One of our culture’s mantras is that we should be free to do whatever we desire, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
My question: How do we determine harm?
In a blog I recently read, the writer compared the overall cost between a Corolla and a Prius. If someone was choosing between the two vehicles purely based on out of pocket costs, the Corolla is a clear winner. It would take gasoline prices of $10/gallon before the Prius was less expensive over the course of typical ownership patterns of new car buyers. The blogger maintained that the Corolla was therefore a more responsible choice for purchase. The problem is, that focusing on what costs me the least actually increases the likelihood that we will see the $10/gallon gasoline! Yes, I’m a believer that the popularity of SUVs has contributed to the cost of fuel for all of us. Is it the sole reason? Of course not. The emergence of China’s growing middle class and the resulting demands for energy has me even more concerned.
The Asian Development Bank said today, “Developed nations should stop paying agricultural subsidies to encourage biofuel production because the payments are making staple foods more expensive.” With apologies to those I know who grow corn in Iowa, I’ve got to agree. In our thirst for inexpensive fuel, so that we can consume without regard to the impact on others, biofuels made from grain are causing harm around the world. Food prices are skyrocketing as food (and food for animals we eat) becomes more valuable to us as fuel than it does as food. What’s wrong with that picture? It is my hope that the food/fuel conflict will be solved as we learn to use non-food based biofuels (switchgrass or garbage anyone?) if we are going to use biofuels. If we are reeling from the rapidly increasing price of food … what about the poor … or those in developing countries?
Our desire for inexpensive and convenience products also contributes. In what arena does bottled water make sense economically? The U.S. dollar continues to lose value against other world currencies and the price of oil is rising as much because of a weaker dollar as increasing demand. When we have the kind of unbalanced trade that the U.S. has with China, there is no wonder that the dollar will be weaker.
I’m not sure what launched me into this. It might have been paying $3.57 for a gallon of gas today. My fill up of $42 will take me 400 miles. The guy filling up next to me will have to pay $84 to go as far, will use twice as much gas, thereby raising the cost for both of us. Our choices have an impact beyond what we normally see.
My next task is to get as much use out of the 400 miles as I can. I’m doing what I can to lower the cost of gasoline … yes, for even those who get 15 mpg.