Accompanying the plunging price of oil has been a sharp decline in gas prices—something that won’t come as news to most Americans who have been happy filling up at the pump for less these last few months. But as the Hill reports, many Americans seem to be taking this as an opportunity not to save on gas money, but to go back to gas-guzzling ways by purchasing less fuel-efficient vehicles:
In 2014, truck and SUV sales surged, outpacing smaller, traditional cars in the U.S., in part due to plummeting gas prices.
President Obama, who has pushed through a series of more stringent fuel efficiency standards, issued a predictable warning against this kind of backsliding:
“I would strongly advise American consumers to continue to think about how you save money at the pump because it is good for the environment, it’s good for family pocketbooks and if you go back to old habits and suddenly gas is back at $3.50, you are going to not be real happy,” Obama said.
We certainly wouldn’t deign to tell people one way or another what kind of cars they ought to be buying, though it’s hard to see lower gas prices as anything other than a boon for the average American driver. But if we scratch the surface of this issue, there’s a deeper truth about environmental policymaking to be gleaned.
Americans have been streamlining the cars they drive in recent years, something many greens credit to the President’s eco-friendly fuel efficiency standards, but the fact that SUV sales are surging the moment gas prices begin to ebb tells us something important. Consumers weren’t necessarily buying hybrids and high-mileage vehicles out of some love for Gaia (or, for that matter, the President), but rather because of tangible and readily apparent economic pressure. As that pressure eases, buying habits are changing. When lawmakers sit down to strategize about the next great green policy, they’d do well to remember that economic demands are far more persuasive than appeals to environmental ideals.