Since the beginning of the millennium, drivers across the country have felt the pain of increasing gas prices. In July 2008, they were hit especially hard when the national average price was the highest ever recorded, spiking at $4.11 per gallon. From 2006 to 2008, prices rarely dipped below $3 per gallon, which may have been a sting at the pump but correlating greenhouse gas emissions began to drop and interest was renewed in oil independence and fuel efficient cars, especially electrics and hybrids. At the same time, awareness about global climate change was hitting new levels, especially with the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. We were in the midst of what could have been a revolution in the way we live, travel and impact our planet. But what we couldn’t see was the recession, which demanded that any environmental progress take a backseat to the economy.
Flash-forward to today: The economy is stabilizing — 321,000 jobs were added in November, wages are rising — and gas prices are dropping. Fast. The national average just hit $2.63 per gallon — this comes after years of prices between $3 and $4 a gallon. Consumers are feeling more comfortable about spending money, about getting back to life before the recession. And with that, we are seeing less concern over fuel efficiency to save money and many adhering to the mantra of the environment taking a back seat. For November, large trucks and sport utility vehicles saw a spike in sales. For instance, Cadillac Escalade sales increased 91 percent and Lincoln Navigator sales went up 88 percent. On the other side of the lot, sales of economy cars, like the Ford Fiesta, dropped 26 percent last month and hybrid sales fell 14 percent, according to a Bloomberg report and Autodata. Apparently, we as a country haven’t quite grasped the cyclical nature of, really, everything.
With everything coming up roses, we have decided to drown out the reality of the impacts we have on our planet with the emission of greenhouse gases. The societal consciousness has rationalized events like Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast, the polar vortex hitting the northern states and lethal heat waves across the planet as just natural, with no correlation between human activity and these devastating environmental phenomena — though scientists worldwide have stated just the opposite. As long as we have our big cars, decent jobs and low gas prices, we have no reason to care about our planet. Perhaps, when gas prices shoot up again, we will reevaluate our position on gas guzzling, greenhouse-gas emitters, aka large vehicles; and hopefully, in turn, we will also start caring again about how we damage our planet. Philosopher George Santayana said it best: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.