Last week, Governor Rowland announced his plan to lower gasoline taxes, cut back on commuter rail service, and increase the cost of riding buses. Although the gas tax decrease may be popular with folks who care only about the bottom line, anyone who looks at the big picture must be appalled.
Here in Connecticut, gasoline costs a little more than it does in neighboring states, but it's still dirt cheap compared to most of the rest of the world. It's also dirt cheap compared to the costs of the tax subsidies it requires and the environmental and social degradation it produces. We taxpayers still pay more to defend the Persian Gulf than the oil companies spend to buy oil there. Gasoline's low, subsidized price here has allowed automobiles to conquer the landscape. Elegant old buildings in cities are torn down to make room for even more municipal parking lots and garages. The beautiful, productive farms and forests of Connecticut continue to disappear under the resource-greedy, expensive suburban sprawl encouraged by automobiles.
Think about the negative impacts that I-95 has had on Connecticut's wonderful coastal cities, now divided by an endlessly noisy, noxious wall of movement.
And this is just the local picture. There is a growing concern about how long the world's supply of fossil oil will last, especially as global demand keeps increasing. There is little dispute that the politically complex and volatile Middle East will control an increasing share of world oil reserves. And there is a very real question about how much of the carbon in that oil we can release as carbon dioxide from our exhaust pipes before we create dramatic changes in our climate. Indications are that those changes will not be good for human beings. The economic losses from weather-related natural disasters in just the first half of the 1990s were twice what they were for all of the 1980s.
However, there is a more human dimension to this move toward increased reliance upon and subsidies for cars and the decreased availability of public transportation. Cars are fairly easy to deal with if you're well-off, mature, married and live in the suburbs. Just buy a new car with the latest in air bags, child safety seats and nearly all the comforts of home. Outside of the cities, insurance rates and car taxes are low. In contrast, for many citizens, society's dependence on cars is a problem. In addition to the poor and disabled, our children and our parents often have great difficulty getting around in an increasingly car-dependent society.
Over one quarter of a million cars and trucks were made in the U. S. last week- slightly more than the week before. That's about a million new vehicles rolling off the assembly line every month. It's hard to imagine needing more cars when the roads are already clogged, the automotive dealers have stock which reach as far as the eye can see, and car junk yards still cover the land.
The proposed gas-tax decrease means a savings of about one penny for every four miles driven. The total cost of owning and operating a car for those four miles runs between one and two dollars.
A visionary governor might suggest a large increase rather than a decrease in the gasoline tax in order to clean up our air and to protect our future. The new revenue could be used to create a Connecticut that is more "transportation-friendly" to disadvantaged groups- a place where teenagers can get to work and senior citizens can get to stores and doctors using affordable, mass transportation.
A visionary governor might propose more "bicycle-friendly" road and mass-transit policies. He or she could begin to build a light rail system.
Personally, we have many effective options for reducing our gasoline expenses. We can drive less, carpool more, work and play at home, move closer to work, buy a more efficient car, walk or ride a bicycle. In Europe, people share car ownership.
Are we all so addicted to oil that we're willing to encourage air pollution, future climate change and destruction of both cities and the countryside in order to save ourselves one penny every four miles? Are times really so tough for people in the world's wealthiest country, with the lowest gasoline prices?
Think about it!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.