The Problem of Less Driving

This year, oil prices in America rose to heights drivers had never seen. So they cut back on driving. But that reduction is now causing oil prices to fall back down, and many say drivers will soon revert to old habits.
November 30, 2008, 7am PST | Nate Berg
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"The good news is that gasoline consumption has fallen compared with a year earlier in every month from March through September of this year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Vehicle miles traveled -- the wonky term for how much we drive -- have dropped for 11 straight months, and fell 4.4% in September, according to the Department of Transportation."

"By jamming the brakes on driving, rediscovering mass transit and walking past Hummers to buy compact cars like the Honda Fit, American consumers caused big trouble for powerful interests. The question now is how will those interests respond?"

"The oil industry and oil-producing nations have an acute problem, because the combination of conservation and the worst world-wide economic slump in decades has once again made a mockery of recent projections that oil would remain expensive and scarce forever. As of late last week, oil prices had fallen below $50 a barrel -- compared with more than $140 a barrel this summer."

"The short term, however, looks like a re-run of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when oil doomsayers were trumped by supply and demand. When oil prices soared in that era, interest in electric cars, windmills, solar heating panels and other petroleum alternatives accelerated. When conservation and new oil discoveries caused oil prices to collapse, the economic justification for expensive, immature oil replacement technology collapsed as well, and it was a skip and a jump to the age of the SUV."

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Published on Monday, November 24, 2008 in The Wall Street Journal
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