March 24, 2008
Camden Alabama Hardest Hit By High Gasoline Prices

My guess is that some county in Maine or Minnesota is probably hardest hit by energy prices overall due to their need for very costly heating oil. But in terms of percentage of income going to gasoline poor Camden Alabama is the hardest hit county in America.

But the county is poor - household income of $26,000 is nearly half the national average - and people have to travel a long way to work.

The combination of low wages and long travel times means the people of Camden, for the second year in a row, spent a higher portion of their income on gas than anyone else in the country, according to a new study from the Oil Price Information Service, a research firm that tracks data for AAA.

In Camden, drivers put 13% of every paycheck right into the gas tank. In wealthy towns around New York City, people spend less than 2% of their income on gas.

This affords me an opportunity to make a point that really needs making: As we come up on and pass the peak in world oil production government policy ought to be aimed more at getting the poor to move to dwellings and towns which will reduce their need for energy rather than spend tax money to pay part of the energy bills of poor people. Less energy available will mean the absolute need to use less energy. Government subsidies delay needed adjustments in life styles.

In the United States there's a federal program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, to provide poor people with money to buy heating oil. State and local governments as well as local charitable groups provide additional aid. In Massachusetts the average beneficiary of this aid gets $1000 this year.

The fuel-assistance programs the agencies run combine federal and state funds and will provide about $140 million in assistance this heating season to between 130,000 and 140,000 clients statewide. The federal government released $40 million in emergency aid last week to 11 states, including Massachusetts, which is receiving an additional $5 million.

Heating fuel aid is the wrong response to this problem. The coming decline in world oil production can't be prevented by providing people cash to buy heating oil or propane. We need to shift gears and aim to reduce energy usage. For example, people who can't afford to heat a house should live in a multi-unit apartment with shared walls and heavy insulation. People who can't afford to travel from their rural residency to work should move into more densely populated areas. The message people need to hear is that they need to adapt and change how they live.

Transportation isn't the toughest energy adaptation problem. We can greatly improve the energy efficiency of moving us around. Albeit there are costs in reduced comfort. Building efficiency strikes me as a harder problem to solve both because buildings last far longer than cars and because buildings cost much more. Upgrading the housing stock is a tall order. But that's all the more reason not to use government programs to allow people stay where they are living in unsustainable ways.

Joseph P. Kennedy II predictably trots out sob stories to justify an expansion of government aid for home eating fuel.

The surge in value has made oil executives and shareholders extremely happy, but at what price for Americans? A congressional forum last fall in Boston produced riveting testimony from a mother, an Iraq War veteran, whose husband still serves in the Persian Gulf. Her second child was born sickly and frail, requiring extensive hospitalization and intensive aftercare. But one of the prescriptions -- a warm home -- proved unaffordable for the young mother, who had to move in with her mother to keep her children warm and healthy.

But people who move in together reduce the number of dwellings that need to be heated and in doing so they reduce energy usage. Well, reduced energy usage is necessary in the face of limited oil reserves and swelling Asian demand.

Politicians could constructively engage to deal with the hardships caused by rising oil prices by encouraging construction of multi-unit dwellings, mixed zoning that puts homes and workplaces closer together, new building designs for greater energy efficiency, upgrades of existing buildings for energy efficiency, a shift from oil heaters to ground sink heat pumps, and other measures that will reduce the need for energy. Poor old rural folks in cold areas like Maine could be helped to move into senior citizen apartments in town within walking distance of stores and medical offices.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 March 24 09:14 PM  Energy Policy

cancer_man said at March 24, 2008 9:48 PM:

Your Peak Oil comments make Futurepundit look like something Fred Flinstone might write.

Fat Man said at March 24, 2008 10:01 PM:

Somebody needs to ask young Mr. Kennedy about the price and availability of electricity in his home area, and whether a major wind power project would help.

averros said at March 25, 2008 1:51 AM:

There's a very simple solution to the problem of price of gasoline: Remove the f*ing tax on it which will make it much cheaper overnight. And abolish the Federal Reserve.

Oh, and anyone with minimal skills in arithmetic and not brainwashed into believing that issuance by the government magically makes some greenish paper The Repository Of Value and The Untimate Unit of Account (tm) would notice that gas is not getting any more expensive - when price is counted in gold.

So much for the peak oil. So much for the end of gasoline. Coming shortages always, unconditionally, drive prices up because people do trade in futures, and do stockpile, and sell less of the commodity expected to be scarce in the expectation of the future profits.

Because price of oil is stable (and even going down somewhat) when counted using non-inflationary units of account, the visible increase in prices is purely due to the devaluing of dollar.

Oh, and another good idea for reducing oil prices - put the war criminals from the White House and Congress to where they belong, so their successors won't be temped to make wasteland on the territory of (formerly) oil producing countries.

Peter said at March 25, 2008 5:22 AM:

...For example, people who can't afford to heat a house should live in a multi-unit apartment with shared walls and heavy insulation...

Moving closer together - East Bloc style? ok, but....

Why should the ones who can afford to heat their houses be allowed to own one then?

I order to be able to afford a house in the first place, you'd already have burned quite a bit of fossil fuels....
Professions which pay handsomely without relying heavily on the use of fossil fuels are far and few in between.

Our way of living, our whole wellbeing is so intertwined with the use of artificial energy AND we've gotten so immensely used to this fact that even great minds sometimes bark up the wrong tree (see first sentence).

I suggest funding needs to be made available to build energy efficient public high density housing for EVERYONE.
For people who for some reason are dissatisfied with this solution, will find ways to build their own dream home. By fiscal means such an undertaking can, at least to some degree, offset the governmental burden of building the public housing.


Wolf-Dog said at March 25, 2008 7:38 AM:

There is a French company that successfully built a car that uses compressed air. When this car is traveling under 35 mph, only compressed air is used, but when the speed is over 35 mph, then the compressed air is pre-heated a little bit in a special chamber (this heating of the compressed air can be done either by regular gasoline or bio-fuel). The final efficiency is approximately 100 miles per gallon. But this kind of engine can use very low grade fuels like vegetable oils because it does not need fast burning properties, and THIS makes a huge difference. A lot of vegetable oils might qualify:

I have previously mentioned the new lithium battery based Phoenix Motorcars, but let me emphasize it again: This sport utility vehicle as a 100 mile range with a 10 minute charge. This company says that next year they will upgrade the battery to a range of over 200 miles per charge.
The batteries they are using are made by AltairNano, which have a 20 year life even when charged every day. These are safe batteries and they do not explode due to the nano materials used.
The price of this vehicle is between $40,00 to $60,000 but as mass production becomes more established, then you will see that the price will drop to mainstream levels.
By 2015 the battery range will almost certainly increase to 400 miles per charge from the estimated 200 miles promised for next year.

Wolf-Dog said at March 25, 2008 12:03 PM:

In small cities, the new electric bikes represent a truly remarkable phenomenon: For the first time middle-age people who do not have the stamina to use a bike to go to work for (5-10 miles ), will be able to do so:

This is a major innovation.

Randall Parker said at March 25, 2008 4:31 PM:


Yaba Daba Do.


Some countries have lower taxes than we do. Yet they aren't producing huge amounts of oil either.


Apartment living predates communism. Apartments are not the result of communism.

Government ownership of housing has been a disaster in many countries. I see no need to get the government into the landlord business.

My point here is that governments should not tax some people to pay other people to use energy. Instead the message should be that people need to change their lifestyles to use less energy.

clayton said at March 25, 2008 7:36 PM:

my boss was telling me his buddies in Nashville pay way more in heating their houses than he does up here in Minneapolis. Almost double. Houses are built with less insulation? when it comes to the choice between government and business, at least i get a say in who runs one, and can work to throw them out if I don't like the job they are doing. Hence governor Brown in CA, he got thrown out because people thought he was doing a bad job during the energy crisis in '01-'03. Turns out Corporate mischievousness was jacking up gas prices at the expense of Californians. In cases like this, only government can restore balance between customers and corporations. And btw, Government provides the soil that business grows in, a government for, by and of the people. So businesses had best treat people good or else they become fertilizer (at least in theory). That said, government should stay out of most but not all business. If it is vital for the well being of the populace, then maybe government should play a role, since it is really in all of our best interests, and not foreign stockholders.

clayon said at March 25, 2008 7:38 PM:

I am with Averros, no more taxes, no more roads, no more cops! Lets all live in deadwood!!

averros said at March 26, 2008 2:04 AM:

clayon -- I guess you are blissfully unaware of the fact that there were roads before taxes, and people lived without cops for most of the recorded history. In fact, their lives tended to be more peaceful (the historical records of the Wild West show that it was safer than modern citites).

Let me guess - you're a product of public education, with your knowledge of history and political philosophy limited to the high school dumbed-down propaganda versions.

Randall Parker -- "Some countries have lower taxes than we do. Yet they aren't producing huge amounts of oil either."

I'm not sure how did you manage to read in my message the claim that lower taxation causes higher oil deposits.

Hint - autarky is stupid. North Koreans call it "chu-chkhe". Works wonders for them, yeah?

Clayton said at March 26, 2008 7:57 AM:


I understand that the past is the past. I live in a place where a bridge collapsed due to a number of different factors. Taxes are not one of them. However the roads that we have today are actually quite different from the roads of yesteryear, unless you are in south dakota. Thats not propaganda, I have watched as they have torn up roads that were in dire need of repair and have seen the cobblestones they laid asphalt and then layers and layers of tar on top of. I don't know how you figure that roads have been around longer than taxes,

Stone paved streets are found in the city of Ur in the Middle East dating back to 4000 BC

, I think it is unrealistic to believe that they didn't have taxes back in the time of the Pharaohs. They did have slavery, which is way worse than taxation. Granted taxation at that time was more for the kings will. At least in our time we can overthrow our representatives regularly. BTW I drive for a living, and follow this as closely as I can.
why do you choose to use ad hominen attacks instead of laying out a structured arguments that favor your beliefs. If you think taxes are so wrong, thats fine. Show me that places that have less taxation are in fact better places to live. Otherwise don't buy gas, don't use the roads, you have that right. Nobody is putting a gun to your head and saying DRIVE NOW MUTHAF****R.

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