As gas prices fall, will our will to conserve wither?

By Barbara Kessler

The question keeps coming up on newscasts and blogs: Now that gas prices are abating will Americans revert to their guzzling ways. Or put another way: Are we stupid?

Seriously, this is a legitimate question. Look at our history. Our memory of tough energy times in the 1970s was short. The next decade brought a celebration of consumption, and stagnation on the green energy front.

The current economic freeze may temporarily cloud any clear verdict on our behavior this go-round. Consider the person with the gas-guzzling vehicle that they’d like to unload. They may be unable to buy a new gas-sipper and take on debt. Even someone who can afford to make a change may be holding out for a better built hybrid, those clean diesels coming our way or the all-electric cars we keep hearing will be here in 2010. (Here’s betting GM dearly wishes it was a year closer on its Volt.)

But should $2.50 a gallon gasoline cause us to waver in kicking our oil addiction, we may have a less co-dependent government this time. Politicians of both parties support clean energy initiatives, and both presidential contenders have proposed tax incentives for people buying fuel efficient cars. These incentives mimic those already in place for hybrid cars, but also go beyond to include other types of eco-friendly vehicles.