Cheap Petrol: Why It May Not Be Such Good News

I’m walking my son to school and he’s begging me to reassure him that it will snow within the next few minutes. 

I lift my eyes and gaze into the morning's clear blue skies and am pretty sure that I am unable to meet my son's request. 

As I struggle to find words capable of truthfulness without bursting the excitement of his missfounded anticipation I hear the words of my own dad ringing in my ears, “It’s too cold to snow”. 

The truth is, I never did understand those words so I’m refusing to pass them on.

Instead I choose logic, suggesting that the snow would need to come from somewhere and given that niether of us can see anything in the sky it is unlikely to snow any time soon.  

Clear blue skies and snowfall are, to the best of my knowledge, two conflicting realities in which one must win over the other. Either the skies fill with dark grey clouds or it won’t snow.  

We share this conversation on the same day that my favorite broadsheet  acclaims the wonder of lowering fuel prices while at the same time and on the opposite page it is reminding its readers that inactivity is costing us more than the emerging obesity epidemic. 

Truth is we’re often prone to do the easiest thing and while I’ve often claimed that riding my bike is in fact an act I pursue precisely because I am lazy I appreciate that’s a significant physchological leap for people who don’t currently cycle. 

When fuel prices go up the complaint which fills many a headline is that ‘driving is becoming unaffordable’ and thus, 'we are being forced off the road'. Ofcourse people do keep moving which would suggest people are more accuraely forced, by high fuel prices, to make choices regarding the necessity of their car usage. Logic would therefore suggest that by lowering the price of fuel people are more likely to drive journeys for which they otherwise may have chosen a more sustainable and more active  means of mobility. 

If the choice which feels easiest to most people is the same choice which is causing an almost overwhelming burden to our health service and an enormous decrease in the productivity of our economy, surely the wise an the powerful should be doing all they can to discourage such activity. 

I appreciate that for those living in rural areas the issue is more complex but am pretty sure there are minds capable of working out such problems. We apparently put a man on the moon!

My point is simple. Petrol is never cheap, it is just that the cost of petrol is often paid somewhere other than the pump and by someone other than the motorist in question. 

What if fuel prices were stabilised at an amount which accurately reflected the real cost of inactivity to the wider economy? That’s not a difficult sum. 

“Reversing the growing levels of physical inactivity amongst young people is a seismic challenge,”  

Baroness Campbell


You’re probably right, but in the mean time here’s a few sobering numbers

  • According to the World Heart Organiation:  “Globally, physical inactivity contributes to some 3.2 million deaths a year and is the fourth highest risk factor for death in the world, ahead of unsafe sex, under- nutrition, and alcohol use”. 
  • According to the Department of Health the annual cost of physical inactivity is somewhere between £1 billion and £1.8 billion yet the cost of subsequent lost productivity to the wider economy is £6.5 billion.
  • “An additional $1 in real gasoline prices would reduce obesity in the U.S. by 15 percent after three years”  Charles Courtemanche
  • "Inactivity now kills as many people as smoking" WHO
  • 676,000 deaths each year result from inactivity, compared with 337,000 from carrying too much body weight.
  • Eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by nearly 7.5%
  • Today's young people are the first to have a life expectancy lower than their parents due to physical inactivity. The Young Foundation

If my procrastinations still sounds somewhere between extreme and the murmuring of a grumpy old man it’s worth asking yourself one final question: 

“Why is our attitude to petrol and the motor car so fundamentally different from our attitude to tobacco?”

You probably came up with a good answer in nano seconds but it’s a question I find difficult to resolve. My immediate answers are but an illusion designed to resolve my guilt. From my little place it appears that one has simply become much more socially acceptable than the other.

Well done Mr Oil! You’ve done your job well!