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How they see us: Coping with higher gas prices
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t’s hard to believe, said Germany’s Die Welt in an editorial, but all of a sudden “the Yanks aren’t buying huge cars anymore.” With gasoline nearing $4 a gallon, U.S. motorists are—finally—abandoning their beloved Hummers and SUVs and squeezing themselves into cars that wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Europe. And they’re not happy about it, said Leonard Doyle in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph. “Large cars and SUVs have long been status symbols” in the U.S., and despite the fact that Americans pay far less for gasoline than the motorists of most other developed nations, “the ever-rising price of petrol has become a hot political issue” in the run-up to the November elections, with voters clamoring for action, and candidates promising relief. The question is how to do it.

That’s “the wrong question,” said Irwin Stelzer in Britain’s Times. Americans need to stop arguing about whether tax cuts or drilling in Alaska are the best ways to ease their pain at the pump, and instead ask themselves whether lower gas prices are really in their best interests. “The right answer is ‘no.’” Lower prices “would encourage Americans to drive more, use more petrol, emit more pollutants, and increase the demand for crude oil.” That, in turn, merely serves to pour billions of dollars straight into the coffers of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the “Saudi financiers of jihadists,” and such fair-weather allies as Russia’s Vladimir Putin. For the sake of its long-term survival, “America must learn to love” more expensive gas.

The starving millions of the world would agree, said Russia’s Moscow Times. When gas prices started heading north a few years ago, the U.S. quite sensibly began exploring alternatives to fossil fuels, primarily so-called biofuels derived from corn-based ethanol. However, “over the last few years, when oil prices skyrocketed,” the panicked U.S. government pumped huge subsidies into the biofuel industry, diverting so much farmland to growing corn for fuel that global grain supplies have plummeted. So now we’re facing a global food crisis. Any solution to rising U.S. gas prices that “steals food from the needy” is no solution at all.

Sooner or later, said Kenneth Rogoff in Britain’s Guardian, American voters and politicians are going to have to face up to “a fundamental truth of modern life”: The world’s natural resources are finite. Whether it’s crude oil, or wheat, or any of the other commodities whose cost is soaring at the moment, high prices should not be treated as a problem to be solved but as “a real message about scarcity in a globalizing world.” In other words, we have to make a choice, said Antonio de Almeida in Portugal’s Expresso. We can tackle the “anguish” of motorists in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, or we can tackle the “misery, hunger, and despair” of the starving poor. We can’t do both.

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