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There May Be an Environmental Upside to Rising Gas Prices

If it results in reduced use, an increase in gas prices could be the most effective way to curb our dependence on fossil fuels.

Written by
Calin Van Paris

After months of steadily increasing, gas prices are finally trending down. According to the American Automobile Association, this week's national average was just over $4.40, a welcome figure compared to last month's cost of more than $5. The price point comes after a month of declining prices, which, in a year defined by inflation, seems a welcome development—even if the shift is driven by an increased supply of oil.

But the financial flux at the pump also raises a question: When it comes to gas, do we value our dollar more than the planet? It's a tough inquiry, a distillation of the sort of day-to-day evaluations we'll need to make if we want to make a true change around our environmental impact. But given that the transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, the choice is an urgent one.

High Gas Prices and the Environment

Though it may not be what anyone wants to hear, there is an environmental benefit to high prices at the pump. In fact, an increase in gas prices could be the most effective way to curb our dependence on fossil fuels: According to economists, a 43% price hike, from $3.50 to $5 a gallon, would likely cut gas consumption by about 16%. This would prevent around 175 million tons of CO2 from entering our atmosphere.

The caveat here is that, of course, Americans would need to reduce their use to put a real dent in emissions—the less fossil fuel we use, the less CO2 we produce, and the more money we have in our wallets. To alleviate inconvenience, the country's public transportation sector would need to step up its game; while ridership took a major hit due to the pandemic, the use of shared transport has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 45%.

Fortunately, companies are hard at work to create zero-emission alternatives to our oil dependence, taking the onus off of individuals by offering collective solutions.

Electric Vehicles (EVs)

While many technologies for reducing emissions are still too green (sorry!) for public use, others, like the electric vehicle (EV) industry, are on the rise. In June, the White House announced that private companies planned to invest $700 million to boost U.S. manufacturing capacity for electric vehicle (EV) chargers—this in addition to the bipartisan Infrastructure law that's slated to provide $7.5 billion.

President Joe Biden's goal to make half of all new vehicles sold electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid will of course require an influx of charging stations, and though there are still many variables involved, the IEA estimates that a shift toward EVs could save nearly two million barrels of oil per day.

TLDR: Next time you're at the pump, consider the cost of accepting the status quo—it's much higher than what you'll pay to fill your tank.