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 a professor and science journalist who teaches at Boston University. She is the author most recently of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. More

Atlantic contributing editor Ellen Ruppel Shell teaches at Boston University, where she co-directs the Graduate Program in Science Journalism. She writes on science, medicine, the media, economics, and sometimes even sports and the arts, and tends to focus on the underlying cultural and societal implications. She is the author most recently of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.
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