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Gas prices: how much is too much?

Moving away from fossil fuels protects us against future volatility
Gas prices have jumped after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. How much are people willing to pay before they look to alternatives? THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

I have a question: on a personal level, at what point does it make more financial sense to move away from fossil fuels?

Prices right now are bonkers. As of this writing, gas in Campbell River costs just under $2 per litre, and costs even more further south on Vancouver Island. Yet I look out my office window and still see hundreds of cars drive by every day.

So my question: how much are we willing to pay for gas? When do we start looking at alternatives? Is it at $2.50? $3? $5?

I get it, some of us need to drive. Like me, people may work too far away to be able to bike to work, or they have to deliver something, or go visit clients, or just have to get groceries. For those people who can do things like bike/walk to work, or take public transit, or car pool, what’s stopping you?

I would love to bike to work. If I lived anywhere within 20 km of the office, I‘d do it in a heartbeat. Back in my university days, I would go for months without driving. I had to install a kill-switch on my car battery so it wouldn’t actually run dry keeping a small LED lit up on my dashboard. It was great, my transportation budget was effectively zero, since long bike rides are fun for me and I had a transit pass through school.

Now I’m on track to spend a quarter of my monthly income just to get to work.

I have a very fuel efficient vehicle. That being said, right now it costs about 100 bucks to fill up. I can’t imagine what that cost is for people with bigger vehicles, or vehicles that take higher octane gas.

Now looking at the other side of things. A quick Google search shows me that the cheapest new electric vehicle in Canada costs roughly $40,000. Based on some back-of-the-napkin calculations, my car payments would be just a bit more than what I’m currently paying for gas. That’s not including the increased hydro bill for charging at home, but there are a few free chargers in Campbell River that I could use as well. Now my chicken scratch math is not super reliable, and I am most likely not taking something into account, but those numbers seem like it’s almost doable at this point and something I am going to think about very seriously.

However, I don’t think just buying another “thing” is the answer. It will help for sure, since gas prices are likely going to continue to rise. The main factor in that is the global oil supply, which is greatly affected by things like Russia invading Ukraine and all the economic fall out that comes with that. I think we need to make a bigger shift and look at other ways of moving around so that we can insulate ourselves even further against volatility.

We can’t just buy our way out of this problem. Buying more makes us rely more on an increasingly-chaotic global market. Besides, it leaves people who cannot afford new shiny electric vehicles behind. Slowing down, staying closer to home and using the tools we already have — buses, bikes, walking, carpooling — is cheap, resilient and something we can do right now.

I like to imagine a future where we are not reliant on just one commodity, where a war in one country can’t influence the cost of things like hydroelectric power. I like to imagine being able to walk most places, bike places that are a bit further away and then take the bus to get to the far reaches of communities. From there, we should be able to take our electric vehicles (or high speed commuter trains: yet another topic for another day) for inter-community travel. It is totally possible, and is starting to make a lot more sense than what we’re doing now.

So what’s stopping us?

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