moving up in some way or another

June 13, 2008

I recall doing an activity in one of my Uganda Studies Program classes where the prof had us move to different areas of a small hut (labeled “yes,” “no,” and “i just don’t know”) based on our responses to certain issues and questions. One question of debate sticks in my head rather clearly: “If you could raise the cost of gasoline to $7.00 per gallon, would you do it?” I cringed at the thought of such a high gas price and waltzed over to the “no” section, wondering how anyone could answer with a different response. As I glanced over to discover a sizable handful of students in my class who had situated themselves in the “yes” section, I wondered what on earth they were thinking. $7 per gallon would rule out traveling and transportation for a whole lot of people.

While my closed-minded response was focused on the immediate detrimental effects such a change would have, the “yes”ers had their eyes glued to the long-term benefits of such an event: $7 would force our country to improve and widen the use of public transportation; $7 would speed up technology development for more sustainable and environmentally-friendly fuels; $7 would increase the need for simplicity and community within people’s lives. As I listened to the argument of the pro-price-hikers and realized that my inclination against the gas price raise was based mostly on my selfish motives of maintaining the lifestyle I have without increased expenses, I begin to slide hesitantly toward the “I just don’t know” section.

Now that gas prices have received half of the price jump that we once only discussed, I find myself wondering if my same classmates who once enthusiastically supported the hypothetical price increase are as supportive of it as they once were. Because although I now have less of a desire to drive places because of the sound of depleting dollars that increases with the pressure my foot places on the gas pedal, the RTA busride that would take me at least three times as long to get to my job (with much backtracking) seems unrealistic compared to the 15-minute drive-myself-to-work over the extremely hilly route that would make for an absolutely excruciating bike ride.

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s most recent Friday! Magazine issue, “Minister of Culture” Michael Heaton offers the all-too-obvious headline “Gas price crisis hits close to home,” a short piece in which he absolves himself of his past sins of dismissing high gas prices as no big deal. Although he once wrote of how the gas craze was way overblown and would probably return to lower prices soon anyways, he received a large amount of critical responses from people who need to drive vehicles for a living and even from people covcerned with its negative effect within the entertainment industry (i.e. concert tour cutbacks for the struggling artist). Heaton goes on to promote the “staycation” where one can dream of distant locations but must find ways to remain content spending days off from work relaxing at local hangouts.

Perhaps there is something to this staycation idea that involves encountering contentment without the overbearing need to travel to far distances filled with strangers in exotic locations to find enjoyment. In the most recent issue of the Mennonite Weekly Review, there’s a short editorial entitled “Reducing oil use, building community.” It discusses the sad truth that we have been unable to see the conservation of gas as something valuable until it began to feast on our funds. It acknowledges that we must make commitments to live in more fuel-conscious ways based on the way that scrimmages for cheap fuel have caused fighting in foreign countries and the negative effects the high price of oil has on the poor of society. Endorsing a turn to local efforts to combat the need to use so much gasoline, Celeste Kennel-Shank writes, “What we sacrifice in convenience, we gain in community.”

But how does this work? I’m doing my best right now to get by as long as possible without owning a car. This has resulted in my need to depend on others for transportation, something that our society often (even if subconsciously) looks down on because it displays a lack of independence and self-sufficiency. But I have recently become comfortable with my choice to get a job near where both of my parents work so that we can carpool to work. It often takes frustrating amounts of flexibility to depend on others for rides or to borrow the cars of incredibly generous friends and family members, but I’m coming around to like the attitude it creates in me when I have to work around other people’s schedules so I can ride places on their time rather than mine. It acts as my feeble attempt to create a spirit of community within myself.

Although, like my initial response to the gas price issue, our inclination is to think of ways that we can use less gas in order to best benefit ourselves, it seems that we would do better to turn our attention to focus on the positive environmental and communal effects of limiting gas usage rather than think of our own bank accounts.

This telling secret was posted on the Postsecret blog a while ago:

Someone\'s secret from the Postsecret blog

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