Yesterday was a “no gas” challenge issued by one Sarah Thompson on Facebook. I dutifully signed up to participate, always being one to pick up pennies and try to make a difference in any small way. The challenge was to BUY no gas on Thursday, March 31, and if possible avoid driving altogether, a protest measure against the rising prices at the pump and the accompanying corporate greed. Thankfully, Ms. Thompson also encouraged participants to find other ways to support mom and pop stores that day, along with encouraging an ongoing effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Evidently, 1,799,757 people signed up for the event. A range of comments from supportive to cynical continue to be posted.
So what happened? Well, for one thing oil prices jumped today. Imagine that! The issue is, of course, a complex one that cannot be solved by one day’s token protest, and today’s spike is certainly not even remotely related to yesterday’s action. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Ms. Thompson’s efforts to do something and to raise awareness of the issue and get more people thinking and involved in trying to change.
How long does it take to effect change, to form a new habit? Most research suggests 21-28 days, although a recent study by the UK Health Behaviour Research Centre suggests 66 days are needed. I wonder if 66 days is enough to even make a dent in American oil consumption habits, much less bring about substantial, lasting change.
Think about it. We are used to hopping in our cars and going where we please. Need to go to the grocery. No problem! Oops…forget that milk. Back we go. Oh, my goodness; I need to go to ABC Big Box store to save 25 cents on shampoo. Never mind that it takes half a gallon of gas to get there. Don’t forget to go five miles out of your way to stop at the video store for the newest release. Why wait for Netflix when you can have it NOW! It’s sort of like buying a flex fuel Escalade to help save the planet. Having that cool little logo on the back of your SUV even enables you to snag a prime parking place at Whole Foods.
A recent piece in Mother Jones Magazine questions whether the rise of fuel-efficient cars is contributing to greater emissions and more fuel consumption. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I know when I traded my hulking GMC Yukon (great for North Dakota winters) for a Chevy Malibu and later a Toyota Corolla, the fuel savings were substantial. With each trade, however, I found myself trying to drive less, combine trips more often, and drive more efficiently. This year our family even downsized to one car, keeping the Corolla and selling the Malibu. If I could figure out a realistic way to do it, I would go carless.
So what did I do yesterday? I stayed put and worked from home. Thanks to high speed DSL and my cell phone, I was able to work, avoid purchasing and using gas, and even take a long walk with the dog. Sure it would have been nice to go to the grocery store, but seven miles round trip on foot would have taken a considerable chunk of time, and we did just fine without purchasing anything at all.
What’s the biggest point I took away from yesterday’s little exercise? We are a spoiled nation used to cheap gas, food, and clothing. We have far too many options and choices, and we take our bounty for granted. We want it all and then some no matter who has to pay (as long as it isn’t us). Come on America. Get out your walking shoes, tune up those bicycles, and find a new normal. Just think, that extra fitness will also help you save on heath care costs and become more fit. What have you got to lose except a few extra pounds?