07 December 2009

Review: $20 Per Gallon by Christopher Steiner

I picked this up at the library on a whim. I was a little bit worried that it would be a long political diatribe either about the need to drill, baby, drill, (clearly, I hadn't paid attention to the subtitle), or else a long political diatribe about hugging trees. Fortunately, it was neither.

The book is what it says it is - a summary on how increasing gas prices will force our society to make changes that will ultimately be good for us.

The book is ordered by gas prices, starting at $4 per gallon, which is the price that gas reached in the June-August months of 2008. I hesitate to call them the summer months because while it was Summer to most everyone I know, I was actually in New Zealand. It was the dead of winter. And I calculated the cost that we were actually paying for petrol at almost $8 per gallon. That includes both the conversion of litres to gallons and the U.S. dollar to the Kiwi dollar. I kid you not. Of course, the taxes in New Zealand are higher, and the cost of living in general for that nation is higher. But, no matter where you live, $8 per gallon is substantial.

Because of the high price, we made some really positive changes to our lifestyles. The changes we made include walking to the close grocery store, even if the weather was completely lousy. Carpooling with Matthew and Makereta almost always to the large grocery store in the middle of town. Yes, really, carpooling to the grocery store. Eric often rode with Matthew to school. We even walked to the center of town a number of times, even though there was a killer hill on the way back. These were positive changes for us. We got more exercise. We contributed less pollution. We became better friends with people.

Steiner's book doesn't really focus on those tiny changes, and how could he? If gas is four times an amount that most Americans considered absurd, tiny changes like riding a bike are just that - tiny.

His book is broken into chapters of $4 per gallon (which is the introduction), $6 per gallon, $8 per gallon, on up to the final chapter about gas at $20 per gallon. For the most part, I thought this was an effective way of telling his story. Sometimes it meant that he had to leap to some pretty eyebrow-raising conclusions, and I wanted to say, "Napoleon, like anyone can even know that." But, on the whole his arguments are sound.

Two things struck me the most - we use oil for a lot of stuff. A LOT. I had no idea how much of the rubbish that fills my apartment comes from oil. That means when the price of oil goes up, the price of all my junk goes up too.

Second, when the price of oil goes up, the price of transporting all our junk everywhere also goes up. There's just no way around it. You've got to have a way to get your goods to you from their source, and that way almost always involve gasoline. When the price of gasoline goes up, the prices of goods goes up. (We witnessed this last in 2008 as well).

I don't know if all of the things that Steiner believes will happen will happen. Like I said, it's hard to make predictions on something like gasoline being $20 per gallon (and everywhere in between). Most importantly, though, is that gas prices will inevitably continue to rise (he makes a very sound case for this fact at the beginning of the book), and when they do, Americans (and people in other parts of the world) will need to adapt. Hopefully, as Steiner predicts, those adaptations will indeed be improvements to our current lifestyles.


Packrat said...

Sounds interesting.

Jenny said...

I didn't know about this book, but was familiar with his theory. As much as I think it's a horrific, extreme solution, sometimes it takes an awful slap in the face to enact decent change.

Marcindra LaPriel said...

Dang, Gina! This sounds like an intriguing book and it only solidifies my desire to be green...and live in a box...and only eat things from my backyard...with no use of oil anywhere along the line.

Carrie M. said...

I love Salt Lake for the fact that they have a good transit system in place. It's a pretty walkable place. Most communities in Utah are pretty walkable.
My lovely community here in TX... not so walkable. Everything here seems to be pretty spread out since there is so much land. Could be just my part of town, but I want to generalize and say that most cities around here are pretty sprawling and unwalkable.
This will be very bad when $20 gas comes around. :)