Gas prices in Chicago are currently more manageable than they were last year, when the average price per gallon soared to over $4. We were paying more for gas than motorists in New York City or Los Angeles.
Commuters fled the motorways and flocked to public transportation, surging ridership to its highest levels in 50 years.
And while prices at the pump have come back down, they won't stay that way. They will continue to rise, and we will have to reconsider how we live, work, and eat. And one author says that's a very good thing.
Evanston engineer and journalist Christopher Steiner takes on this painful paradigm shift in his new book, $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better.
While most of us cringe at the thought of gas reaching $20 per gallon, Steiner believes many people would benefit from a life that didn't depend on petroleum.
"Weaning ourselves from gasoline isn't a scary thing," said Steiner, 32, according to the Sun-Times. "We're talking about cleaner environments, more walkable lives, better public transportation, and more vibrant cities."
Suburbs would have to stop sprawling and would likely become independent of the cities they're attached to, as no one will be able to afford the gas to travel so far. Steiner thinks people will rely heavily on locally grown foods, and "big box" retail stores would shut down, unable to afford shipping trucks. Being forced to walk or bike, people would become healthier as a result of being more physically active.
Steiner admits that there would be a few losses. With travel kept to a minimum, people would visit faraway friends and family less often, and students would have fewer options for college. And it'd be very difficult to get our hands on international fruits, cheeses, and wines.
Still, with scientists forced to look for fuel alternatives, we may see great advances in eco-technology, including solar, wind, and hydraulic power.
Steiner hopes that people will keep gas prices in mind as they decide where to live, work, and shop.
"Maybe next time you're in a transitional point of life, don't go further out and buy the bigger house, but move to a walkable community, near a train," Steiner says. "That's a change you'll profit from."
Matt Bartosik is the editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and a "between blogs" blogger.