to turn around with my hands full of heavy bags and walk all the way home, stopping every few blocks to adjust the weight of the bags and make sure the eggs weren’t broken. My trip took three hours and thus was only possible on my days off. So be thankful you don’t have to walk to the store.”

And unfortunately that story will be true. If I had a car here, I would probably take it to the store and have to spend an hour looking for parking. But the worst part of having a car would be paying the almost $2 a gallon for gasoline in this city. And paying those prices might just be worse than walking.

Large portions of us don’t settle for a compact car. People want big cars, and big cars guzzle gas. Although people seem to know this when they buy SUVs and big trucks, they get lost in the bigness and power of the vehicle and buy it anyway.

Only later, when gas is $2.12 a gallon like it is averaging in California, do people realize how much it costs to have a big car.

But instead of trading down to more economical cars that get better gas mileage, we trade up. So we drive around in our big, powerful SUVs and complain about the “gas crisis.”

Gas prices may be high, but there certainly is no crisis. People in Europe and Japan and dozens of other industrialized countries pay as much as $5 for a gallon of gas. And in my travels to some of these countries, I didn’t hear people complaining about it or referring to the much-higher prices as a crisis.

Instead, they walk more and drive less, and drive smaller cars. Their cars are so tiny, tourists gather around and take pictures. But not us, we think it is our Constitutional right to have cheap gas. In general, our gas is already cheap.

It is cheaper than in many other countries, including Canada, and it is cheaper than it was even here in 1981, when prices reached around $2.80, adjusted for inflation. Although it might cost us more money to drive, the great majority of us don’t change our lifestyle to conserve gas. During the price hike last summer, demand only dropped 5 percent. This year, demand isn’t expected to drop at all. In fact, the Energy Information Administration estimates that demand for gasoline this summer will average a record high of 9.32 million barrels a day.

At the same time, we are expected to continue buying record numbers of SUVs and big trucks. We should stop encouraging political debate over how we can have cheaper gas prices. Instead, demand more funding for the development of new technology, so we can become less dependent on foreign oil.

In the mean time, those of us who are concerned about rising gas prices should find ways to conserve. If not, I won’t be the only 80-year-old grandma talking about how far I had to walk to the store. And our grandchildren will believe us because they will be walking, too.

Kristina Herrndobler, Daily Egyptian, Southern Illinois University.