November 22, 2005

The High Cost of Convenience

1547 page6 capith prose such as ?Coping tales reflect strain,? and ?To these stories of individual woe, add the hardship of entire industries,? you would have thought the journalist was describing the effects of Hurricane Katrina in the southern United States. Not exactly. The main headline of the newspaper article to which I?m referring reads, ?The High Price of Gas.?

Gasoline prices in the United States are the highest I?ve seen in my lifetime. No matter where I go, or whom I talk to, it seems that the topic of gas prices enters the conversation. Along with the evening news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, a brief spot is usually reserved on the air for the daily monitoring of the fluctuating gas prices.

?The High Price of Gas?1 article speaks of ?woe? and ?sacrifice.? It highlights several groups of people who share how the higher gas prices have affected their families and/or businesses. One group is a pleasure-boat business whose boats burn more than 80 gallons during a three-hour cruise. The ?sacrifices? this company makes include reducing the amount of drinking water on board for the customers, and limiting free rides to nonprofit organizations for fund-raisers.

1547 page6Another group, a family, owns an SUV that gets 14 miles a gallon ?on a good day, going downhill.? Their ?sacrifices? include not being able to eat out as much, coupling other trips with their 10-mile drive to the mall, and rethinking some family vacations.

A different family is in the midst of a cross-country vacation in their RV. Since filling up their tank costs $16 more than before, their ?sacrifices? include ?another movie ticket, another dinner out, another share of stock.?

Woe? Sacrifice? Did I miss something?

My husband and I visited Italy last year. At that time gasoline prices there were one dollar per liter ($4 a gallon). Ironically, I rarely saw any large vehicles. The sight that stays fixed in my mind is the one of an elderly woman driving her motorcycle through downtown Trieste!

I don?t like paying more than $3 a gallon for gas any more than the next person.2 And this is not a treatise against SUVs. But it is a cry for us as a nation to comprehend the world in which we live, and to more accurately understand the true nature of ?woe? and ?sacrifice.?

?Woe? could rightly be used to describe the circumstances of the thousands of homeless individuals and families from New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

?Sacrifice? could rightly be used to describe a mother or father giveing their last piece of bread to their child so he or she won?t starve.

?Woe? could rightly be used to describe the despair of millions of children around the world going to bed each night with bloated stomachs because of malnutrition.

?Sacrifice? could rightly be used to describe the man or woman who gives up family and friends to answer the call of God.

I realize that I cannot define woe, anguish, sadness, misery, surrender, and/or sacrifice for everyone. I understand it?s difficult to budget as a company when gasoline prices constantly fluctuate. And I realize that it?s also difficult for a family to adjust their resources when they must pay more than expected for fuel. But to call these inconveniences ?sacrifice? and ?woe? when in these circumstances they merely entail making a few less deliveries, eating home cooking more often, and forgoing a movie is a travesty.

I enjoy dinner out with my husband. I also go to the mall when I need something. And I am about to embark on a relaxing family vacation. But if I were to write an article about my forgoing these activities because of the skyrocketing gas prices, I think a more accurate headline would read, ?The High Cost of Convenience.?
William G. Johnsson is editor of the Adventist Review

1 Michael Barbaro and Steven Ginsberg, the Washington Post, ?The High Price of Gas,? Sunday,August 21, 2005.
2 At the time of this writing, the average cost of gasoline is about $3.50 per gallon.

Bonita Shields is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review