High fuel prices – a glimpse of a better future?

I was inspired to pen this piece after gawking at this Stuff.co.nz article. The writers’ intent was to demonstrate that high fuel prices were a disaster. But as I read I became confused, even incredulous. Was the article a spoof?  Some complaints seemed more positive then negative, a step in the right direction. Where people expressed inconvenience and frustration, I saw a glimpse of a better future. A healthier, more grounded and more sustainable world.   

I won’t deny there are downsides to the fuel price hike. Poor people suffer as with any price rise. Scumbag oil companies and governments find new pseudo-economically viable places to drill, which never should be touched. Russia funds their war machine through the sky high oil prices Germany and France continue to pay.

But fuel prices have to rise, a lot higher than even now if we are to have any chance to halt this climate crisis. Yes this current price hike is abrupt. Yes we aren’t ready. Yes our electric car infrastructure is non-existent. Yes Public transport isn’t fit for purpose. But what we see from these regular folks’ responses are small ways that high fuel prices can push us simple humans in the right direction. And our groaning creation takes a tiny breath.

So here’s why high fuel prices are fantastic

We Go Local

“I’ll have to rethink where my daughter goes to school in the future if it keeps increasing, because we school out of area,” King said.

Although its nice to choose where we send our kids to school, a great way to burn less oil is to share most of our lives with our proximate community. Local school, local shops, local doctor, local church, local friends. In New Zealand cities at least, most people live within a 20 minute walk (or 10 minute bike) of all important amenities and we don’t need to drive to reach them.

High fuel prices force us to do what’s painful, but better for us and the planet – spend most of our lives closer to our home. Attend local schools. Go to the local Thai restaurant rather than Macdonalds at the mall. Buy clothes from our local thrift shop. Make friends with our neighbours. A richer, more simple life. If high fuel prices force us to think twice or thrice before driving across town, the benefits might be deeper than ‘just’ mitigating the climate crisis.

We Go Electric

Last week I talked to a friend (who yes, has a pretentious Nissan Leaf) who was excited about unexpected conversations the fuel price hike had triggered. “Two of my friends are probably going to buy electric cars. And for the first time ever my parents are even talking about EVs!” We don’t have New Zealand data yet but other countries like England have seen a surge in EV sales as people balk at the fuel hikes. In just one week in early march sales surged by almost 40%.

If governments like New Zealand’s fail to incentivise electric cars through providing good infrastructure and significant subsidies, sky high fuel prices might be the catalyst we need to supercharge the transition.  

We Go Public

Presbyterian Support Northern manager Alistair Houston:
“One client has stopped using her car and only uses it for urgent matters. The car is now seen as a luxury she cannot afford to just ‘pop out in,’” Houston said.

Houston, we don’t have a problem – your complaint is rather a profound solution, the only way forward through our climate crisis.  “The car is now seen as a luxury”

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. While in New Zealand I loved fishing in the mountains. To reach the most beautiful places on earth, I drove hundreds of kilometers often alone in the car and released hundreds of kilos of carbon. Perhaps what I did is no longer defensible, but I am sure that it was a luxury. I made a luxurious, selfish trade-off between damaging our fragile earth and my personal pleasure and fulfilment.

An indefensible luxury?

In our current climate situation, whenever we use a personal petrol vehicle at the very least we should give thanks and be grateful for that luxury. For a convenient gift whose days are numbered.

Yes, moving away from the personal petrol paradigm is rough on poorer people who can’t easily access poor public transport systems, and we should already have non-petrol car solutions, but needs must. As cynical and populist as our governments’ sad move was to slash our fuel tax, they made a great move in halving the cost of public transport. A huge step towards normalising the only way forward.

Buses, trains and car pooling have to enter our common consciousness and become a norm. As petrol prices get higher not only are we forced to make hard decisions about our own transport, but governments like we’ve already seen in New Zealand will be forced to both improve and fund public transport to soothe the wrath of their penny-pinched populous.

So if the recent fuel price hikes push us even an inch towards go local, go electric and go public, then I’ll celebrate every cent of the hike.

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