View From The Glen

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tip of the Iceburg

I've been concerned recently. Watching the price of oil going up. Even as the environmentalist in me welcomes the 40% price increases and thinks maybe a carbon tax will do what people seem unable to do of their own volition, as CFO of our household, I recognize that this will have an effect on our life come winter when we have no choice but to fill up the oil furnace. We're already noticing a difference as we fuel up to go to work, soccer, and the grocery store - I figure without changing any of our current habits, we'll spend an extra $4000 on oil/fuel this year (this includes two cars, two tanks of oil, and fuel for the tractor for hay/snowblowing), which is pretty significant.

What I find really frustrating though, are the smug commentators on various web sites. Ha ha, they gloat. Glad I don't heat with oil. Too bad, they say. You should change your behaviour. Drive less. Use Natural Gas. Turn down your heat. Move closer to work. Take public transport.

Must be nice to live in their ideal little world.

For the rest of us, we'll do what we can. Some people will modify their behaviour. They'll find ways to drive less and will wear extra sweaters in November, or they'll compensate by buying less commodity items, and this will have a slight - but positive effect - on the environment. Some people won't do anything at all - there is a definite group of consumers who have the money and feel they deserve to drive SUV's. Nothing will change that sort of conspicuous consumption.

The effect on us personally will be negligible. It will definitely mean less disposable income over the course of a year, but we already try to tread lightly. We keep the temperature moderate, minimize our use of electricity, grow our own food, are making energy efficient improvements to our century old farmhouse etc, so we won't be modifying our behaviour too much. The children will still be able to go to soccer, dance or Beavers because I think those things are important; I will still drive the 20 km to work and hit the grocery store on the way home.

But what happens, I wonder, to those who have no options? Those on fixed incomes who bundle up in sweaters not because of idealistic environmental concerns, but because they already find it a struggle to make ends meet? What effect will the price of oil have on families already feeling pinched? To whom that extra $400 to fill the tank with oil (and we do live in Canada - heat is not an option!) is not disposable income that might have been spent on a weekend away, but a month's worth of groceries.

We need to find ways to mitigate these issues. The increasing cost of oil will affect us all. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

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