Art by Wallie Butler

High gas prices actually have their benefits

The average regular unleaded gas price in California hit a record high at $5.917 a gallon this Monday. In the last month, national average gas prices have risen more than 80 cents per gallon. Very few people are happy. As for why the increase has been so drastic, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a prime suspect.

Because of sanctions from the Russo-Ukraine war, crude oil prices have risen significantly. In the U.S., about 56% of the expenses of gas stations are from crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and thus gasoline prices have spiked.

President Joe Biden’s fluctuating approval rating is inversely correlated almost precisely with the price of gas, according to the think tank Data for Progress. However, many people ignore the positive side effects of this increase.

When driving by a gas pump in the last few weeks, the price may have alarmed you enough to consider driving slightly less. Why? To save on gas. If that’s true, you aren’t the only one. Survey data from AAA in February found 59% of Americans said they would change their driving habits if gas prices reached $4 a gallon. Obviously, prices in California have been over $4 for quite some time, but the sentiment is consistent: gas prices are at a level where Americans are being forced to change their behavior.

So, as gas prices skyrocket, maybe you’re seriously considering buying an electric car or making an effort to bike more. Maybe you’re carpooling or walking to school. Whatever you’re doing, it almost definitely means using less gas, which means less carbon emissions.

The bottom line is this — one of the best ways to change people’s behavior is to make their current lifestyles expensive. Putin already did his part, but it’s very possible gas prices will go down eventually. In response, the US government should make an effort to keep gas prices at around $6 a gallon by imposing higher taxes at the pump.

This is a perfect opportunity for the government to take climate action by shifting the way Americans use transportation. The revenue generated from the higher taxes should be used to improve roadway infrastructure, expand public transportation, and subsidize clean energy to make options like electric vehicles and solar power more affordable.

One caveat to this plan is the effect high gas prices will have on lower-income Americans who need to use a car for work and everyday life. Changing your lifestyle isn’t too consequential if you have the means to do so, but those who don’t are left out. The best solution to this problem is to exempt some people from the tax, either directly or through vouchers, which will still create funding for climate initiatives.

Even though high gas prices are inconvenient, the actual cost of gas is much higher, coming at the price of our planet. Without bold climate initiatives, we’re going to have to pay that price, whether we like it or not.