Gas-Out Day: Dumb and Dumberer

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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A passionately socially conscious friend of ours forwarded us this e-mail:

Don't pump gas on MAY 15th, 2007 In April 1997, there was a "gas out" conducted nationwide in protest of gas prices. Gasoline prices dropped 30 cents a gallon overnight.

On May 15th 2007, all internet users are to not go to a gas station in protest of high gas prices. Gas is now over $3.00 a gallon in most places.

There are 73,000,000+ American members currently on the internet network, and the average car takes about 30 to 50 dollars to fill up.

If all users did not go to the pump on the 15th, it would take $2,292,000,000.00 (that's almost 3 BILLION) out of the oil companies pockets for just one day, so please do not go to the gas station on May 15th and lets try to put a dent in the Middle Eastern oil industry for at least one day.

I encourage everyone to tell everyone about no buying gasoline on May 15th. Maybe this should become a monthly thing, we CAN send a message to the oil companies that we won't stand for high gas prices.

Fortunately, there are a lot of web sites that correctly identify this plan as a dumb idea, including Snopes.com.

The foremost reason this is a dumb idea is that, unless you are planning NEVER to buy that tank of gas, you will fill up within a day or so of "Gas-out" day anyway. If you are planning to walk or bike everywhere for a week, then that's a tank of gas you will go permanently without. Otherwise, you merely postpone purchasing a tank of gas for a day or two. Unless you fill up beforehand, in which case you are living proof that man evolved from slime. You're not only dumb, you're a hypocrite and a charlatan as well.

Then there's the economic illiteracy issue. Most of the e-mails cite either prices or profits. I haven't seen a single one that mentions profit margins, which are the true indicator of an industry's profitability. Most sources cite figures around 10 per cent, healthy but hardly exorbitant. And as many people have noted, government profits far more from high oil prices than oil companies. Oil company profits have been less than government tax revenue on oil for a quarter century. And do I really need to add that most gas stations are independently owned?

Going from dumb to socially irresponsible, the plan focuses only on prices. I can't think of a more socially irresponsible idea than pressuring oil companies and government to keep oil prices artificially low so consumers can go about their wasteful daily habits unimpeded. The only market force now driving sales of hybrid autos and compact fluorescent bulbs, or research into alternate energy sources, or construction of wind farms and solar energy collectors, is the rising price of oil. Because oil is convenient. Liquid fuels have virtues unmatched by any other kind of energy source and the only thing that can offset that convenience is cost.

As Snopes.com said about this movement and its many predecessors:

All of them are reminders that "protest" schemes that don't cost the participants any inconvenience, hardship or money remain the most popular, despite their ineffectiveness.

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Created 12 March 2007;  Last Update 30 August, 2011

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