During the 1970s the Saudis led the OPEC group of nations as they massively increased oil prices in retaliation for European and American support for the Israelis. The USA responded by introducing a speed limit of 55 mph to reduce dependency on imported oil. This was ineffective.1 The reduction achieved was 2%, which can be achieved by maintaining optimum tyre pressure.2 The British government is currently (2021) interfering with the car market by subsidising electric vehicles to incentivise car purchase decisions. They think this will make a useful contribution in the reduction of greenhouse gases. The price mechanism’s brutal simplicity is more effective.
The Price Mechanism
Chris Rock satirised gun use in the USA.3 He said gun related killings would end immediately if bullets cost $5,000. As there are 37,000 gun-related deaths annually, this seems attractive.4 It isn’t. Many Americans worship the 2nd Amendment, notwithstanding the predictable annual slaughter. Gun ownership fans would rightly believe that $5,000 bullets are gun control by stealth. The consequence could be a quasi-civil war as they’re passionate about their ‘right to bear arms’.
Saving the entire world appears to be of a different order of importance to gun-related deaths in the USA. It isn’t. British people worship their entitled lifestyle. The short-termism of British public opinion can’t be over-estimated. Damaging the right to car ownership and affordable petrol would be political suicide.
Britain’s climate emergency response needs a quick, temporary solution before substantive change begins. Increasing the cost of petrol to £105 a litre would create a stampede for viable substitutes. The obvious and immediate inflationary pressures are reducible with targeted uses of the tax system.6 Removing non-essential vehicles from British roads recognizes that they are, cumulatively, destructive of the climate. Non-essential motoring is toxic. Ending it is a clear benefit.
A price shock of this magnitude demands accelerated innovation on a scale usually associated with war (see Addendum One).7 Short car journeys, such as shopping trips, school runs and casual trips would disappear. They’d be replaced by car-sharing,8 alongside a big increase in substitutes like walking, cycling, motor-cycles, public transport and working from home.9
Increasing the cost of petrol to £10 a litre wouldn’t be disastrous (see Addendum Two). There’d be losers and they’d scream, but if the climate emergency is as catastrophic as claimed it’s a small price to pay.
Chris Rock is a genius and his stand-up is wonderful. He provides profound insights into dealing with intractable challenges. Intractable challenges can only be met with decisive action. No solution has a, ‘everything is different, but nothing changes’ outcome. Politicians avoid disturbing the status quo and as Greta Thunberg accurately says the result is, Blah, Blah, Blah.10 The climate emergency is a challenge which requires urgent action because there’s no solution which is win-win. A quick fix using petrol costs provides a route to a different mindset and a platform for more decisive action. The immortal phrase, ‘No pain, no gain’ sums up the necessity of a short sharp shock to drive the transformation to a sustainable environment.
Addendum One: innovation
- The miniturisation of batteries to reduce the weight of them and increase range to approximately 700 miles.
- Convert petrol stations into dual purpose petrol/electric facilities with super-chargers as standard so that a full charge could be achieved in five minutes.
Addendum Two: Car Ownership over time
1 National Maximum Speed Law – Wikipedia see also Ford Focus Petrol Engines: A Guide To Fuel Consumption (tch.co.uk) For geeks try this Optimal Car Average Speed For Minimum Fuel Consumption – My Engineering World The figures suggest a 16.76% reduction in fuel use when restricting cruising speeds to the range 34-50 mph. Fuel consumption in urban settings is poor and can only be reduced by not using cars at all. The 16.67% saving assumes a cruising speed of 75 mph which is illegal in Britain (though not unheard of). For Britain see • Average speed on motorways in the UK, 2014 | Statista
3 Chris Rock – Gun Control – YouTube Assassins This is about 5 minutes long and very amusing
4 gun related deaths in USA – Bing About 13,000 of which are suicides.
5 A US gallon that would cost about $50. British fuel duty has been frozen for 12 years to ‘protect’ the motorist Autumn Budget 2021: fuel duty to remain frozen – Which? News Inflation 2010-21 is 15.68%. Egalitarians would probably complain that the rich could continue to use their cars as they could afford the new prices. Once electric vehicles became normalised they make the switch like everyone else.
7 Wartime Germany was very innovative and developed techniques for dealing with the blockade they especially protected the diet of their soldiers WWII: German Rations and Feeding the Troops of the Third Reich (warfarehistorynetwork.com)