It’s Feeling Like the 1970s Again at Gas Pumps and Grocery Stores

It’s Feeling Like the 1970s Again at Gas Pumps and Grocery Stores

As a proud member of Generation X, I have childhood memories of American life in the 1970s as it relates to energy.

There were long lines at gas stations as OPEC flexed its collective muscle. There was rationing at the gas pumps. (My colleagues Akshat Rathi and John Ainger wrote on Tuesday about calls at the time for Americans to conserve energy.)

There was inflation: I remember standing in line at the grocery store with my mom and the stress of needing to put items back when the cashier tallied the bill because we didn’t have enough money. We planted a vegetable garden in our suburban backyard.

Those days are on many Americans’ minds now, as geopolitics again roil world markets. Rethinking our energy policy is an urgent matter. What if we all vowed to use less energy — from oil, to gas, to electricity? Is it that hard to make meaningful choices in our daily lives — whether it’s avoiding single trips in a gas-powered car, or putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat?

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said the U.S. will ban imports of Russian fossil fuels, which accounted for about 8% of oil imports last year. He also announced plans to release 60 million barrels from America’s strategic petroleum reserves. What about getting a climate bill passed, as well as Build Back Better, which promised support for electric vehicles? Can we finally make the real shift away from fossil fuels that is so overdue?

Gas now costs over $4 a gallon on average nationwide, and it’s well over $5 a gallon here in California. Employers are urging more workers to return to the office, but driving and commuting — in the big SUVs and pickups Americans so love — can be prohibitively expensive because of what’s happening at the pump. For so many rural Americans and people who live far from existing public-transit lines — that’s typically where the housing is more affordable — long commutes by car aren’t optional. Housing, transportation, energy policy, climate change: it’s all related.

Rising gas prices will encourage more people who can afford one to consider an electric car. The Natural Resources Defense Council, a booster for the EV industry, published a blog post Tuesday appealing to Americans’ patriotism and pocketbooks: Fight Fascists and Save Money; Go Electric

But as higher gas prices make EVs more attractive, many models remain out of reach because of their price tags. And this may only become more of an issue, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent the price of raw materials including nickel, a key metal used in EV batteries, soaring to record highs. Energy costs also are rippling through already-stressed supply chains. Rivian raised prices, then backpedaled after backlash from customers. There are roughly 60 zero-emission vehicle models available in the U.S., but there are long wait lists for many of them.

I’ve always been frugal by nature and have tried to reduce my carbon footprint over the years. I’m fortunate to live close to public transit. On the days I commute to the office, I ride my bike to the local BART station to take the train. We’ve turned down the heat and are putting on sweaters more often. And it’s also time to plant the garden.

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