Higher Gas Prices Could Have a Silver Lining

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Connect the dots between gas prices and global warming, anyone? Not in an election year, thank you. As Vice President Gore vows to get tough with OPEC and George W. Bush bashes the administration for not doing enough to bring gas prices back down, the real news that nobody wants to share with the electorate is that if the U.S. is to ever even come close to meeting its commitments under the international treaty to combat global warming, prices at the pump may need to go up a lot higher than they have in recent months.

The Kyoto treaty commits the U.S. and other industrialized nations to cut their output of carbon-based gases — which governments blame, in part, for global warming — back to their 1990 levels by the year 2012. Right now, though, U.S. output levels are still increasing annually, and cutting them will require some painful sacrifices in the world's most evolved car culture. Short of banning gas-guzzling SUVs and risking a revolution, adding tax remains, as Europeans have found, the most effective way to curb consumption. After all, even at $2 a gallon, gas is still a bargain compared with the inflation-adjusted prices of 20 years ago. And it is certainly a lot less than in Europe, where a highly taxed gallon can cost between $3 and $4. But this is an election year, and not even environmentalist Al Gore is going to risk telling voters that gas price hikes may actually help cool the planet.