No gas - no effect?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

An Internet campaign is under way to have people refrain from buying gasoline on May 15.

If the event raises consumer consciousness on the need to buy less gasoline, the event will serve a legitimate function. But the organizers make no pitch for refraining from driving for a day and certainly do not request consumers to make a long term commitment to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles, to car pool or to make any other lifestyle-affecting action.

We are led to believe that we can make an impact by a symbolic act - not reducing our total gas purchases, just avoiding making the purchase on a specific day.

The Internet message circulating states that, "In April, 1997, there was a 'gas out' conducted nationwide in protest of gas prices. Gasoline prices dropped 30 cents a gallon overnight."

At a highly volatile time in gasoline prices, it is questionable whether a 30 cent decline or spike can be attributed to one factor and even more questionable that such a factor would have a long term impact.

The email message further claims, "If all users did not go to the pump on the 15th, it would take $2,292,000,000 (that's almost 3 BILLION) out of the oil companies pockets for just one day."

Certainly if all vehicle owners chose to make gasoline purchases on May 14 or May 16 rather than May 15, the owners of and workers at gas stations would notice the dip in sales and the spike on either side of that date, but would the oil companies notice, or even the distributors of the refined gasoline?

That's like thinking manufacturers of peanut butter would be affected by refraining from buying peanut butter at the store on a particular day.

Actually refraining from buying peanut butter for a day might have a small statistical impact since consumers have many alternatives to peanut butter.

However, there are no alternatives to gasoline for most of us in operating our vehicles, at least not in the short run.

If we want to have an impact on gasoline sales, we need to think about long-term decisions.