Braking on the Gas Tax

When I went to the used car lot with my parents, gas was shooting well beyond $3 per gallon. To fill up a tank cost the equivalent of going to the movies seven times. I told my parents I wanted something with good handling and low gas mileage; they bought me an SUV.
With time, I have come to love my gas-guzzling Montero Sport. In the months that followed, I have moved twice and desperately needed the space. People run from me on the road. Now, thanks to a tanking economy, gas prices have plummeted and SUVs are actually useful to have.
The relation between cars, the economy and gas has a tremendous impact on our environment. For instance, as gas prices skyrocketed, it became impossible to own or sell an SUV. When I went to purchase a car last summer, 2005 Ford Expeditions were scattered around the lot like dinosaurs waiting for the meteor, while hybrid cars were selling in record numbers. It had finally become profitable to sell environmentally-friendly vehicles. Now, as gas prices have begun to drop, vehicles that inhale gas and excrete chemicals are once again in favor.
These developments have brought forth a bold idea. Perhaps it would be best for the environment and the people if we artificially inflate gas prices. After all, the nation and the auto-industry would shift their alliance away from less efficient forms of transportation once they stop being profitable and cost-effective. This would go a long way toward reducing the nation’s carbon foot-print.
With higher prices, America would work to consume less gas. The United States would finally be forced to listen to reason and make another attempt at nuclear power. With less consumption and shifts toward new power sources, our dependency on foreign oil and influence would dramatically drop.
These are good directions for America to travel, but raising gas prices may not be the best way to achieve them at this moment in time. For starters, the current drop in gas prices is temporary. If we tack on an enormous gas tax right now, what will happen when prices inevitably rise to their previous levels? There would be an overcorrection that could cripple the country.
The other problem with forcing America off gas-guzzling vehicles comes from its alternatives, or rather, the lack of alternatives. The nation and auto industries still have not fully embraced hybrids. At best, they are cautiously optimistic about this wave of the future. Until Americans are given an affordable and easily available alternative to the SUV, we would just be pushing them into spending too much money.
There are also problems with finding alternative energy sources. Nuclear power is completely safe, but a majority of Americans still believe nuclear power is one of the most dangerous forms of energy in existence. Their minds are possessed with the ghosts of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. If we try to get ourselves away from gas while Americans are still not ready to embrace alternative, safe forms of energy, we will be making a grave mistake that could result in the loss of billions of dollars.
The economy cannot handle another shock. A premature increase in gas prices may be the kick to the groin that the stock market needs to avoid. If gas prices go up, a number of stocks will undoubtedly plummet. The American auto industry is already in shambles and is currently being bailed out by the U.S. government. A raise in gas prices will have effects that go beyond forcing stocks to drop. Gas station owners, commuters, soccer moms, truckers and other people who rely on auto transportation will be forced to scrounge and make cuts.
A gas tax hike could potentially give this country many of the changes it needs. We would rely less on foreign oil, become a greener nation and finally take a step toward better electrical cars. All of these benefits assume we are ready for these commitments. They require a readiness to pry Texas tea out of our freezing hands. This kind of fortitude cannot be found in America.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.