How ‘bout them gas prices?
The record-high cost of putting fuel in your vehicle has replaced the weather as a common touchpoint in conversation between acquaintances. “Have you seen those gas prices?” “Why yes I have, they’re outrageous!” This may not be how actual humans communicate, but you get the idea.
This has been an interesting week in terms of the local, national, and international implications of this world we’ve created, the one built on the idea that everyone can, and should, drive their own personal automobile everywhere. Have we finally reached the outer limit how far this elastic can stretch before it snaps back?
I doubt it.
Consider the lines that we sometimes fail to draw in the media. Yes, gas prices are up, and yes, some of that has to do with certain geopolitical conditions, but oil companies also made nearly $100 billion in profits for the first quarter for 2022.
But the blame does not end up at the feet of the oil companies, it ends up at the feet of government. The Ontario government will start shaving a nickel from the gas tax in a couple of weeks, and you know where that hits the most? Transit funding. If there’s a hope to get more cars off the road, it’s creating more transit, but we’re cutting an important source of funding in the name of slightly cheaper gas.
Also, note the quiet tax we all pay when it comes to oil and gas. Depending on who you ask, Canadians collectively pay somewhere between $4.5 billion and $81 billion in public subsidies to these businesses, and the fact that we don’t know for certain of that exact amount is just further proof that we are not the masters of our universe in the way that we think we are.
And that may be why we don’t think about the real cost of cheap gas: Climate change. I’m writing this during a two-day heatwave here in Guelph, but in the United States this week over 150 million people have been experiencing extreme heat events, and then on Tuesday flooding forced the evacuation of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. All 9,000 square kilometres of it.
Since transportation is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas, the accumulation of which is creating once in a century weather events four times a year now, our desire to drive is literally killing us. Complaining about the price of gas at this point is like complaining about the cost of a pack of cigarettes when you have stage four lung cancer.
In terms of the local picture this week, the City of Guelph announced that free two-hour parking now applies to spaces in the Macdonell Street lot in addition to all on-street spaces. You know, just like a city that constantly touts its environmental credentials would do.
Also announced this week was a conversation with Brent Toderian, who is heralded as an internationally respected practitioner and thought-leader on cities and city-building. I’m looking forward to it as a reminder of the City’s Jekyll and Hyde faculties, where we talk broadly about ideas like building density and getting rid of cars knowing full well that these ideas will die a slow and painful death at city hall.
I eagerly await the day that our aspirations are matched by action, but we live in a city so green that the website for the Downtown Guelph Business Association doesn’t even acknowledge Guelph Central Station as the place where most local transit bus routes begin and end.
That green hue in the face of your average Guelphite is not a commitment to environmental sustainability, they’re actually getting sick about the idea that they might have to take a city bus.
Guelph Transit, as you know, is for students, seniors who can’t drive anymore, and the poor. A Guelph citizen worth their admission fee obviously drives their own automobile, or else rides their bike once a week in a show of environmental flare. “See, look at me, I’m riding my bike! I’m an environmentalist!”
But life got rougher for cyclists this week, at least it did for cyclists in Toronto who have seen their beloved ActiveTO cut way back to special event status only. Despite having the support of the mayor, the program could not stand against the complaints of drivers, including the head of the Toronto Blue Jays, who’s team plays in a stadium right next door to the biggest transit terminal in the county.
So who’s responsible for all this? Who makes cars the primary (only) consideration for roads? Who refuses to make local transit more viable? Who complains bitterly about paying the high price of gas and lets oil companies gouge them every time they fill up at the pump? And who does all of this at the expense of an environment on the precipice of collapse?
You do. That’s all, that’s the answer. Until you decide that you’re not going to play this game of boom-and-bust gas prices, congested roads, crappy public transit options, and environmental destruction, finding solutions to all that doesn’t matter.