Thursday, April 27, 2006

Steady high gas prices can be a good thing

High gas prices seem to have gotten America's attention, now what are we going to do about it?

Perhaps the most cynical proposal was suggested by Senator Frist, send everyone a $100 check to "ease the pain" and return to business as usual. How dumb does he think we are? More constructively, President Bush actually requested authority to increase average car fleet mileage standards. Wow, the president is asking for something? Normally Bush just does whatever he wants. Maybe he hopes Congress won't let him. I am unsure what the president would do if he received such authority considering the modest increase he has proposed for SUVs and light trucks (an improvement of less than 0.5 mpg/year starting in 2008). Nevertheless raising fuel standards is actually one good thing the government can do, especially considering how unlikely car makers are to do so on their own (based on the last 20 years track record).

There is very little that can be done in the short term to reduce fuel prices. Although I'm sympathetic with those experiencing economic hardship due to high fuel prices (I'm unemployed and believe me I feel your pain) in the long run, high fuel prices are good if they cause us to use gasoline more efficiently.

The good news is that we can make massive improvements in efficiency with little or no reduction in GDP. About 1% of the energy content in gasoline actually moves the driver to their destination.

Making cars (& trucks) lighter is one simple way to significantly improve fuel efficiency. I don't buy the nonsense that lighter cars are less safe. If mass = safety, we would all wear cast iron bicycle helmets. In the middle ages, perhaps heavy = safe reasoning fit the might-makes-right world view. In the last half millennia we developed a subject called "E-N-G-I-N-E-E-R-I-N-G" that lets us do light and safe simultaneously.


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