Hardy to Zone 6

How To Cut Your Gasoline Costs

The best way to manage the increasing cost of gas, in an age when the demand for gas is clearly beginning to outstrip the supply, is to use less of it.

By Jason Allen
Published May 16, 2011

As gas prices shoot through the stratosphere in a highly predictable pattern of price increases, followed by demand destruction, followed by price increases, the number of ‘how to save on gas’ articles online and in the newspapers has gone almost as high as the price at the pumps.

I would be remiss in my duties as a blogger, if I did not offer my three, fool-proof, iron-clad-guaranteed ways to reduce your weekly gasoline bill:

1. Ride your bike more.
2. Walk more.
3. Take public transit more.

Which leads me to a fabulous series of posts by John Michael Greer, who for the last four weeks has been systematically dismantling the credibility of the environmental/peak oil movement, and laying the blame for the mess we are in squarely at the feet of those who deserve it the most: Us.

In the end, he insists, there is simply going to be no form of energy that will be cheap, easy, and accessible enough to allow us as a society to go on consuming what we do now.

The only choice is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and all that they provide. He calls it ‘making do with L.E.S.S.’ – Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation.

James Howard Kunstler likes to say that “suburbia is an arrangement without a future.” If Greer is anywhere close to hitting the mark (and his posts – as are those of most writers in the Peak Oil blogosphere – are getting increasingly dark recently) it’s not just suburbia that’s unsustainable, but much of the way of life we take for granted.

So what’s a city to do?

How do we go about using L.E.S.S. as a city, as communities, and at the basic level of hardiness, as households.

Unfortunately, for many of us, we won’t have a choice. The price of gas is getting dangerously close to triggering another round of layoffs and downsizing, assuming you’ve found a job after the last round. My bellweather – the Phones, PDAs, Ipods section on Kijiji is displaying its telltale sign of economic hardship: A steep rise in the number of people pleading with strangers to take over the ball-and-chain cell phone plans they signed up for when times were better.

And for those of us who are still gainfully employed for the time being?

Well, regular readers will know that I just moved about 8 blocks from Strathcona to Kirkendall. In the process, we lost about 2/3s of the built in storage that we very much took for granted in our old house.

Our first stop? Ikea of course, which set off a small binge of consumption, where for me the simplest solution to every problem was to go out and buy what I needed to fix it.

Fortunately, my wife brought me up short last weekend, when she proposed a very simple workaround for a problem that I had thought was only fixable at Canadian Tire. I had been so caught up in the ease, the speed, and frankly the dopamine hit of the constant trips to the store, that I had lost sight of the much better ways of handling these very manageable situations.

Since then, we have resumed our pledge to only buy large items second hand or locally made, and have set about figuring out workarounds to the numerous challenges presented by moving in to a new home with a much different configuration than you are used to.

I guess my point is, that even for those of us who are committed to consuming less, and making do with less, and growing our own food, and taking public transit and so on; it is embarrassingly easy to get caught up in the consumer solution.

To paraphrase one of my favourite sayings, if your only tool is a debit card, eventually every problem starts to look like a big-box store.

In the end, the conscious choices we make every day make a huge difference in reducing our dependence on a steady supply of oil, food, injection molded plastic and particle board from far away.

But it’s the unconscious choices we make – the spending without thinking – that are going to be the things stand the most risk of sinking us in the end. And it’s the dependence on this unconscious spending-as-solution that will cause us the most psychological grief should our main identity in society – that of consumer – suddenly become lost to us as a lifestyle option.

To bring it all back to my original point, the best way to manage the increasing cost of gas, in an age when the demand for gas is clearly beginning to outstrip the supply, is to use less of it. Use less of it to drive, less of it to transport your food to where you buy it from, use less of it to transport your iPad from China, and less of it to manufacture the plastic and particle board solutions that we so very easily take for granted.

Use less of it by participating less in the global throw-away economy, and more in the locally sourced, or re-use economy, keeping more of the money here in town, spread out among people and businesses you may well need to rely on heavily before too long.

If we voluntarily simplify our lives now, then should the price of gas cause a major economic disruption in the near future (I’m thinking by Thanksgiving at the latest), the combination of reducing our ‘needs’ and strengthening the local economy will mean that the impact to our households, communities, and city will be far easier to bear.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2011 at 11:56:42

Simplest way to make people start thinking about reducing their gas usage? A little RF communication here between gas-stations and cars, a little twiddling with the odometer, and poof:

a per-trip pricetag displayed on the dashboard. That's my dream: you pull out the key and you find out how much that trip to Wal*Mart just cost you and whether the savings were really savings or the vendor just downloaded their shipping costs to you.

edit: don't write wal-mart with the asterisk. It confuses markdown.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2011-05-16 11:57:33

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By JonD (registered) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 12:29:27

Here's an interesting related article. I've never been to Winnipeg but we seem to have a lot in common with them... other than they no longer have a city council still fast asleep and dreaming of the 70's. Aerotropolis is on track????


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By gopher (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 16:54:07

I don't think Greer was "systematically dismantling the credibility of the environmental/peak oil movement". Quite the opposite, he has confirmed everything we have been saying for the last 40 years. Just because now more people can see that it's all "our" fault doesn't contradict the environmental movement at all... its what we've been saying all along. Who else do you think we've been blaming? The Russians? And peak oil is as real to Greer as it has ever been... why are you trying to spin his work?

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2011 at 22:11:15 in reply to Comment 63580

You are correct, in one way, that Greer has been confirming everything that the Peak Oil movement has been saying for decades - the spearing I refer to is his calling out the people who speak loudly about the perils of peak oil and environmental catastrophe, and then whose lifestyles in no way reflect that reality. People in the peak oil/environmental movement have been blaming 'consumerist culture' as the cause of all of our problems - while for the most part wholeheartedly participating in that culture - which the whole point of my essay was - is kind of an easy mistake to make.

In other words, what I meant by 'dismantling their credibility' was not that he was saying they were wrong, but that they were hypocrites. And yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but there are lots of adherents as well.

Comment edited by JasonAAllen on 2011-05-16 22:14:10

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 19:20:29

I think it's important to clarify how we use cars rather than just limit the discussion to more public transit, cycling, walking - all good things of course.

But in the spirit of a book called 'factor four': http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=849

Compare a single occupancy vehicle with one carpooling 4 people or a family of 4. Once you get to this level, you're looking at around 150 passenger miles per gallon. Better than air, and approaching that of buses, rail (and more flexible), walking and cycling.


So I'm advocating carpooling as one of the first things to do, especially in less urban settings. One extra person to halving fuel consumption is an impressive marginal gain.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2011 at 22:12:21 in reply to Comment 63590

I agree completely - there are even resources like www.carpoolzone.ca to help facilitate employers who would like to encourage carpooling. Great idea!

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2011 at 19:23:54

if you have to commute on the highway, drive the speed limit in the slow lane. makes a huge difference.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2011 at 13:13:20 in reply to Comment 63591

Speed limits are an amazing way to conserve fuel. I have to commute to another city. Even in my little Honda Civic there is a very noticeable difference between the speed limit and rush rush.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2011 at 00:15:58

Paid $1.306 at the pump today, and it felt like a bargain. Heard that up by the 401 it was going for $1.40.

I'm really liking Greer's blog so far, but I must disagree with the notion that "it's all our fault". The choices we make aren't free - they're coerced, and that coercion is extremely well documented. From military dictatorships like Suharto which lay the groundwork for the resource extraction needed to the billion spent "inducing consumer demand" in the First World. Far too much of the environmental movement is caught up blaming people for consuming in ways that only alienate it. That way, they don't anger their corporate sponsors, they get lots of friendly media play and can resort to blaming "people" when they fail to have an effect.

We, the people, can, should, and must be the engine of change. But not because we feel guilty, but because we're really fracking angry.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2011 at 21:55:08

>> in an age when the demand for gas is clearly beginning to outstrip the supply, is to use less of it.

Gas/oil prices aren't high because we're running out of oil/gas, it's because we're printing too much money.

Look at home prices, since 1999 the average home price in Canada has gone from $150k to $375k, a jump of 150%...


Current gas prices are around $1.32/litre. In 1999, they were 50 cents a litre. That's a jump of 164%.

Is Canada running out of land to build homes? No. Yet the price of homes has increased at a rate 7.9% a year. In contrast, from 1989 to 1999, the average home price remained flat at $150k. Curiously enough, in that time period, the price of gold remained around $450 Canadian dollars.

If the Bank of Canada did nothing but return the value of Canadian dollar/gold ratio to 1999 levels, which was around $450/ounce, compared to the current $1,442/ounce, gas prices would fall from the current $1.32 a litre to 41.2 cents a litre.

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By Greg (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2011 at 18:38:26 in reply to Comment 63628

How can the bank of Canada return the value of Canadian dollar/gold ratio to 1999 levels?
Raise interest rates to 20%, you must be joking... The bank of Canada does not just "print money" we borrow it from corporations and countries that have it as well as by issuing savings bonds to Canadians

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2011 at 22:43:56 in reply to Comment 63698

>> The bank of Canada does not just "print money" we borrow it from corporations and countries that have it as well as by issuing savings bonds to Canadians

The Bank of Canada does print money, that's why our current GDP is $1.6 trillion, whereas in 1961 it was $41.1B. That's an average increase of 7.65% a year in new money.

If you are the government, this is great, because it allows you to borrow $100 dollars today and then have that $100 debt be diluted by an average of 7.65% every year until it is paid back. In 10 years, that $100 debt is only $51, even without any payments made to the principal. The $49 in debt is transferred to citizens in the form of a depreciated currency, a sneaky way of increasing taxes.

If the government fixes the Canadian dollar to the price of gold, it lessens their ability to dilute their debts by printing money, thus forcing them to either raise taxes, or spend less. In other words, it beings honesty back to the process of governing.

So when the Bank of Canada says it is helping the economy by devaluing the purchasing power of your dollars, they should actually say they are raising taxes to pay for wasteful government spending.

An economy doesn't grow because the government prints more dollars, it grows because businesses create new ideas. As long as there is a trusted currency, money will find its way to those businesses and the economy will prosper. Unfortunately, when the government prints money so they can spend more on unprofitable investments, resources get wasted and the economy slows.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 18, 2011 at 12:59:08 in reply to Comment 63628

Oil isn't priced in Canadian dollars, though, it's priced in American dollars, and we've been gaining ground over their buck for years now. I agree, we've grossly deflated the value of our dollar, but not as much as they have. Is it affecting oil and other commodity prices? Sure. But it isn't the only factor.

We've been using cheap energy to subsidize the massive inefficiencies in our economy for decades. Shortages were bound to cause economic chaos.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2011 at 16:25:38 in reply to Comment 63654

>> Oil isn't priced in Canadian dollars, though, it's priced in American dollars,

Gas at the pumps is priced in Canadian dollars. Since 1999, gold has gone from approx $450 CDN/ounce to $1,442 CDN/ounce, an increase of 220%. In that time, gasoline prices have gone from approximately 50 cents (CDN) a litre to $1.32 (CDN)/litre, an increase of only 140%.

In fact, over the past decade, gasoline prices (as measured in gold), have actually fallen 20%.

The reason why it doesn't feel good, is because while our GDP has gone up by 30.5% (Ontario, since 2001-02), government spending (provincial) has gone up by 74.9%. Because all spending has to be paid back through taxation (directly, or by diluting the currency), the people of Ontario have actually suffered a 44.4% tax hike over the last nine years.

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By you're right! (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2011 at 22:22:16 in reply to Comment 63628

You're totally right! I forgot that oil is a) infinite in supply and b) extracted conveniently from within our own borders!

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By AndreaDee (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2011 at 14:33:42


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By Penelope (registered) | Posted May 23, 2011 at 01:53:02

But the best way of all to save gas is simply to drive less. Sure, that's easy for me to say: I don't drive at all! But I know we can't all go cold turkey, so we polled our writers and friends for the best ways to cut back on driving without cutting it out of our lives altogether. There are as many ways to reduce your spending on gas as there are ways to use gas. The best advice I can give you is to be present in every decision you make. Don't grab your keys without at least first considering, just for a moment, if you really have to make that trip. Could you save it for another day when you'll be going that way, anyway? Could you do it over the phone or online, as we knew almost everything nowadays may be ordered or bought online - even cash advance? Could you walk, bike or take the bus? Are you just going out to get out of the house? (In that case, grab your walking shoes and your children/pet/significant other instead!) Could you ask my child/friend/spouse to catch a ride with someone else or find another way home?

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