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Environment

High Gas Prices = Good; High Gas Prices = Bad

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So we've been driving a lot less, which is good. We've also been shifting attitudes about oil as a resource and adjusting our lives to consume less of it, which is even better. And we've been lavishing more time and attention (and money) on alternative energy, which is best of all. But now oil prices are plummeting as fast as they rose, and analysts are worried that all those silver linings will be ripped out and tossed aside. As the economy grinds to a halt and the government doles out $700 billion checks, Time's Bryan Walsh wonders if alternative fuel initiatives—and, for that matter, any climate change legislation—might be shoved to the back of the line behind our bubbling economic woes. Even if the gas price dip is temporary and/or U.S. consumption habits remain changed, the credit and spending slashes that are already underway could put the kibosh on funding for many alt-energy projects, as Walsh points out. Plus there's the matter of gas prices as a source of political leverage: The Warner-Lieberman bill, Congress' first real attempt to pass cap-and-trade legislation, was defeated when Republicans throttled it with the charge that carbon caps would lead to even higher oil prices. Granted, when world markets are bouncing up and down like bungee jumpers and phrases like "global economic meltdown" are standard fare in the headlines, there's no guarantee that the price of oil (or the price of anything) will stay where it is. And it's too soon to write off Americans as "entitled saps" who'll toss the Prius they bought when prices hit $4 a gallon and buy a Hummer as soon as the number is back down to $2.50. But as with just about everything in the modern world, we really have no clue how the oil mess is going to pan out. So we may as well do the best we can—and "greening the bailout" is as good a place as any to start.

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