Gas and Cable

It looks like gas prices have finally started having an impact on cute little white girls in Utah. Thank goodness; I thought we'd have to wait a long, long time before this issue started getting sufficient media coverage.

Okay, seriously now. Two little girls from Utah, who cannot spell "money" or indeed "cable", are upset because their parents have cut off their cable TV to pay for gas. I'm thinking, long term, these kids are going to be better off. Perhaps they can spend their Hannah Montana time taking the bus to the library.

In fact, part of me feels that a lot of good things are going to come from rising gas prices. Anything that makes people take public transit or bike rather than driving -- well, that's a good result. And, if we're going to be honest, rising gas prices are the only thing that's going to make the average North American consumer make those changes.

Good effects aside, though, I'm more than a bit concerned about this situation. Here, two cases in point:

1) My airfare to get home for Christmas this year will be approximately $200 more than it was last year.
2) A pound of tofu at Trader Joe's is $0.50 more expensive than it was a year ago. Or, I'm pretty sure it is. And I'm guessing that much of this increase is the result of increasing transport costs.

As a graduate student, I feel these economic pinches pretty acutely -- or, at least, cumulatively. I can, however, bear them pretty easily. For me, a few extra dollars each week at the grocery store is something I notice, but -- since I'm shopping for one -- can absorb pretty easily, and still buy fresh produce and tasty Greek yogurts. $200 extra a couple of times a year to visit my family hurts a bit more, but for now, I can handle it.

The thing is: I'm in a pretty good position. I have a low income, but my future earning potential is reasonable, and I certainly come from a comparatively advantaged background. I have no dependents, so I'm typically cooking for one -- and because of my Newfie heritage, I'm well-schooled in running a good and frugal kitchen. Thanks, Grandma!

I'll also add that I'm already making, as a matter of course, most of the 'sacrifices' that people are talking about as a result of rising fuel prices. First, I don't have a car. I also split my heating costs three ways with my roommates, keep the thermostat at 60ยบ as much as I can stand it, and refuse to run the air conditioner. (I actually took it out of my house.) When I do laundry, not kidding, I use a hand-crank machine and spin dryer. So -- effectively, there's not much on which I can cut back.

If, with all of these advantages, I'm still noticing meaningful economic changes, the story to be told is not mine, and not the story of privileged white girls from Utah giving up something they (probably) shouldn't have anyway because of gas prices. The story is about food and energy costs hitting people who can't be hit any more. That's been getting some coverage, I know, but it's where the real crisis is coming, and it's time we took heed.

On the whole: enough, ENOUGH whining about having to make negligible lifestyle changes. You shouldn't be driving everywhere anyway. You shouldn't be so invested in cable TV that you take to the streets in protest. You shouldn't be beside yourself about the cost of leisure travel.

Be indignant for the people who need it.

And perhaps, be indignant about the state of the market. Be indignant that people in positions of power have realized that people will buy very nearly as much fuel at $140 a barrel as they did at $90 a barrel -- and that they've simply decided to charge $140. Be indignant that these same people have wielded their money and power for decades to ensure that we would have few viable options to fossil fuel, when this time came.

A reductio ad absurdum, yes, but not an unsubstantial part of the question. The end result will be predictable: the very rich will get richer; the moderate privilege of us in the middle will shrink; the really poor will suffer abonimably.

How do we live with this? If the poor are still with us, it's because we need them, some more than others. It's an ugly admission, but as I type it, I realize that it doesn't weigh on my conscience nearly enough.