Why High Gas Prices can be Good for the Environment

  • Published on August 8th, 2008

Public TransportationWith the recent dropping of crude oil prices to below $120 a barrel, there are sighs of relief on both sides of the aisle. But is that a good thing if you’re perhaps a bit more environmental-leaning?

Recently, Canadian investment bank BMO Nesbitt Burns’ deputy chief economist has suggested that high gas prices are making a difference in commuting behaviour. According to a note from Statistics Canada, service station receipts went up by 2.4% in May, while gasoline prices grew more than 3 times that: 8.8%. This suggests pretty strongly that high gas prices have induced commuters to change their driving behaviours. People are starting to leave their cars at home and taking public transit, working compressed workweeks or just carpooling. Anything that might allow them to save on fuel costs.

While high gas prices are not the most effective way to combat environmentally degrading driving patterns – unless you grow all your own food, chances are likely that high gas prices are going to translate into higher food costs – high gas prices are starting to encourage the sorts of commuter behaviours that environmentalists have been attempting to mainstream for years.

In an effort to combat this, carmakers are retooling their business lines to encourage consumers to carry on buying and using cars. Ford is expected to announce this week that they are in the process of converting three of their truck plants into auto plants, and that they will begin manufacturing their more fuel efficient European models for the North American market. Thanks to high gas prices, the market for large and mid-size SUVs has virtually collapsed, leading to some of the worst annual vehicle sales for the auto industry in over a decade.

There seems to be a real policy driver lesson to be learned here: behaviour incentive change seems to work best through the wallet, not through altruism. The real question I ask you, dear readers, is whether or not these changes are temporary or permanent. Once (if) gas prices start to decrease, are we going to witness a return to the behaviour that brought about these high prices in the first place?

For More Posts on Gas Prices and the Environment:

Image source: Lover of Romance at Media Commons

About the Author

Amiel is the founder of the Globalis Group, an organization whose motto is "combining action and thought for a sustainable world." His experience includes working with the Canadian government on greenspace projects, sustainable development programs and on policy documents on issues as diverse as climate change, sustainable development, and the environmental and social impacts of transportation. He is listed on the UN’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory’s list of GHG experts, and has sat on the Canadian Environmental Certifications Board’s Greenhouse Gas Verification and Validation Certification committee.
  • Pingback: The Environmental Impotence of the Religious Right : Red, Green, and Blue()

  • JJK

    "i like driving my big truck, little cars are for chicks"

    John Larnes,

    Men who need big trucks / cars usually have small penises. This is a proven psychological phenomena, so I think you must have been looking for a different web site?

  • michelle

    I do believe that if gas prices were to go back down most people would breathe a sigh of relief and say oh good things are back to "normal" now

  • Tyler Barton

    I would contest your assumption that gas prices will go down. Adjusted for inflation, the price of gas is just above average right now. We were spoiled by cheap gas for a very long time.

  • I have the same worry you do, Amiel.

    Once gas prices drop, I suspect that many people will begin using their cars regularly again. But I also hope that a few, upon discovering that they like this new lifestyle, will stick with alternative modes of transport.

    The big question remains: will gas prices ever drop? Or is this the new reality?

  • john larnes

    i like driving my big truck, little cars are for chicks

  • With gas price skyrocketing, people would actually look into ways to cut down consumption and thus this actually helps in the long run. We always think of the negative side but this is actually a blessing in disguise to help mother nature.

  • Hi,

    Even with more fuel economical cars, it's best to learn eco driving as described in this blog, otherwise you'll spend more gas than needed.