Gas prices in the U.S. have been on the decline for months now – the average price of gasoline is hovering around $2.14 per gallon, and in many parts of the country gas is well below $2 per gallon. What does this mean for climate action?
Consumers have bought more gas – retail sales are up 28% compared to the same time last year, when gas prices weren’t quite so low. Americans have also purchased more cars with lower average mileage per gallon ratings – unfortunately translating into an increase in carbon emissions.
This trend also reinforces the idea that people vote with their wallets, and that immediate gains often trump dealing with issues that seem far-off and distant. To counter this, we need to communicate that climate change is happening now, and that we can take action to overcome this challenge. In a time when fossil fuels are cheaper than ever, we also need to highlight the message that clean energy is a smart, viable alternative. Studies show that there is strong support for clean energy, and by emphasizing the co-benefits of a transition to clean energy (green job boom, increased public health benefits) we can help ensure that clean energy takes hold, and that policy reflects our desire for a cleaner energy future. Climate change is happening now, and the decisions we make today have far-reaching impacts on our climate challenge. Let’s make the right decisions and move towards a greener, cleaner future.
Mark Barteau | The Conversation | December 21, 2015
American consumers have been enjoying Christmas since July – that is, July 2014, when the average price for all grades of gasoline peaked at US$3.75 per gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration. Since then, prices have declined substantially, as every motorist knows: to $2.90 by Thanksgiving 2014 and to $2.14 as we approach the end of 2015. In many parts of the country, the price of regular gasoline is well below $2 per gallon today.
For consumers, this is unquestionably a financial windfall. There are losers too, of course, especially across the petroleum and fuels industry.
But from a societal perspective – from consumer behavior to public policy – how should we view this change and the likelihood of low energy prices for the longer term, even if they rebound from today’s lows?
Voting With Their Wallets
The behavioral response of consumers to falling gas prices has been rapid, and from the perspective of greenhouse gas emissions and the climate, not good.
Gasoline retail sales in the US are up a whopping 28% for the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, according to the EIA. There are longer-term consequences of current consumer choices as well. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the average gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the US has decreased from a record high of 25.8 miles per gallon (mpg) in the summer of 2014 to 25.0 mpg in November 2015.