Cheap Spills

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The New York Times reports that "overwhelmingly, Americans think the nation needs a fundamental overhaul of its energy policies, and most expect alternative forms to replace oil as a major source within 25 years. Yet a majority are unwilling to pay higher gasoline prices to help develop new fuel sources."

My friend Boston University economist Cutler Cleveland points out that our so-called "concern" with energy policy rings hollow given these astonishing facts:

• The percentage of people who commute alone in car: 25% increase
• The number of miles driven per car: 23% increase
• The percentage of households with three or more cars: 65% increase
• The miles driven per household: 50% increase
• The average size of household: 17% decrease.

And now, with nightly news of an increasingly imperiled coastline, we're willing to do almost anything to prevent a repeat of the BP oil fiasco -- anything, it seems, but pay more at the pump. Profligate fossil fuel consumption is not an addiction, it's a bad habit enabled by low price. Cheap fuel has become an American entitlement, but it's time to stop pretending it's embedded in our societal DNA.

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Ellen Ruppel Shell is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Journalism at Boston University. She is the author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.

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