Environmental ironies of a globally-warmed generation

Other than the fact that it’s my hometown, Troy, Vt. is a dreadfully insignificant place that boasts an extensive shopping district of two convenience stores and one meat market. I was shocked to see a significant increase in traffic at one of these venues over the past year. Although Troy is home to the surcharge-free ATM nearest to Jay Peak, the real driving force behind the new traffic is gas prices.

The torrent of trucks, cars, and SUVs began flooding our unprepared two-pump station at the Troy Country Store when it became the first place in the state of Vermont to drop gas prices below three dollars per gallon about a year ago, according to WCAX News. Currently, prices are still well below the state average ($1.79/gallon as of Thursday night) and the lines at the pumps are unwavering.

For most St. Michael’s students who have been driving for the last five or so years, the economic effects of this price drop take a load off our shoulders, and means we have more money to spend on pizza and wings. Yet, there’s a much more pressing message that we need to be concerned with: the environment.

PHOTO BY ANNA STE. MARIE SUVs occupy four adjacent parking spaces in front of Pontigny Hall Monday. According to NPR, cheap gas prices prompt sales of larger, less fuel efficient vehicles and decrease demand for hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles.
SUVs occupy four adjacent parking spaces in front of Pontigny Hall Monday. According to NPR, cheap gas prices prompt sales of larger, less fuel efficient vehicles and decrease demand for hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles.

Low gas prices prompt consumers to drive more and use more gas, reported National Public Radio in December. Last month it was also reported that car sales surged for the fifth year in a row while demand for alternative fuel vehicles decreased.

Economics aside, the December article points to a stark irony: this blatant lack of concern for the environment continues to swell even in the aftermath of the Paris climate talks, where the U.S. signed a beefy pledge to cut carbon emissions and finally take serious measures to address climate change.

I find myself disappointed and perplexed that my peers, keenly aware of the effects of climate change,  are among the millions of Americans who still actively contribute to these ghastly trends.  Despite historic blizzards, droughts, and wildfires that are putting environmental horrors in the faces of every family tuning into the evening news, we head to the filling station whenever the tank hits empty, and cheer when the price per gallon stays under two dollars.

The age-old “out of sight, out of mind” mentality no longer holds up in the situation because Vermonters are also contributing to the growing trend of buying bigger, less fuel efficient vehicles.  “Sedans are worst sellers right now because everyone is looking crossovers or SUV’s,” said Bud Handy, sales manager at Handy Buick, GMC, and Cadillac.  He explained that his dealership sells mostly high end vehicles, and since customers tend to be financially well-off, they tend to not even ask about fuel economy.

The irony here is that the anguishing weather is slamming Vermonters who rely on snow to fuel charge our passions and feed our families. Mad River Glen, a ski resort in Waitsfield, announced Thursday that they will be suspending their operations do to “unseasonably warm weather and eroding snowpack.”

Yes.The warm phase known as El Nino plays a large factor in the current worldwide environmental anguish, but considering that the average global temperature on Earth has raised .8 degrees Celsius since 1880, this appears to be a glimpse of the grim road ahead.

Illustration by Nicholas Verdirame
Illustration by Nicholas Verdirame

“People have to be considerably less comfortable in order to make the kind of lifestyle shift that can positively impact the environment,” said Laura Stroup, assistant professor of environmental studies at St. Michael’s College.

“For the most part, we’re so comfortable and westernized that it’s really challenging to extract ourselves from such a hazardous system.” Stroup added that until a person is out of their comfort zone, whether it be on a long camping trip, or traveling somewhere without typical American amenities, it’s difficult to become aware of over consumption.

Oil prices will always fluctuate but the consequences of how we treat the earth when prices are low are permanent. We millennials pour out support on social media when natural disasters or terrorism afflict, but we close our eyes to environmental catastrophe we are creating by commending cheap gas prices.

This cheap gas paradigm isn’t the only environmental irony in the modern age. Biofuel is seen as an innovative solution to the gas issue, but as Heather Rogers writes in her book “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy is Undermining Environmentalism,” these corn based fuels are “a net loser when it comes to preventing carbon monoxide emissions.” Deforestation shot up in Brazil and Indonesia to plant crops for fuel, and the carbon dioxide being released from the production of biofuels is worse than continuing to fill tanks with gasoline and diesel.

Another layer of consequences to add onto the cheap gas paradigm is the way that it undermines the renewable energy sector. In March, The Atlantic published an article saying  “Low oil prices are eroding the economic viability of cleaner energy sources like solar and wind.” Our overconsumption of fuel now is making it even harder for us to commit to a sustainable future.

Next time you’re deciding whether you want to make that extra trip home for the weekend or if you should let your car idle for 20 minutes, remember that even when gas is cheap, the environment always pay the same price.