It’s a Sunday morning Effron family tradition, and it even has a name—“foraging.” First comes my short trip to the neighborhood deli, where I fearlessly procure the just-baked bagels and hand-packed cream cheese. Then I trek about 12 miles to a smokehouse that, in my family’s considered opinion, produces the area’s best smoked salmon and whitefish. But a few weeks ago, my routine changed. Having been appalled too many times by what it now costs to fill a gas tank, I decided that the fish sold at the local bagel place was just fine. No more trips to the smokehouse. Like millions of other people, I had reached my tipping point. Thanks to $4-a-gallon gas and $65 fill-ups, I had finally been persuaded to consume a tiny bit less energy, produce fewer greenhouse gases, and adopt a slightly greener lifestyle.
Ah, the wonders of the free market. From coast to coast, the gas-price shock has accomplished what all those dire warnings about global warming could not: We’re guzzling less gas. The Federal Highway Administration recently reported the first decline in miles driven on U.S. roads since the 1979 oil crisis: For the six-month period ending in April, Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles than in the same period a year before. Sales of SUVs are plummeting. Mass transit and ride-sharing programs are setting new passenger records. There have even been reports of the demise of teenage cruising, that quintessentially American rite of passage in which young drivers, engaged in their own brand of foraging, spend their Saturday nights circling the block, displaying their wheels to the opposite sex. If gas prices can trump teenage hormones, you know this is serious.