This spring, America hit a historic point. With average gas prices per gallon edging toward $4, America’s notoriously profligate ways started to change fast. Americans are driving less, using mass transit more, buying fewer gas guzzlers, indeed shopping less wantonly in general, and lowering their previously unshakable confidence as consumers. Suddenly, Americans are acting differently; if not exactly like Swedes, then not quite like themselves, either. It’s a shift that could change the world.
And there are more changes to come. So far the price shock has triggered the most obvious consumer shifts in the United States. Europeans, already greener, are also are buffered by a stronger currency, and Asians are protected from the spiking price of oil by subsidies that control the impact on gas prices at the pump. But if oil prices continue to rise, and the subsidy dam breaks, as seems likely, the energy revolution now transforming America will spread. “We sailed through $80 a barrel,” notes energy authority Daniel Yergin, author of “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power” and chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “But that doesn’t mean we’ll sail through $200 a barrel. That sort of price would have enormous global consequences.”