High Fuel Costs and "A New Rationalism"

It's fascinating to see how all the things we have ranted about for years become mainstream not because people want to save the planet, but because they need to save money. Some people promote environmentalism by making us afraid; others with pictures of stranded polar bears; Graham built TreeHugger to make it cool and aspirational. We can go on (and did) about McMansions and SUVs and even compact fluorescents, but when electricity costs double and fuel hits four bucks a gallon, the market quickly does what four years of green whining couldn't.

Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics, writes at Yahoo Finance " there are still a lot more shoes to drop as the result of high oil prices. We've only seen the first wave of behavioral changes. If gas prices stay high -- and I have every reason to believe they will -- then we can expect a series of other social changes that are less obvious and longer term.

He makes a series of suggestions for the "long run":
1. Dump the McMansion.
2. Firms might begin to make business location decisions based on the commuting costs of their workers.
3. If you add it all up, the next several decades will be relatively good for cities -- at least compared to the last half century.
4. There will be a huge "first mover's advantage" in alternative energy.

He concludes:

"There is some irony in all of this. "Smart growth" advocates have been calling for these kinds of policy changes for decades: More redevelopment in existing urban centers (as opposed to new "greenfield" sites far from existing infrastructure); higher-density housing around transit modes; more coordination between new housing and public transit; and so on. It's ironic that $4 gas will encourage all of those things for reasons that have nothing to do with altruism.

Of course, it's also true that if we'd implemented more of those policies in the past, such as more investments in public transit, then high gas prices wouldn't be biting us as much as they are now." ::Yahoo Finance