Why can’t we be more…European

Bashing Europeans — especially the French — for going soft on war in Iraq became a popular US pastime in the immediate post-9/11 era.  French fries were renamed "freedom fries."  John Kerry, who spent time in France as a youth, was even accused of somehow looking French, a low blow indeed!  Now, along comes New York Times columnist Paul Krugman with a startling message in the $4 per gallon of gas era: We should all try to be more European.

Writing in today’s paper, Krugman says the folks across the pond have it exactly right when it comes to the new oil-price reality: "If Europe’s example is any guide, here are the two secrets of coping with expensive oil: own fuel-efficient cars, and don’t drive them too much."  That approach is possible in Europe, he says, because of a car culture that doesn’t worship monstrous gas-guzzlers and metropolitan and regional planning that welcomes low-rise apartment buildings and makes heavy use of rail transit. 

By the time I finished the column, I felt practically continental — and carbon-footprint virtuous — for Krugman describes my transportation profile perfectly.  I have a nearly 25-year-old Saab, which gets good mileage, but spends most of the time getting the rest it needs in the driveway of my Boston home, while I take the city’s MBTA subway system downtown to work.  It might be the right model for our times, but Krugman quickly reminds me what a complete outlier I am in this country, pointing out that fewer than 5 percent of all Americans commute to work via public transportation. 

It’s hard to feel like you’re part of a privileged elite when sandwiched on a rush-hour subway train in the heat of summer.  But if the oil-price spike keeps up, the idea won’t be so far fetched.