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No Gas Day: Good Intentions, Horrible Idea, Worse Follow-Through

Just because something won’t die doesn’t mean it’s good idea. For those lucky 2 of you in America that never heard of the “No Gas Day” idea, is goes like this: just about every year since 1999, someone has decided that we should try to lower gas prices by boycotting the gas pumps for one entire day. Gas company profits will fall! Prices will drop by 30 cents or more due the sudden decrease in demand! Our consumer outrage will be heard and our demands will be met!

Only, it doesn’t work. It didn’t work in 1999, or 2000, and it’s not going to work in 2007, either.

First of all, I’m not getting down on “hippies” or environmentalists at all. I’ve mentioned before, I’m a staunch environmentalist who has gone as far as not buying anything new in the name of saving the planet (and a significant amount of money). I see the good intentions of a “No Gas Day.” But I also see the insanely flawed logic, and even worse, how detrimental such an idea can be to our long term gas prices.

Sexy, Not Effective
People want to participate in a “No Gas Day” because it’s easy, and it sounds ever so sexy and powerful. “Yeah! I won’t buy gas today, how do you like that, oil man?” But it doesn’t make any real sense. First of all, the average consumer probably doesn’t fill their tank more than once a week, let alone every day. So we can only assume that gas companies don’t measure sales on a daily basis, but more likely, a weekly one. A “No Gas Day” wouldn’t even register a blip on their radar, since everyone will likely fill up their tank some other day that week.

Also, you have to consider the actual way a boycott works. Remember learning about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in school (or, if you happen to be old enough to remember it yourself)? A one day bus boycott wouldn’t have really made a big difference to the bus companies, because everyone would just be riding again the next day. Sure, they would have lost that much of one day’s profits, but if everything returned to normal the next day, do you really think they would have changed their racial seating policy?

No. Instead, it took a year-long boycott and the intervention of the Supreme Court to change the Alabama law that dictated the bus companies’ policies. Could you give up gas for a year? If you, and many others, could, it might actually make a difference.

There Is Another Way
It doesn’t have to be as extreme as a year-long complete boycott of gas. Sure, that would help. But if you live in the middle of nowhere (like me) and need a car to get anywhere, and haven’t yet figured out how to get your car to run on coffee, you can still find ways to cut back on your gas consumption. Yes, this is the real way to show the gas companies you’re mad as hell and not going to take it any more: slow and steady reduction. Most of this isn’t going to be news to you – you’ve probably heard it all before. But how much of it are you actually doing?

  • Carpool, bike, rollerblade, or walk, when you can. Or just stay home!
  • When choosing between two fun activities, include the distance you’ll have to drive in your decision-making.
  • Make right turns instead of left turns.
  • Don’t speed.
  • Empty your trunk – extra weight uses more gas.
  • When you buy a new car, make fuel efficiency a major priority.
  • Combine errands – if you have a bunch of things to do in the same area this week, do them all in one day instead of driving out there multiple times.
  • The average American family has more than two cars. Try to drive the most fuel efficient one. (Get used to saying “Let’s take my car – it gets better gas mileage!”)

Tips like these will save your pocketbook in the “now,” as well as help cut down on overall demand for gas in this country, which should lower gas prices and save you money in the “then.” Anybody else have some fuel efficiency tips to add?

The Danger
I really do believe “No Gas Day” is a dangerous idea. People feel like they’re making a difference, but they’re really having no impact. And because they feel like they did good, they can also feel like they’re excused for things like having a gas guzzling SUV that they don’t need, or anything else they might do (but know better). The excuse “Yeah, but I participated in No Gas Day!” is useless, and gives the false idea that a simple stunt can make a real impact. So fill up your tank on May 15th, 2007… but only if you really need gas.

Sources:
Snopes: Pain in the Gas
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the Net – Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

14 responses to “No Gas Day: Good Intentions, Horrible Idea, Worse Follow-Through”

  1. Goilbguru

    Thanks for mentioning the right-turns article.
    Yep…No Gas Day sounds like more trouble than a solution. However, if we continue burning fuel at the present rate…I am sure we will have not just one..but many No-Gas-Available-Days. :)

  2. Andrew

    I support this – by being too poor to both go to college AND have a car. My bike works just as well.

  3. The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: Where My Artistic Choices Come From Edition

    [...] No Gas Day: Good Intentions, Horrible Idea, Worse Follow-Through The idea of a “no gas day” to wake up the oil companies to excessive pricing is logically flawed; here’s why. (@ poorer than you) [...]

  4. the Prince of Thrift

    I never heard of ths gas out idea before this year. As a result I posted it on my blog, then emailed it to a local talk show host.
    The host and I both looked it up on snopes and found that it won’t work for the very reasons you have mentioned. However, there is another thought out there. The other thought has a much better chance of working.
    That idea is boycotting the largest fuel distributer (Exxon-Mobil) altogether. By boycotting the biggest, the theory goes, their profits suffer, while others like BP may go up, as a result they will try to get more customers back to their stores and lower their prices. If they drop their prices, everyone else will have to drop their prices as well to remain competitive. So what about it, lets boycott exxon-mobile stations for the next year or so. Force them to drop their prices and thus forcing all the other companies to follow suit.

  5. Carnival Of Personal Finance #99 - Awesome Money Quotes Edition

    [...] No Gas Day: Good Intentions, Horrible Idea, Worse Follow-Through by Stephanie @ Poorer Than You. Why would a “No Gas Day” work in the US? Is there a better way to address the rising prices of gasoline? Stephanie address these question in her post. [...]

  6. InsureBlog

    Carnival Monday

    As a big fan of snopes, I really appreciated Poorer Than You’s fisking of the “No Gas Day” pseudo-boycott. Not only does hostess Stephanie debunk the concept, she also suggests potentially viable alternatives.

  7. Carnival of Personal Finance #99 Recap - Part 1 at Clever Dude Personal Finance & Money

    [...] from Poorer Than You tells us why “No Gas Day” is a bad idea and what we could do otherwise. Having worked for a GIANT oil company 2 years ago, we were always [...]

  8. Jon

    I agree, picking a single day is a waste of time! It’s really putting the burden on just a few people who happen to run out of gas.

    Maybe they should have a whole week where you pledge that when you’re out of gas, you will wait an additional day to fill it up. No driving or anything.

    On the other hand, that’s equivalent to just picking a day to boycott driving. That’s what the focus should have been on!

  9. Don Jones

    Blocking the delivery of fuel got a very quick reaction when it was tried in the UK about 5 years ago by UK hauliers

  10. Julie Davis

    For the boycott to work, the gas prices have to actually have the ability to go down permanently. If everyone in the US does not buy gas for awhile, the price will go down due to decreased demand but then it will go right back up again once the boycott is over.

    Also, for the boycott to work there has to actually be evil people out there overcharging us for gas. I personally do not believe this and would not even think twice about participating in a boycott.

  11. Gas Mileage Cars

    Boycotts will never work because either they will raise the price way more to make up for their lost. I wish it was only that easy, but how many people will actually give up gas for a day? We have to rely on it to get to work, home, school, etc. I just hope we find a cheap alternative fuel fast so we don’t have to starve ourselves to pay for the gas =p.

    Gas Mileage Cars’s last blog post..Vauxhall VXR8

  12. gas

    I agree that this tactic is a bad idea. It doesn’t do any good because in the end we will all need some gas and can only go so long without.

  13. maria

    unfortunately this has been going on for years to no avail. It doesn’t even get proper media coverage.
    Maybe someday it will have an impact but not now
    The best thing we can do is badger our elected officials with requests for change.

  14. The Futility of No Gas Day « RIDE Solutions

    [...] on how dumb an idea this “No Gas Day” is, but it turns out someone else already did.  Back in 2007.  And it makes as much sense now as it did then: People want to participate in a “No Gas Day” [...]