Michigan’s gas prices are the second highest in the country, only trailing California’s. This is part of a trend of rising gas and energy prices that has forced Americans to become more aware of cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternative fuel sources. Our reaction to the sudden energy crunch, however, must go beyond just outrage: The country, and Michigan especially, should reevaluate its interaction with the environment and work toward a more eco-friendly culture rather than advocating short-term abatements like cuts on the gasoline tax.

Across the nation, environmental issues seem to be at the front of people’s minds. Presidential candidates gearing up for the 2008 elections have already prioritized these issues in their campaigns (the Democrats, anyway). Hillary Clinton recently proposed an energy plan that would require car companies to produce automobiles that get 55 miles per gallon by 2030. John Edwards’s plan includes a 40 mpg standard by 2016, and Bill Richardson wants a 50 mpg standard by 2020. Many politicians have advocated for more significant tax breaks to incentivize the purchase of hybrid vehicles. These are all laudable goals, but the problem requires a more comprehensive solution.

One of the most appealing and convenient ways to structurally foster a more energy-efficient culture is to expand and improve mass transit systems, especially in the Detroit area, the only large metropolitan area in the country without a system of regional transit. Ann Arbor has started making such improvements with the proposed light rail route between Ann Arbor and Howell, but a truly functional regional transit system requires a commitment from the entire region. If implementation of a light rail system were expanded to include cities all over Southeast Michigan, it would significantly cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions produced by commuters’ cars.

In June, the Ann Arbor Transit Authority announced that within the next three years, it will replace all 75 of its buses with hybrid buses, which use 30 percent less fuel than conventional buses. While this would be an improvement, it also entails a significant investment. The University has cited cost as the main reason that is preventing it from following in the AATA’s footsteps by converting its buses to hybrids. The expense is undeniable, but it is an investment in a cause, one that the University believes in and must work to support.

Ann Arbor’s aggressive initiatives as one of the country’s “green cities” should stand as a guiding light for other cities in the state that seem to have no interest in the environment. It is true that the conversion to a more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly world is going to be expensive and even inconvenient at times. But it is also true that buying gas for cars and heating homes is going to get more and more expensive with no solution in sight if we fail to seek alternatives. It is our responsibility to start making changes now to protect our interests in the future.

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