Column: Why rising gas prices are good (and why recycling is bad)

By Peter Hoffman

I’m aware that I’m not getting any popularity points for trying to tell people that the seemingly ridiculous price we pay for gas has any redeeming factors, but I see some good things coming from the bloated numbers that line the highway interchanges. It should probably be mentioned that I’m taking as much a hit from these prices as most people on campus that drive. I’ve had to go back to Chicagoland many weekends this semester, and these trips back home have been getting pricier and pricier. Cruise control has never seen as much action in my car as it does now. (For those of you who may not be aware, driving with cruise control on can get you better mileage.)

My empty wallet aside, these prices can help people use self control a little more, and possibly not rely as much on private transportation.

Somehow, I got by without a car for most of college. I hardly drove when I studied abroad, despite the fact that I lived a good 20 miles from campus – people in other countries don’t seem to rely on their cars as much (if they even have one). While our country is built in a way that cars are a lot more necessary than in other parts of the world, Champaign-Urbana has good public transportation. If you haven’t taken advantage of it yet you should try it.

In addition to encouraging thrifty habits, I also really like the fact that these high gas prices make the wise citizens of this country look even wiser for buying such useful vehicles as Hummers. Who cares that they have to pay an extra $10 just to get up a slight incline on the Midwest highways? They look way sweeter cruising in a bright yellow brick. I know I always have to use my mud tires and 4-wheel drive to get through the sketchy terrain on I-55. It’s a wonder that somehow the economies of other countries manage to survive as they pay more than twice what we pay for gas.

Maybe this will be a powerful kick in the rear to automotive companies to start offering vehicles that run on ethanol. This form of fuel has been a booming industry in Brazil. Brazilians have been working with ethanol since the 1970s, and they’re quickly closing in on the day where they will become energy independent. Energy Independent. It must be nice.

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Ethanol is usually made from corn or from sugarcane, though potatoes and sugar beets can also be used. Brazil produces a ton of sugarcane, so now they essentially power their cars with it. Sugarcane is a renewable resource and a single sugar mill in Brazil can produce enough ethanol in one day to fuel thousands of cars. They won’t run out of sugar, they’ll get more with next year’s crop. Although the mileage is not quite as good, ethanol is cheaper and burns cleaner than traditional gasoline. It is environmentally friendlier and is quite feasible. Here in the United States it’s not quite the same . corn-based ethanol doesn’t burn as clean. Corn is still, however, a renewable resource.

Vehicles that can run off of ethanol, called Flex Fuel cars, accounted for more than half of Brazil’s auto sales in 2005. Flex fuel cars and ethanol fuel are both available in the U.S. as well, but not to the same degree. It’s a long question to address, but the bottom line is that people should push to make ethanol more available, and get big auto manufacturers like GM and Ford to offer the Flex Fuel options here in the U.S. that they offer in Brazil.

And while I’m speaking on behalf of the environment, I feel I should note that recycling a glass bottle is often worse for the environment than tossing it in the trash. The materials to make glass are some of the most available on the planet, and the resources used to recycle glass often exceed what is needed to produce a new bottle. Recycling plants don’t exactly spit perfume into the air either. ‘Reduce’ and ‘Reuse’; now those are words to live by. Forget ‘Recycle.’

Peter Hoffman is the Photo Editor and a senior in Communications. He’s a hippie at heart and threw away his beer bottle last weekend knowing it was better for the environment than the recycling bin. Honestly, it was. He can be reached at opinions@dail yillini.com.