Monday, April 03, 2006

GASOLINE PRICES ARE GOING UP AGAIN, and Americans are cutting down on nonessential car use, buying older cars instead of new, eschewing the Sherman tank-sized SUVs for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, and resisting the temptation to move into custom-built mansions on acres of land out in the country, because they don't want to increase their dependence on their car. As usual, wealthier Americans are more than willing to sacrifice some of their fancy toys and luxurious lifestyles -- to help make their country less dependent on foreign oil, certainly; but also to send a message to young men and women who are fighting and dying in foreign countries that if they can risk their lives for us, we can give up some of our stuff, too -- knowing that no matter how much we sacrifice, it will never be even one-tenth of what they and their families sacrifice.

Okay, dear readers, that was your nightly fairy tale.

Now, here's the real story.

High gasoline prices have had only a modest impact on the driving habits of American motorists, who have done relatively little to moderate their gasoline consumption. Ever since oil prices soared last September after Hurricane Katrina, gasoline consumption has been within 1.5 percent of the previous year -- some months lower, some months higher, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Gasoline deliveries in January, barely lower than a year earlier, ran 13.3 percent higher than January 1999, when crude oil prices were a fraction of current levels.

"People are wealthier, they've been enticed into buying homes further from work, and the auto industry has been enticing them into buying very inefficient vehicles," said Philip K. Verleger, an oil consultant. He estimates that it takes a 20 percent increase in price to trim consumption by 1 percent today while a 10 percent price increase in the 1970s would have an identical effect.

Nonetheless, angry motorists are already sending e-mails to AAA complaining about the higher prices. One accused local gasoline stations of "price gouging" and claimed prices go up twice a day at some places.

Night night, everyone. Sleep tight.

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