Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Like a clock... tick tick tick...

One of the reasons I'm frothing at the bit to move from our current bucolic homestead to the hustle-bustle of downtown Missoula is gas. It cost me almost $50 to fill up yesterday, and I drive a Subaru. A Subaru - you know a little grocery-getter with tiny wheels and a little baby gas tank. My first Subaru, Little Eddie, drove me around Portland for five years, and fill-ups were about $20. I could get anywhere for a week on twenty bucks. Now a gallon of gas costs more than a gallon of milk, and instead of driving the baby around to put him to sleep, the sub-conscious sound of burning money forces me to take him home and carry him around for a half hour until my forearms are asleep and my back aches. And sometimes, in addition to that crackle of burning money, sometimes my mind hears the rumble of tanks and crying wounded people. I make little scales with my hands and say, hmmm, drive up the road a couple miles to make my back not hurt a little versus a couple dead Middle Easterners. I'd like to see that analogy on the SATs.

So, I decided early-on, when I first noticed the gas prices on our corner store ticking up like the seconds on a digital clock that I would never complain about the price of gas. Because, really, it's our own damn fault. And you know what I mean. We're guzzlers. We've built our great country on the foundation that we should all be able to live wherever we want and one or two gigantic cars should be in the driveway, having arrived there on a clean and nicely paved freeway. It's wonderful, isn't it? Having the freedom to hop into your own personal herculean vehicle to drive six blocks to get some brickettes? Now that's democracy! What I will complain about is the ignorant segment that demands lower gas prices as they sit idling in rush-hour traffic in their air-conditioned Suburbans and Land Cruisers. It's like parents that send their kids to expensive private schools, then balk at the cost of the blue collared shirts they're supposed to wear. A twenty-five dollar shirt versus a 25,000 dollar-a-year tuition. Huh.

Our move to downtown Missoula will save me approximately 20 gallons a week, what with trips to pre-school, Target, the park, Liquid Planet, couple more times to Target, and friends' houses. And then tack on another 25 for Jim and maybe another 15 for my lovely friends and babysitters that have to drive out to see us. Sixty gallons a week, round up to 3500 gallons a year, which brings us to over Ten Thousand Dollars a year. You see what I mean? That is something. That's ten grand out of the pockets of oil execs and other people that don't need it. And maybe, if a few of us move back into town, it'll add up, and eventually oil exploration in the ANWAR and taking over foreign oil supplies won't be quit as much fun. Sure, it's completely and totally Pollyanna to think this way. It could never happen that way. I mean, right? It couldn't, right? A few conscientious people could never make a difference, could they? Even if that few turned into thousands?

What can you do to save a couple gallons?


Anonymous Melinda said...

I love it. I can take the bus and ride my bike. Which is what I do every day. Takes a little more time, but saves at least 2 gallons of gas every day. Not much, but every little bit helps. And if just a few more...

7/25/2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I walk everywhere I can. I honestly love it. It's fun, and great exercise. But, it's easier said than done in a suburban or rural area.

I also actually like the subway, assuming I can get a seat. I'd rather read a magazine than torture myself in traffic (again, easier said than done in a suburban or rural area).

Good for you, Mignon!

7/25/2006 3:12 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

When picking our house and finding jobs we deliberately looked for ones close to us to avoid commuting and the extra expenses that go along with it. We each have between a 2 and 4 minute commute to work daily, and drive cars, instead of SUVs and trucks which are more fuel efficient. There's certainly more that we can do (I should walk more often or bike) but it's certainly a start.

7/25/2006 6:57 PM  
Blogger mamalujo1 said...

Well, I can't move, (OK I could) but I did sell my "Chevrolet Silverado 2500 with 4 wheel drive, diesel and quadcab" super testosterone truck and replace it with a 40 mpg Honda Civic stickshift girlyman car, thus qualifying, I believe, for the greatest man stepdown in history, just so I could eat and pay my mortgage instead of buy gas. Do I get any credit, both in sensitive man points AND for "great hubby" points? Huh? Please!?

7/25/2006 8:22 PM  
Anonymous wordgirl said...

A good and thoughtful post. Uh...I can get rid of my Suburban now that I don't really need the space...and get something smaller.

7/25/2006 9:48 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

I'm too lazy to ride a bicycle, and in Shanghai having a car is just ridiculous, so instead of getting the motorbike that I wanted, I opted for an electric scooter. Once a week I lug the battery up into my apartment, plug it into the charger over night, and am on my way again the next day.

China has really gone crazy for the electric bicycles and scooters, and I can't quite believe the rest of the world hasn't jumped on board yet. Sure electricity still uses fossil fuels, but it's better (for now) than petrol.

7/25/2006 10:38 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

I'm happy to see that higher gas prices in the US are putting a damper on demand. The US uses about 25% of the world's oil, and the vast majority of that oil propels 5% of the world's population in their automobiles. With demand surging higher and few new sources of oil being found, even a small reduction in America's enormous apetite for oil will give all of humanity some more time to transition to a post-cheap oil world. With wars being fought already over the remaining supplies of oil, this is already the start of a difficult and unpleasant transition.

Unfortunately this will be the hardest on the US. The USA already uses twice the oil per unit of GDP as Japan and Europe. Almost all of the housing and population growth in the US in the past three decades has been in suburbs and more recently exurbs. Investments in transportation infrastructure are all based on trucking and auto use.

We certainly shouldn't overlook the fact that the US military occupation of much of the planet runs on tremendously inefficient fossil fuel machines...

During part of this transition period the countries that use energy most efficiently will be way ahead of those that don't, but in the end - unless we start working now - harder - on alternatives, we might all be in big trouble.

Here in Germany it now costs us about € 65 to fill up our Prius. At the current exchange rate that's $ 83. It hasn't risen nearly so much as in the US because most of the price difference is taxes, and most of these taxes fund public transit and auto-alternative infrastructure.

I think there was a historic opportunity after 9-11 to unite the country around the idea of energy independence. It was squandered by the oil-men who run our country for the sake of making the very rich even more rich. Then we started an unecessary and extremely costly war that has pushed up oil prices, and lined the pockets of America's sworn enemies with even more oil money.

Imagine what could have been done instead. The full tragedy of this enormously poor leadership failing the American people will become even more clear over time.

7/25/2006 11:04 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Oops... diatribe...

Here in Dresden I get unlimited access to electric trams, buses, commuter rail and ferry boats across the Elbe river for € 28 per month.

On weekdays after 6 PM and all weekends & holidays my spouse and daughter can ride along on my card.

People watching on public transit beats commuting any day. The added bonus is that you get to nickname all the interesting regulars on your route.

Despite years of soaking up advertising messages where autos = status = freedom I feel remarkably liberated.

We have the Prius largely because my native Texan spouse has a very hard time being carless. Our car vs. no car argument lasted for months.

7/26/2006 3:19 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Hey, I went from a Suburban to a Trailblazer. No, my gas mileage didn't improve THAT much but mile or two per gallon as you just showed with your fab-o math skills adds up!

I try to really consider my errands and plan well so that I am not driving unneccessarily. You know asking myself "Do I REALLY need a pedicure today?" Okay, that wasn't a good example cuz the answer is YES!

7/26/2006 3:48 AM  
Anonymous mamatulip said...

Good for you, Mignon. I wish more people thought the way you do.

I drive a minivan, because I have children and I need the space. But what really gets me is when I see people driving around here in Hummers. Little bottle-blondes driving Daddy's Hummer. There's just NO NEED for anyone in this area to be driving around in a Hummer.

7/26/2006 6:22 AM  
Anonymous JMo said...

20 mile commute by bicycle 3 days a week. Carpool the other 2 days.

I have to ask - why does anyone "NEED" their large vehicle? Kids? Mignon has two and manages with a Subaru. Got to have room to haul that bigscreen TV? Have it delivered.

The Hummer mentioned in one post gets 16/20 (city/highway). The Suburban:15/19 Trailblazer: 15/20

Minivans do a little better: Dodge Caravan: 20/26 Honda Odyssey: 20/28

Subaru Legacy wagon (4cylinder): 23/30

Everyone has to make their own choices but maybe a little peer pressure will get people to think twice about what they drive or how often they drive it. It worked on my - I used to drive every day until a coworker egged me on to ride the bike... Thanks Eric!

7/26/2006 8:32 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

Awesome post, Mignon. Hey, a few people banding together was how recycling started being required in most cities, so yes, I think each person doing his part WILL make a difference.

It was especially interesting to read DD's comments coming from an American abroad POV.

It's time for everyone to stop driving gas guzzlers around and take stock, because before too long there won't BE any oil to burn.

7/26/2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

Hoop and I have stopped leaving the house... Or showering... Or turning on any lights.

Ok, so that was a lie.

But the lights thing might end up being true. 60% of my electric bill is now spent on gas! Ugh. What really gets me is that I can't go to my parents for visits like I used to. It takes half a tank to get there and back, $25.

7/26/2006 11:20 AM  
Anonymous JMo said...

Why won't they import this:

73mpg highway

7/26/2006 1:24 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Gas in Europe costs at least twice as much as in the U.S.

We own one car here and the hubs drives it. I'm Miss Mass Transit. Sometimes it takes me forever to get places, and when its freezing out and the wind is blowing a chill rain straight into my face, I desperately long for a car. But most of the time taking public transit is easy and much less of a hassle than owning a car.

Very few Americans here use public transit though, even when it's easy and available.

7/26/2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

Mignon, you are awesome. Very eloquent. This subject has been on my mind quite a bit over the last year...and it's a big part of the reason I bought a Honda Civic. I am so lucky to be able to work at home in summer, which saves a chunk of change at the pump (and a ton of carbon in the atmosphere).

This is an interesting site to see what kind of impact our lifestyles have on the planet, too:

Thanks again for this post...always good to have reminders. (Love the toons, too!)

7/27/2006 8:20 PM  
Blogger lildb said...

I can ... never leave my house because I'm too inundated with the bottomless laundry/dishes stacked on every available surface?

then again, I'm still relying on fossil fuels. just more hermit-style. (one of my favorite styles, btw. I rock the hermit-style like you wouldn't believe. I'm so good, it'd make you burn with hermit envy. what the fuck am I talking about. time for bed!)

7/27/2006 9:58 PM  
Anonymous honestyrain said...

gas prices don't bother me. i mean, ya, if they go up a lot (like they did last week to a record high for my area) i gasp and say wow, did you see that? but i don't care, you know? i drive an SVU and have no remorse. i'm not really sure why i should have any. but i live in canada and our gas related concerns are different from those in the US so perhaps that has something to do with it. all i know is i need gas so i buy gas. now if i were a person of a lower income these gas prices would be serious and i see that. they are sky high. but for me in my little world, i just pay the extra and forget for the moment that it was ever any cheaper.

7/28/2006 9:08 AM  
Blogger Orange said...

My next car will probably be a hybrid, and not a lame-ass "hybrid SUV" (still gets much worse mileage than a Prius!). But I'm in no hurry to trade in my VW. The mileage isn't great, but most of my trips are short (just hit 40,000 miles after 6+ years). I should walk more, but it's too damn hot in the summer. My kid's school is around the corner, so at least I'm not using any gas taking him to school.

I also minimize my household consumption of fossil fuels by living in a multi-unit condo building—that keeps heating and air-conditioning costs (and energy usage) down. I spend under $100 a year on air conditioning—can any other American reader here with a hot summer climate top that?

7/28/2006 11:29 AM  

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