Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Center of Europe, Part 3

We are griping about $4-a-gallon gasoline here in the U.S., and for good reason. But can you imagine what life might be like here if we had to pay $44 a gallon? In real money - that is, as a percentage of income - that's what Lithuanians are paying for fuel.

The price of gasoline is rising constantly in Lithuania, too, and earlier this month it was selling for the equivalent of $6.50 a gallon. That's a bargain by European standards. In Norway, for instance, they're paying more than $11 per gallon.

But the problem for Lithuanians is that they don't earn much. In fact, the average income in the U.S. is almost 7 times higher than the average income in Lithuania.

It's hard for us to imagine gasoline commanding that much of our income, but here's an illustration: Just imagine owning a car that would run on nothing by Scotch whisky. Think of the cost of a fill-up at the State Store.

It's no wonder that the roads aren't exactly crawling with vehicles. Driving from Vilnius three hours north to Rokiskis, where we stayed for 10 days, was a pleasant cruise on two-lane roads, occasionally encountering another vehicle, passing by fields of green hay and brilliant yellow rapeseed, punctuated by purple thistle and lupine.

We passed farmers plowing their fields the old-fashioned way, guiding a plow pulled by a horse.

It's no wonder.


Brant said...

In my grandparents' age, there were people who, during their entire lives, never left their home counties, and I'm guessing they didn't feel deprived of anything. By the time my parents were adults, the United States was a mobile society. Interstates were being built, and places like Myrtle Beach became getaways for folks here. Today, we not only hop in our cars for any and every short, inconsequential errand, we have cell phones with us so we can be "connected" to the outside world at all times. Are we better off? Personally, I sometimes think I'd rather be that guy whose longest lifetime journey was to the county seat.

Anonymous said...

Eventually urban sprawl combined with rising energy costs and the lack of fuel will kill America. Development of areas such as the Southwest and Florida were made possible by air conditioning, as were huge houses. What happens when you can no longer afford to air-condition your home and the average summer temperatures are in the high 80s? Are we too pampered to fan ourselves?

Is there a grocery store within walking distance in your neighborhood? Is there public transit available exactly when you need it? What happens when it costs too much to recreate? Are families actually going to stay home and play Scrabble again?

The future is going to get uglier real fast. Do those in their 60s, 70s and 80s really have a stake in trying to fix things? Do the 20- and 30-year-olds care enough? That leaves those in their 40s and 50s to sort things out. Scary indeed.

Dale Lolley said...

Gee, and I thought it was George Bush's fault gasoiline prices were so high here in the U.S. You mean to tell me it's a global problem?