If economists are to be believed, the economic recovery should mean we can all begin breathing a little easier. It should result in more people with jobs and our everyday purchases becoming easier to afford. But while world economic recovery is great news, it comes with an unwelcome surprise when it comes to buying gasoline in the U.S.
According to a U.S. Department of Energy report by Wood MacKenzie, world oil demand reached an all-time quarterly high in the third quarter of 2010. Times may be tight for the average family in the U.S., but business is booming again overseas, particularly in manufacturing and other industrial sectors, and the demand for oil to produce and transport manufactured goods is booming, too.
What does this mean to you? Expect the cost of the gas you fill your tank with to go up.
The gasoline at your local station and thousands of industrial products are made from oil. With demand going up and because oil is a finite resource, the U.S. will increasingly have to compete on the open market with the billions of people in developing economies who are switching from bicycles to cars. And that massive growth will mean your gas will cost more per gallon.
When I was in college, the cost of a gallon of gas was under a dollar. If you had told me that just 10 or so years later, it would be nearly $4.00 a gallon, I wouldn't have believed it. Think about that: In the last 10 years, the cost of gas has at least tripled. If you think gas prices are hard to afford now, do the math: If the rising cost of gas remains consistent, 10 years from now gas could be $11.00 or $12.00 a gallon. I'm hoping that this won't be the case, but the laws of supply and demand show the trends heading upward--the more you use, the more it will cost.
So, if we demand less, will that make the cost of fuel go down?
Drastic changes in fuel consumption could help, but conserving the amount of fuel we consume in order to decrease demand is not as easy as it sounds. We rely on fuel for just about everything: Many of us work far from our homes and don't have access to public transport to be able to get to work to earn a paycheck. Road trips and other fun family activities have traditionally relied on gasoline. Even our food is planted, harvested, and transported to processing facilities or our local market using fuel. Think about your average week: Is there an average week in which you don't use fuel or support fuel usage in some way or another? Probably not. Switching to a more fuel efficient vehicle or a hybrid can have an impact, but not everyone can afford a new car.
Is there anything we can do about rising gas prices?
Yes. The answer may lie not in creating less demand for fuel, but simply demanding something better: U.S. citizens need better fuel options. We want to maintain the American lifestyle we are used to, but we want to fuel it with something that is better for the environment, something that is affordable, and ideally, something that creates jobs at home and puts money back into local communities. In North Carolina, we have a goal of replacing at least 10 percent of the fuel that is imported into the state with locally grown and produced biofuels. The Biofuels Center of North Carolina has calculated that if biomass were treated as a strategic resource, the state could profitably produce more than the 600 million gallons a year it needs to reach that 10 percent goal--and help keep the price at the pump lower in the process. And the nice thing is that when you fill up, you'll be putting money directly back into the North Carolina economy, rather than sending it overseas.
Photo credit: Photo was taken in New Hill, NC by Donald Lee Pardue on Flickr.