Earlier this month, there was a report on NPR about how much we (Americans) have driven this year compared to last year. The result: due to increased gas prices, we have driven 30 billion miles less than last year so far. And use of public transportation is on the rise, maxing out in a lot of places. It took prices at $4 per gallon to force us to change our habits. And now, our public transportation system is at the edge of what it can handle.
It is unfortunate that we have little to no foresight. If, in the 90s, when the economy was booming and everyone was just a bit better off, we had just taxed gas a bit higher and invested all that money in public transportation development, we would be in very good shape today. Or, going back to the energy crisis of the 70s, if, after gas prices spiked and started to fall, if we had taxed gas somewhere between the high and the low, it wouldn’t have felt so hard and we would have 40 years of money to develop public transport.
But we never have any foresight. It is always about the here and now; our immediate future, not the long-term consequences of our actions; our personal self-interests rather than the interests of the “greater good”. I wonder if this is a consequence of our democratic system: politicians have to focus on 2, 4 or 6 year cycles, so they have to do things that have results on that kind of time scale. They can’t plan so easily for longer term results as that will have little impact on the next election cycle. Or maybe that is a consequence of us, the electorate. Maybe we can’t see past today, can’t see what we will need tomorrow and elect people who plan longer term. I don’t know. All I know for sure is that, with some foresight, we would be in a much better place today than we are.