Oil spill: Here's what you can do to help


Drive less.

Yeah, OK, that's pretty simplistic. But the point is: You and I are not helpless bystanders in this mess. Offshore drilling—especially deepwater offshore drilling—is not a simple project that BP and other oil companies get involved in for the giggles. They do it because there is a demand for the oil. If we were to completely and permanently halt offshore drilling in this country, it wouldn't fix the problem. In 2009, 1.7 million barrels of oil were produced, every day, from offshore wells in United States. That's a drop in the bucket compared to our 19.5 million barrel a day consumption, or even the almost 9 million barrels of gasoline we burn through every day.

But that doesn't mean offshore oil is inconsequential. If we don't get it here, we'll still get it from somewhere. And that has consequences, both for our pocketbooks and the environment. (Canada is the biggest exporter of oil to the United States. Eliminating offshore wells and increasing our use of tar sands is not exactly a healthy trade off.) Plus, as Jeff Vail of the Oil Drum blog told me, this model—complicated, risky drilling for a relatively small amount of oil—is the future. We simply aren't finding a lot more of those big, easily accessed wells that fueled the past century.

These are the facts. And there's basically two ways of looking at them. One perspective assumes that U.S. oil consumption will only increase, that we must have this resource. Thus, we must have offshore wells. And lots of them.

The other perspective: It's time to actually get serious about reducing our oil demand. With a 9% reduction in national daily gasoline consumption, we could eliminate our need for offshore oil. At 22.4 miles per gallon, that's just 4.2 fewer miles of driving, per person, per day.

Bill Finch at The Nature Conservancy did this calculation back in May, but his numbers are a bit off from what I'm seeing on the Energy Information Administration site, so I'm going to do this again, real quick. I've made it easy to skip if your eyes glaze over.

Here is where we start talking about statistics and numbers

1.7 million barrels: Amount of oil produced by all offshore drilling in U.S. waters, per day.

About 20 gallons of motor gasoline can be made from each 42-gallon barrel of oil

So offshore drilling represents about 34 million gallons of gasoline per day.

Total U.S. daily consumption of gasoline: 378 million gallons per day. This number only includes the kind of gasoline that runs the average car. Aviation and jet fuel, diesel fuel for commercial trucking, that's all extra. We aren't dealing with that here.

To eliminate the need for the amount of gasoline represented by offshore oil, we have to reduce daily gasoline consumption by about 9%.

US daily vehicle travel averages out to about 40 miles per person, per day. The average driver actually does a bit better than that: 29 miles per day. But, because we're talking about national rates of consumption, we're going to stick to that scale and talk about national mileage.

22.4: Miles per gallon the average car gets in the United States.

At 40 miles of travel, an American with an average car would use about 1.8 gallons of gasoline per day. A 9% reduction means taking that down to about 1.6 gallons, or 35.8 miles of travel. 4.2 miles per day less.

There's a possibility that I'm missing something here, either in the logic or the math, that one of you will point out to me. But as I figure it, them's the facts.

Here is where we stop talking about statistics and numbers

Obviously, this is a little difficult to apply on an individual level, as we all drive different amounts and have vehicles with a wide variety of gas mileages. But we can all reduce the amount of gasoline we consume by 9%. And there's a wide variety of ways to can get there: Combine trips, drive a vehicle with better gas mileage, take public transportation, carpool with friends and neighbors, walk or bike instead, find shorter routes, or even just skip a trip. You just use your odometer to figure out your average daily mileage each week, and to figure how many miles per gallon your car is really getting. Then mix and match the solutions to reduce your daily gasoline consumption by 9%.

I'm not going to pretend that this is simple. It takes some restructuring of the way we live, and it takes planning where you didn't have to plan before.

But, if we really don't want another Deepwater Horizon spill, this is part of the solution. We can't complain about BP's greed, the government's lack of oversight and everybody's post-spill floundering and not acknowledge the part of the blame that lies on our shoulders. We wanted that oil. We wanted that oil cheap. In giving us what we wanted, BP and the government made some horrible decisions that we wish they wouldn't have made.

They picked up a gun, loaded it and shot into the dark. But we're the ones who told them that the night was full of zombies. Can we really say we're not responsible when they accidentally kill a healthy toddler?

So, cutting our daily gasoline consumption by 9%. Some of it will be fun—biking, chatting with friends in a carpool, coming up with new activities to do within walking distance, instead of driving for our entertainment. Other times, it will be a pain in the ass. But, that's our responsibility. That's what we owe for our role in this mess.

Image courtesy Flickr user midorisyu, via cc


  1. The dark side of your proposal is that it requires the developing world to, well, not develop.

    That shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone with a conscience.

    Reducing our oil consumption is simply not on the table. It’s not going to happen. We need to accept that and move on to develop solutions that take that into account.

    1. So foobar, basically what you’re saying is no solution that inconveniences us is worth doing and to ask anyone else to do it is immoral?

      Maggie, I see where you’re coming from. I already use as little fuel as I can given my economic situation. I don’t see how reducing consumption does anything to help with THIS oil spill. In fact, I don’t see how reducing consumption does anything to help with ANY oil spill. It’s not like the oil companies are going to leave those reserves alone because people aren’t driving as much. They’ll just wait longer before taping them.

      1. It’s not a matter of convenience. We need oil. We’re not going to stop using oil, and no matter what we do, oil use will increase. Any argument that doesn’t recognize this is simply a non starter.

        That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be using fossil fuels. Bring on the genetically engineered algal oils and nuclear power.

        But don’t pretend that any significant section of the population is going to crawl back into the caves.

        1. don’t pretend that any significant section of the population is going to crawl back into the caves.
          @#34: The whole point of Maggie’s article is that you don’t have to ‘crawl back into the cave’ to significantly reduce your impact. You, my friend, would be a terrible (great?) senator. The oil lobby’s BS is already inside your head, and you haven’t even talked to them! Nay-sayers like you are an unfortunate reality in a society which cherishes free speech; we have to endure everyone’s POV, no matter how asinine.

          If we (the US) are so concerned with being energy and oil independent, why do we export over a million barrels of oil a day?
          @#37: $

          I love how these “do a good deed” posts inevitably wind up with a flood of whiny poor-me excuses about why your needs are so damn special.
          @#40: I know. What’s with that? I suppose they need to justify it to themselves, too.

    2. “Reducing our oil consumption is simply not on the table. It’s not going to happen.”

      Remember that this is a finite resource. In fact, it IS going to happen. One way or another.

      Bike, by carbon offsets, eat local.

    3. Have you ever considered the fact that what we consider to be “development” may be skewed and needs adjustment?

      1. Have you ever considered the fact that what we consider to be “development” may be skewed and needs adjustment?

        It’s not progress unless Ted Sandyman gets a new mill.

  2. We need a carbon tax.

    Big enough to encourage the folks who still commute alone in giant pickups and Hummers to get a fucking clue.

    * * *

    My daily commute is almost exactly 7.0 miles. Almost all of my shopping can be done on the way home, going at most a mile out of the way.

    I fill up the tank on my Civic once a month.

    But while I’m probably way below the curve usage wise, I’m considering bicycling now and then.

  3. I’m completely on board – just let me know when you figure out how to make the road from my home to my work 8.4 miles shorter – the time savings alone would make me absolutely enthusiastic about this plan. OH wait, i get around 31mpg so feel free to shorten/straighten the road by just 6 short miles.

  4. Foobar: I’m not talking about the developing world. I’m talking about the United States.

    Nutbastard: Please read what I wrote. There’s more than one way to reduce your fuel consumption.

  5. Austerity / Efficiency around the consumption of a commodity has the consequence of decreasing the price, often leading to… more consumption.

    Self-flagellation may make one feel better about having consumed, however.

  6. My wife and I started carpooling again now that our offices are close and our schedules fairly flexible.
    We carpooled for almost two years before I got laid off last year. Then again, my lay off kept MY car off the road anyway.. :)
    Never owned anything other than a 4 cylinder car because the idea of a gas guzzler always made me queasy. Even when gas was a buck two decades ago. I got better things to spend my money on.
    Our GTI gets great freeway miles and is fun to drive to boot.
    Conservation now along with a demand for institutional change in how we derive power for our homes and cars are the only way that we can truly move forward towards a cleaner planet..

  7. Okay, I’ve cut way back on consumption lately, but I see that photo up top, and all I can think is, “Where do I go to get gas at those prices?!”

  8. I totally agree that everyone should drastically reduce their personal oil/energy consumption.
    This is most certainly “on the table”, and yes, you may need to get a new job or find a new way to work to do this.


    even if everyone curbed their personal consumption, wouldn’t the government simply keep drilling to obtain oil/energy for the military, if nothing else?

    in other words, would a drop in personal energy use really stop the drilling?

    1. You’d be surprised, but the military is actually out at the front of energy efficiency and efforts to reduce consumption of traditional fuels. They’re funding a lot of the research into alternative fuels and they’re doing a lot of work on reducing energy use on base, adding alternative energy sources, and generally aiming to make all their U.S. bases energy independent as soon as possible.

  9. Really the only way to solve this problem is to go back in time and assassinate Henry Ford.

  10. Recently a friend and I played a simple game that illustrated how much oil we really use and how we use it:

    Can you produce a cup of coffee without using any oil derived products?

    Hint 1: Where did you get the beans?

    Hint 2: I just typed this on a keyboard made of plastic. Think about it.

    1. We can purchase products from socially responsible companies, for example, I am not typing on plastic – I use MACs. They minimize the notion of using plastic.

      We can also demand hydrogen-run cars just as we have demanded oil all of these years.

  11. @Nutbastard: Easy. Reduce side trips. Make a comprehensive grocery list, and stick to it. That way you won’t have to make additional, unplanned trips in your car. You’ll shave that 9% off easily.

    Or better yet, don’t use a motor vehicle for the grocery store. Buy only what you can carry home on your back or your bike. You’ll spend less, and your canned goods won’t expire because you won’t be stockpiling them.

  12. Jevons paradox will ruin your day.

    The only real answer is to come up with a new paradigm for how we do everything. Saving a few gallons of gas will simply help the Chinese to spin up faster.

  13. Thinking about oil production in terms of miles driven is a myopic perspective to take on what oil provides us. Petroleum products are used in almost everything around us. From fancy new shades to the rubber soles of those Chuck T’s that we wont throw away.

    The cost of petroleum is reflected in the cost of everything we consume. If the cost of oil goes up so does the cost of food, clothing, electricity,…everything, increases. Margins get tighter for the manufacturers who not only use petroleum products to make, harvest, and clean the things we consume but also use it to transport it to all our conveniently placed shopping areas.

    This interconnectivity is why restrictions on oil exploration is so controversial. If oil companies have to jump through hoops, buy billions in safety equipment, spends millions making mitigation plans, etc. the end result is that producing oil will be less profitable so there will be less production. Less production means the price of staples like food and housing will go up. It also means that surplus production will decrease. The US makes a huge surplus of food and medicine at the moment. If that surplus goes away, so does all the relief to 3rd world countries.

    Cutting down on the miles we drive is one way to conserve but it is a very small way. The issue of America’s ravenous consumption of petroleum goes way beyond driving. Our demand for oil is rooted in our demand for the best. We are Americans (err… some of us reading this are) we worked hard for our money and we deserve an ipad, we deserve to buy it at a conveniently placed shop, and we deserve the right to drive to the store to buy it any time we like. Oil consumption is driven by our demand for ease, convenience, and the newest and greatest.

    1. Well, speaking as an American what I think I “deserve” is a country leading the way in energy technology and an environment that isn’t regularly destroyed in the name of profit. I don’t think “sea to shining sea” is a reference to an oil slick.

      Ease, selection, the right to drive and buy whatever and whenever we want–that’s speaking as a consumer, not an American. And pretending that there’s no alternative to a finite, non-renewable resource is what’s really myopic.

      1. Conspiracy theories about lobby groups holding back renewable energy is ludicrous. The reason renewable energy isnt widely used is because it is expensive to produce. Oil has the highest energy density per unit making it the cheapest form of energy. The reason renewables haven’t taken off is because there isnt much profit to be made therefore there isnt much investment. It is the dictation of the “free hand of the market.” We complain when gas prices get above $3.00. If we switch to renewables we’ll be looking at equivalent energy costs well above $3.00 a gallon. Lets face it, we all want our cake and to eat it too.

        If force a sudden switch to renewables the cost of everything will sky rocket because the cost of energy will sky rocket and those of us who aren’t well off will suffer. I fully support government investments in renewable research. And if you look into it, you’ll find that energy companies have a history of heavy investment in renewables. Exxon has a billion (read that again 1Billion, no million, Billion) dollar deal with a bio-fuel company. Chevron has a billion dollar ethanol research program and was one of the first companies in America to install hydrogen fueling stations. It would benefit the oil companies to find cheap energy. No company wants to invest 20 billion (yes 20 billion) in a deep water facility. There is huge risk involved. If they could get similar margins with smaller investments in green energy they would. Why don’t they then? Here’s the shocker, because businesses have to be profitable to survive.

        The green revolution will come but it will come over years and year of research that brings the cost of renewable down. It will be a slow integration into our existing system. That is realistic. Demanding the government throw a magic switch to force us toward green energy would be a horrible mistake and many would suffer.

  14. “Aviation and jet fuel, diesel fuel for commercial trucking, that’s all extra. We aren’t dealing with that here.”

    I really wish someone would deal with that, somewhere. I have practically eliminated my need for a car… public trans and fancy footwork all the way. BUT I make an international flight once a year. Am I a worse sinner than the car people? I would like to know: has anyone written about this?

    1. @Anon #16

      “I really wish someone would deal with that, somewhere. I have practically eliminated my need for a car… public trans and fancy footwork all the way. BUT I make an international flight once a year. Am I a worse sinner than the car people? I would like to know: has anyone written about this?”

      Traveling by plane is relatively fuel efficient: about the same as a passenger car with 3 or 4 passengers, if I recall correctly. On the other hand jet travel lets you rack up enormous miles in a short time. I’ve read one transcontinental flight emits as much carbon per person as the family car does in a year. I think you come out about even.

  15. I can cut back on unnecessary trips, and have, but articles like this always make me feel sort of angrily/obscurely guilty. I don’t live in an area with public transportation. I can’t afford a new car. In my relatively small town, things are far too spread out to make biking from place to place practical. The kids ride the bus to school, so that’s good, I guess, but in order to visit any store other than Wal-mart I *have* to drive to a town that’s 30 minutes away.

    Is it my fault for living in Arkansas? *sigh*

    I’m sure you all have reasons why my excuses aren’t worthwhile–I just felt like commenting, to point something out–not everyone in the US lives in the “big city”, where you can walk/bike/use public transportation to get to everything. Also, some of us *have* to keep using that “gas guzzler”, b/c it’s all we can afford–even if a new car would be cheaper in the long run. (Heck, how many of us have the credit to get a new/newish car in any case? I sure don’t.)

    (I feel obligated to mention that I own a 2002 Camry, not like a Hummer or something. :P)

    I want to “help”, and I know that this is a serious problem, but I just don’t know that there’s anything I can do, or change…and I’m really tired of feeling guilty every time I log on to the internet/watch the news just because I drove my old Camry to Springdale last weekend to go to Sams. :(

  16. This question is coming from a UK-born-and-bred commenter:

    22.4 MPG? We can get people carriers (5 person + space) that can manage 50 or 60, even going 120 miles each day!

  17. Sorry, but this is not a good message, and it is exactly what Oil Companies want us to think. We’re the problem, not them.

    But guess what? Our use of the technologies that use fuel oil are not the problem, it’s the fact that after all these years, these technologies STILL use fuel oil instead of renewable energy.

    The reason these technologies still use fuel oil and not renewable energy is because of lobbying by the oil industry to keep things the way they are. The U.S. government and the oil industry is to blame for that, not consumers.

    Consumers would use whatever form of energy that is available, and will make their technology work. Reducing demand will not only change nothing, it is highly unlikely without some reform of the industries involved.

  18. I’m someone who has used public transit, bike and foot travel when I can. But I live in a city that is very spread out and our public transit is far from reliable and our climate for about six months a year, makes foot and bike traffic sketchy.

    The problem I have with “drive less” is that for all the shaming of hummers and SUVs that goes on, it fails to take into consideration that modern urban enviornments in the US are built for autos, not pedestrians. With the majority of the population now in urban areas, it’s less about “drive less” and more about “design better”.

    Being serious about public transit, light rail, city-hubs out of Chicago and the midwest for true national rail coverge, better bike lanes, incentives for businesses to offer cyclists amenities like showers and lockers, benefits to ride-share/carpooling and grocery delivery services (one truck driving around delivering food that would have been picked up by 20-30 individual cars!) are all ways to reduce our reliance on oil.

    1. Right on. In the short term, driving less will be an inconvenience (if not hazard, re: lolbrandon) that a pitiful few will be able to muster. In the long term, when we have smarter cities, it won’t be an inconvenience.

  19. Honestly… saying that reducing oil consumption isn’t possible is just ridiculous.

    In Vancouver I can’t believe the number of big trucks, pickups, 4x4s and SUVs that regular city residents drive. Not only is there no need for a 5 litre runabout in a city but there is no need for that sort of vehicle when there is only 1 person in the car and nothing in the back. Completely irresponsible.

    1. Not only is there no need for a 5 litre runabout in a city but there is no need for that sort of vehicle when there is only 1 person in the car and nothing in the back. Completely irresponsible.

      It’s to make up for their small dicks. 4WDs: chariot of the moron. I’ve often fantasised about going on a stencil mission late one night… I think “big dumb trucks for big dumb fucks” has a nice ring to it… Imagine a fleet of neighbourhood 4WDs rolling around with that painted on the side.

      Also, Maggie: I completely agree with the concept, but I think refusing to fill up at BP is a better response to this particular spill. It happened because BP did not follow safeguards and propper procedure, so let’s just sink the assholes by not buying their products.

      Hey America: want to reduce your oil comsumption? Then tax the shit out of personal vehicles that have an engine volume greater than 3 litres.

  20. Two and a half years ago got rid of my SUV (10MPG) and began riding a motorcycle (40MPG) full time. Not only do I spend FAR less for gas and insurance but it’s way more fun to ride. As to when I need to transport items to large for the bike I use alternatives like delivery, public transport, or in some cases rental vehicles. I’m much happier for the change and the decrease in fuel usage is magnificent.

  21. No. This isn’t my fault.

    I don’t have public transport near my house. I live almost 20 miles from work and 7 miles from the nearest public transport. The road between my house and PT is the ghetto, and I won’t walk/bike through that shit. (Seriously, some kid was drive by’ed and killed in the middle of the afternoon like 6 blocks from where I call “home”.) I can’t afford to live closer (downtown costs big money), and I can’t afford to work closer (I can’t pay my expenses on a McDonald’s or CVS cashier income). I can’t carpool as I don’t live near my coworkers. I ENJOY driving 100+ miles on the weekends up to the mountains or the Big City to get away from this urban hell. I didn’t design urban sprawl or start a city in the middle of a desolate valley. And I would love to buy a new hybrid but Toyota and GM ain’t just giving those away, and I can’t afford them, either.

    The solutions might be easy for you big rich Boing Boing editors who get to work from home, but they’re not at all easy for those of us working real jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. I am totally dependent on my car, but not by any fault of my own. I don’t like paying for gas or sitting in traffic 10 times a week, but what are my other (REALISTIC) choices? I’m poor, in debt, shit credit and work a job I don’t love. If you (or anyone else) wants to buy me a hybrid or move me closer to work or convince MickeyD’s to pay me 33k a year to work the Fry Station, be my guest and I’ll happily stop using my car (except on weekends until you invent me a solar jet pack). But until you get me a job working from home in my underwear posting dancing unicorn pics, don’t blame me for the oil spill, because I’m not the one who ignored safety concerns and opted not to pay for a safety cut-off valve and didn’t have a Backup Plan in the event something exploded.

    I invite everyone who blames me for the oil spill to come visit me for a week and experience my crummy life, then try to tell me the oil spill is my fault, and that by risking my life walking 7 miles through the ghetto to the rail station every day would have saved some god damned seagulls.

    This post is the worst Bullshit I’ve seen on Boing Boing in a long, LONG time.

    1. Dude,

      Compose yourself. If you can drive 100+ miles to the countryside every weekend, you’re not the urban poor. Nobody said that you have to walk seven miles through a crowd of hungry zombies to get to work. Just look for a car-pool on craigslist. If you shared your ride once a week, you’d exceed the recommendations of this post.

  22. Economics aside, if the “We all need to work for the sake of what’s right” logic of this article worked, then there would be no Wal-Mart. Collective action in a nation of 300 million requires government action. Therefore, the right course of action for concerned citizens is not to walk to the park, but to drive to your Congressman’s office and make a scene.

  23. I am extremely compulsive about my use of oil — I drive an electric (wind-power-charged) motorcycle, spend extra money for more direct airplane flights, drive only a few hundred miles/year, etc. etc.

    And yet, I /know/ that all this effort on my part is essentially pointless. Individual consumer action just isn’t going to solve this problem. Saying that it ‘could’ ignores the fact that for every holier-than-thou conservationist (like me!) there are a couple of dozen people who buy the car they like, and drive where and when they feel like it.

    So, sure, drive less. But while you’re not driving, call your reps and raise hell about CAFE standards, carbon taxes, and cap-and-trade. Because this is something we can only solve together. And by ‘together’ I mean “with laws.”

  24. A few years ago, I made the transition from a 40 year lifestyle of non-driving-car-hating to leasing a Toyota. It has been an interesting transition.

    What I lost by driving: Commute hours used to be mine. I read books or exercised or otherwise improved myself. Now I’m lucky if I get to hear some music. This has been the toughest part to swallow. Decades of reading on the bus or walking to work is like three college educations in a good gym.

    What I gained by driving: About 30 pounds. Also, I get to see my family pretty regularly even though we’re spread out across three states. They come and visit me more regularly now that I have a car. Before I had a car, they expected me to come and visit them (??).

    Having seen both sides of the coin, I can say with assurance that driving is not the fault of American consumers. Sometimes it’s the price we pay to have a job, a family or a life. However, if you are poor, I FRANTICALLY encourage you to dump your car if at all possible. It will drastically improve your life.

  25. No offense, but who are you talking to here? My wife and I invested in a Prius a few years back. We ride our bicycles around town. We don’t take trips we don’t think are necessary. That’s who you’re talking to. If people voluntarily reducing their consumption was going to solve this problem, it’d have been solved decades ago.

    The very first time I ever in my entire life saw anybody except geeks get serious about conservation was when the price of oil went up. Suddenly Priuses were in demand. Suddenly Hummer was out of business. Suddenly the American car industry was finally, deservedly, facing the music.

    And then the price of gas dropped back down, and everybody forgot about it.

    If we want fuel consumption to drop, it has to cost more. That’s all there is to it. Right now we are pushing a majority of the real cost of fuel off onto externalities, and so it seems really cheap. If you factored the entire cost of all the safety equipment and spill cleanup not just here, but in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world, people would suddenly be asking for 100mpg cars.

    There is just no way that the 5% of idealist Americans who not only are willing to conserve, but practically speaking *can* conserve, are going to be able to do anything at all about our oil addiction without something like this.

    1. I read many good and exelent comments in this article. However the best I read started with melon. I also give credit to all the people who posted similar comments on this site. I agree that raising the prices could, nay, would cut our oil consumption.

      Im not sure how long ago, it must have been afew years, but one of my teachers said that she had a relative and his wife that lived in New Zeland. I know what you are thinking. What the crap does New Zeland have to do with our oil consumption? The truth is that all their oil is imported. Now, concidering that they are an island in the middle of the ocean their oil prices are naturally high. This teacher of mine informed the class that the gas prices were about a whopping $7 PER GALLON!! She continued to explain that only the filthy stinkn rich actually bought oil. The average people, like you and me, rode bikes or walked everywhere.
      Im not saying that we all have to purchase bikes and ride 20 miles to work and back per day because BP frickn goofed. What im getting at is that the method of increasing tax on oil really works.

      I totally support that method. I support cutting back on oil consumption too, but what else can we do? Cutting back will NOT stop our dependence on oil in the future.

  26. “Bring on the genetically engineered algal oils and nuclear power.”

    Ditto. I firmly believe that the breakthroughs that Dr. Venter and crew have made are key to fixing this situation.

    Did ya’ all know that the Diesel engine was originally designed to run on vegetable oil?

  27. If we (the US) are so concerned with being energy and oil independent, why do we export over a million barrels of oil a day?

  28. As ‘querent’ already mentioned, isn’t oil a finite ressource?

    Back when I was in high school, we kept hearing that there was as little as 30 years remaining supply of oil. Fast forward 15 years and the number keeps changing because we discover new reserves. But it still not there forever.

    Knowing that somebody, at some point, will have to think of solutions and alternatives, why not make that US and NOW? Why should we always favour putting off change to the next generation or at the brink of immediate crisis?

    I was watching a TED’s Talk debate between nuclear energy factions and solar/wind power proponents. My main thought was why not try all of the above? Sure, nuclear energy has had its problems (MUCH less in terms of damages and casualties than oil) but we need to support all kinds of new options and discoveries to find realistic, sustainable solutions. I’d readily support research and development for nuclear, wind, solar and whatever else we can come up with.

    We need to start considering life without oil. We ought to get the ball rolling now because change is going to be slow.

  29. Drive less? Uh,how many barrels are “burned” through in a day to fight this war(s)on Terror?

  30. I love how these “do a good deed” posts inevitably wind up with a flood of whiny poor-me excuses about why your needs are so damn special.

    I get it, you’re pathetic and your life sucks, at least have the dignity to shut your mouth and get out of the way while the rest of us work on fixing things.

  31. Why do most environmental solutions have to be on a personal scale?

    Personal energy consumption is never more than 25% of the picture. Heck- in the States your largest energy consumer is the military… but we wouldn’t want to ask them to change, would we? Then the terrorists would win (only half-joking).

    That’s not to say that making personal lifestyle choices to reduce consumption is bad… but assuming that a personal act is one of political resistance is. It’s just not a viable strategy if we want to see real change. Personal change does not equal social change.

    Furthermore, these large problems are not your individual problem, and to suggest the solution is merely a personal one wrongly assigns blame. We’re in a double bind here. Either we partake in this consumerist society or we get extremely marginalized and possibly destroyed. So we chose to partake (to varying extents) in the destruction…. but make no mistake, we’re not to blame. The people we should be blaming and should be looking to hold accountable are those in positions of power in this system and the system itself.

    This also reduces our “political” acts of resistance to ones of consumerism. Our tactics are to consume, or not consume. Buy the right paper towels, boycott BPs stations. Not horrible things to do in and of themselves, if, and only if, they are seen as minor actions. But these are the solutions that are being given to us for these massive problems. It’s a joke.

  32. Wow. When did BB readers become such crybabies? Dare to imagine a better world and make it happen! Build the world you want to live in, you passive sissies!

    1. Be careful what you wish for. In the world I want to live in, people who fail basic economics go on the compost heap.

      1. In the world I want to live in, people with economics degrees don’t piss away a trillion dollars at the casino and get bailed out by the government, and people who presume to lecture me on basic economics don’t just parrot phrases from Dilbert comics.

  33. When a problem is severe enough that it threaten the public welfare – like murder for example – we tend to understand that self-regulation is an insufficient remedy. So we creates laws. A law against murder, for example.

    Why should any person or corporate person be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to destroy the environment? “Personal responsibility solutions” are the best friends of the worst polluters. They are red herrings. What corporations fear are enforceable LAWS that will reduce their profits, but save our common environment.

    People choosing to drive less, or taking your own bags to Whole Foods, or even being vegan feels good, but is utterly useless when our supposedly “pro-environment” President goes to Copenhagen and says the equivalent of “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter” (really now, what’s the difference?). It’s useless when the Democratic majority passes the obscene Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act (which is pro-coal, pro-nuclear power, and pro-offshore drilling).

    If you want to live with a lighter footprint, that’s nice. But if you want to avert environmental catastrophe, then we need to somehow pass legislation that has not been drafted by corporations and approved by their governmental employees.

  34. Oil, like money, is fungible. The market for it is global. It burns the same no matter where it comes from. Reduce demand for oil in the United States, all you’ve done is increase supply and lower prices for the rest of the world, which will promptly buy and burn the oil we didn’t. You voluntarily cutting back won’t prevent drilling, it’s just a gift to everyone else who uses or wants to use oil.

    If you really want to stop drilling in the gulf, stop drilling in the gulf. Ban it. Take the supply right off the market. Prices will rise, and oil consumers worldwide will cut back out of necessity.

    You can still give them the gift of lower prices after the rigs have been shut down. It’s a nice gift. You’ll be lowering your standard of living so someone in a developing nation can maintain or improve theirs. But giving them that gift without shutting down the rigs first won’t shut them down.

    1. I agree that we should stop drilling, but comparing money to oil is stupid.

      Oil disappears after you use it — you simply cannot reverse the process and get it back.

      Secondly, oil is limited. Once we’ve used it up, it’s gone forever.

      And third, when we need more oil, we have to drill. That requires an investment which is extremely costly, time-consuming, and not really guaranteed to produce results.

      1. As I said, “Oil, like money, is fungible.” That’s the only comparison I’m drawing between the two. If I’d meant to draw another comparison, I’d have done so. You’re responding to a straw man of your own making.

  35. Never. Going. To. Happen.

    You are really talking about a cultural re-boot.

    Sadly the conservation and “green” movements are so full of bad science (and wildly expensive, they don’t call it Whole Paycheck for nothing) that the desperately needed credibility to change American minds has pretty much been shredded.

    Perhaps this is wildly pessimistic, but my guess is that we will continue to secure oil resources around the world (or cement our relationships with oil producing countries) until, as Howard Bloom would have us believe, the Huns come down from the hills and eat us alive.

    Not if, but when.

    The justified indignation from people like “lolbrandon” is just the tip of the iceberg. Some people are doing all they can just to survive in these United States, much less worry about some abstract number they read on a left leaning opinion blog.

    Anyway, I consume much less than your sketchy 9% conclusion, so I guess I get a hall pass! I don’t have to worry about it! I can watch the game tonight guilt free!

    Kick ass! Go Celtics!

    1. Never. Going. To. Happen.

      You are really talking about a cultural re-boot.

      Good point! Culture. Just. Doesn’t. Change.

  36. A properly functioning economy will sort this out just fine on it’s own. An economy with a serious thumb on the scale will continue to lead to poor choices about energy consumption. Why do Americans continue to pay for a large portion of the carbon economy with our income taxes going to things like oil drilling subsidies and the enormous military required to maintain vassal states like Saudi Arabia when those costs should be reflected in the price of the commodity they are targeted to? If I choose to bike to work and you choose to drive a Hummer those are perfectly valid choices – as long as you pay the ENTIRE cost of your choice I’ll be happy to pay the cost of mine. When hamburger and bottled water include the ENTIRE cost of factory farming and transcontinental trucking locally grown veggies and filtered tap water might just become more popular. Perhaps even wind and solar power might be something more than marginal joke technologies. Things look different when you look at them from a different vantage point.

    Just gotta keep that thumb off the scale to gain that vantage point.

  37. “With a 9% reduction in national daily gasoline consumption, we could eliminate our need for offshore oil.”

    Um, no. As your second paragraph points out, oil is fungible. So I think what you meant was that by reducing demand a tad,

    “With a 9% reduction in national daily gasoline consumption, we could slightly depress the per-barrel wholesale price of crude, but probably not enough to make drilling in the Gulf unprofitable.”

    Reducing consumption is a fine idea for many reasons. This is not one of them.

  38. yeah um the point about fungible demand and banning offshore drilling if that’s what you want, is good. so’s the point about passing laws and the points about relative costs of travel and about varieties of urban design. all been said before.

    there are two things we’re thinking about here:
    a) our industrial footprint and
    b) how much we pay for oil.

    #a causes horrible damage to important plants, fish, & friendly neighbors.

    #b is expensive.

    but arguments about oil being a global fungible commodity actually have nothing to do with #a or #b; they’re FUD.

    reducing oil use in the USA would shrink this country’s industrial footprint. the resulting technologies would then help
    other people reduce *their* footprints. there’s nothing lost there, by trying.

    reducing oil use would also shrink the trade deficit, meaning less domestic money would be sent overseas (to be borrowed back, w/ intere$t). this would be good no matter whether other people increased their oil use.

    we’d also be getting on w/ replacing oil (through both fuel-switching & demand management) — very important to do this in a way that works — and this substitution project also is completely independent of (though helpful to) other people’s oil plans.

  39. Maggie – From what I can tell, your math is sound. There are a few externalities (like each barrel of oil produces more useful outputs than just 18.6 gallons of gasoline) but on the whole the numbers are probably pretty accurate.

    I came at the equation the other way around – from the personal angle.
    I bike to work every day. I’m lucky enough to have a short 5m commute.

    My car gets about 25mpg city driving so each week I’d be burning through one gallon of gas just on commuting.

    I’ve read different figures on the gallons per barrel number (from the 42 number you use on the low end all the way up into the 70s). I used 55g/brl so the proportions may be slightly off, but a gallon is a gallon is a gallon.
    At 18.6 gallons of gas per barrel of oil, I figure I’m displacing the consumption of 3 barrels of oil each year.

    Its not the case that everyone can up and bike to work (but I’m not convinced that #26 lolbrandon’s snarky remarks put him in this category).

    What I don’t get are the poorly reasoned arguments that a simple 9% reduction in consumption are impossible from commenters like foobar. Plenty of people made the very same arguments about past technologies and technological paradigms that have long since disappeared. Path dependency is not the be all and end all. Thomas Kuhn, anyone?

  40. A 9% reduction isn’t completely impossible, even for people who drive sensible cars and small distances.

    One thing the article left out was actual driving behaviour (perhaps not to the extent of hypermiling). Simple factors like keeping your car serviced, accelerating sensibly, and travelling at efficient speeds can make quite a difference.

    The NRMA (National Roads and Motoring Association of Australia) published several tips on how to reduce consumption when driving.


    Every time I see a driver insist on speeding off at the lights I simultaneously wince and chuckle at the waste of resources and money respectively.

  41. There’s not much I can do to reduce my oil consumption — I use public transportation and Shank’s mare as my only means of transportation.

    Even if I could, grassroots tactics like this can only catch a small portion of the population. If a stupendous 10% of us agreed to it, we’d have to eliminate all our oil usage. That’s infeasible.

    Like other people have said, legal action is the only way to enact any sort of change.

  42. Eliminate the need for offshore oil and the U.S. would then import over 70% of our oil needs from foreign countries. So the strategy is to pay foreign countries trillions of $$ per year in oil revenues to employee foreign workers and pollute other parts of the globe (where regs are not nearly as stringent as in the U.S.; read up on oil pollution in Nigeria) versus pay largely U.S. based oil companies and U.S. workers and hold them accountable for safe and environmentally sound operations? A brilliant strategy for placing the U.S. economy at greater risk, while increasing the U.S. trade deficit, unemployment, etc., etc, etc. Demand for imported oil has driven U.S. foreign policy for decades and is a far greater risk to the long term health of the U.S. than one leaking oil well. The fact of the matter is the U.S. consumes 25% of global oil demand for only 4% of the global population. We are energy hogs. History has shown the only thing that reduce oil consumption is high prices (see response to high oil prices in 2008, under 1980s oil embargos and Europe since heavy fuel taxes.) History also shows that the U.S. (government and consumers) feel entitled to cheap oil and will do everything possible to support cheap supply. Want to reduce U.S. oil demand? Tell you congressman to add $2-$3 in tax to every gallon and the problem will be solved. Consumers will buy less, demand more fuel efficient vehicles, and alternative forms of energy will become economic. Any other solution has proven time and again to be pure fantasy.

  43. We here in NA and in Europe and Central America can reduce our oil consumption all we want, but it will make little difference. The developing world’s oil consumption is only just beginning to escalate.

    China and India’s appetite for oil is growing, and fast. If China’s past record of self-interest and poor quality control is any indication, we have only seen the beginning of deep well drilling with horrific results.

    That said, in our household, we do do what we can to conserve by combining trips, walking for the odd things we need mid-week, etc.

  44. OK so 50 % of all oil consumed in the USA is by its insatiable Military Machine. Now wouldn’t the Military Machine want to protect it’s supply and what’s even more important protect the coast & shores of the USA. The branch to do that is the Navy – if the Navy can tap into Russian Deep Water Spy Network Cables, why doesn’t it have a special branch to deal with these emergencies. Plug the hole – get the job done – then send the bill to BP. Period

  45. The best way to eliminate risky and expensive exploration for hydrocarbons is to make it economically unfeasible. That means driving down the demand for gasoline. We need to raise gas taxes a lot: Europe provides a good guideline. Gas is about $7/gallon there. In France, 70% of the price of a gallon of gas is taxes. In the US it’s 17%. Because oil is a global commodity, we need to encourage other governments to raise their taxes as well so that global demand is reduced.

    The force of economics will cause everybody to behave differently and to make better choices: riding bicycles, using public transportation, moving closer to their place of work, or whatever. Most importantly it will spur the development of alternative transportation solutions such as electric cars.

    For most people, $7/gas would be a terrible shock, therefore I would propose a phase-in period over 5 years to give people and companies a chance to adjust.

    So the action item here for all of us is to contact our political representatives to demand rational hydrocarbon taxation. I would, but I live in Washington, DC where we pay federal taxes but have no representation in Congress, so I’m SOL on this or any other issue of national importance — but that’s another story for another day.


    1. “For most people, $7/gas would be a terrible shock, therefore I would propose a phase-in period over 5 years to give people and companies a chance to adjust.”

      You assume that gas prices won’t rise this high through scarcity alone. Remember $4/gal gas a few years ago? That happened when there was a 2% shortfall in world oil production vs demand. Wait until you see what happens in 5 years. I don’t think it’s too far fetched that we will see >$7 without any increase in taxes.

      The impact of cap & trade is postage stamps compared to the future cost of oil.

  46. My short experience with two wheeled vehicles is that if you didn’t learn to ride a bike as a kid, you’re SOL. I might just have terrible balance, but the short time a friend talked me into trying to ride a bicycle was the most terrifying experience of my life. It feels like falling sideways.

  47. Oh in case you missed it – if the USA Military Machine did not consume 50% of all the oil – that would assist environmentally & it would mean there would be more oil: for taking the kids to school, getting to work, getting the groceries. The shear waste of the Machine must be challenged & reduced quickly. Less need to drill baby drill too.Period

  48. I’m from Nova Scotia, a place where a century ago the main industry was coal mining and steel making. Those industries have gone away leaving a black hole in the communities here. The saviour has been the tar sands oil projects in Alberta, specifically Fort MacMurray.

    When the price of oil dropped 6 months ago (or so) there was a crisis here because the jobs in Alberta were starting to dry up and the big steady pay checks went away. Things are better now and men and women leave their families for a portion of the year to make a lot of money.

    I totally, completely and wholeheartedly agree that we need to reduce consumption. I can definitely handle driving 4.4 fewer kilometres a week. But when an entire population depends on bad environmental practices for survival, what do we do? I’ll drive less, sure, but what happens when all these unemployed riggers come back?

  49. Don’t drive, don’t eat meat. That’s at least 60-80% of your carbon footprint and oil needs right there.

    1. Don’t drive, don’t eat meat. That’s at least 60-80% of your carbon footprint and oil needs right there.

      What if I only eat other drivers?

    2. False! Your carbon footprint comes mostly from the energy you use for transport and HVAC. Livestock is only 6-8% of the US carbon footprint, and only 2.5% directly.

      The simple problem statement: http://www.wri.org/chart/us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-flow-chart

      Bike to work, air-seal your home, buy a high-efficiency HVAC system, turn off the lights (after converting to CFLs), sleep your computers.

      There are no little steps that help at this point. We all need to take BIG steps.

  50. If your goal is to feel good about yourself, do this. Just realize that it isn’t going to help. Your lack of consumption just lowers the cost of oil. It doesn’t put it back into the ground. Lowering the cost of oil just makes your less altruistic fellow humans consume more. You might no longer be the problem, bit someone quickly jumps in to full your void. Supply and demand curves are a bitch.

    I’m not saying you should not reduce consumption. Consumption reduction is rewarding for far more than one reason (health, mental well being, and just making you a less shallow person, to name a few), but dont delude yourself into believing you are a part of the solution. You are just not as much of a problem (though you void even that with one good trans ocean flight). The solution is technologicanol, not social. Scientist and engineers are basically the only ones who can make a big enough difference.

  51. @ moderator and #4

    lolbrandon (although possibly transiently urban poor– aka recent grad slumming it?) and foobar both raise valid points. I think the moderator smack down is uncalled for.

    THe developing world’s oil consumption is topical because it is and will be part of the free market demand which leads to oil exploration and drilling.

    Lolbrandon and other comments reflect the fact that large parts of the US (especially western states) have little or no public transportation to speek of (or that are interconnected with each-other in ways that are actually useful). Biking while a great alternative for those of us lucky enough to live within a reasonable distance, in a place with safe bike lanes is not feasible and is often unsafe in the “hinterland” and if you live in the country, without a road shoulder to bike on — like some of my friends– you may actually need a truck and not be able to afford another vehicle.

    My point is this– drive less– is oversimplification and is feasible for only a small part of the population affluent/ lucky enough to live and work in neighborhoods close to jobs and amenities.

    Change our infrastructure– is a better battle cry.

    There are many interconnected reasons that American’s gas guzzle and not all of them involve, SUV drivers or people too lazy to get off their buts and walk. A lot of it has to do with the built environment. When big box stores are built with massive parking lots and no sidewalks connecting them to the next store rite next door or across the street — pedestrian traffic is discouraged. We need to demand better design on a local level at the planning stage and demand better public transportation– until then only the lucky and self flagellating will be driving less.

    1. “Lolbrandon and other comments reflect the fact that large parts of the US (especially western states) have little or no public transportation to speek of (or that are interconnected with each-other in ways that are actually useful).”

      Yes, agreed. I used to live in a place such as you describe, and I saw what’s coming, and moved, and am much better for it. I’d suggest you do the same.

      Infrastructure takes decades to develop. We just don’t have decades any more. Peak oil may already have hit. You think $4 for gas sounds high? Wait until 5 years from now.

      The 1990s were the time to be developing infrastructure. Now we’re basically stuck with what we’ve got. Find somewhere that you can survive without a car, and move there. Period.

  52. Americans use a lot of oil for two related reasons. First, oil is cheap. Second, oil has been cheap for a long time.

    Oil is, as we’re seeing, not actually cheap. The US has been externalizing the costs of oil for generations. The terrible social, political, and environmental conditions in southern Nigeria, for instance, are part of the cost of oil that we are not paying. What makes the Deepwater Horizon disaster so unusual is that it’s happening to Americans, and it’s hard for us to ignore it.

    The really intractable problem is not the cheapness of oil, it’s how long we’ve been accustomed to oil being cheap. Read through this topic and you’ll find close to a dozen people saying, in effect, “I would like to drive less, but it’s just not practical.” The project of building the American environment has been organized around the automobile since the end of the Second World War. It’s hard to drive less because our world has been built around driving more.

    Try living in a modern, post-Irvine American suburb without driving. The problem you’ll have is not that there’s no public transportation (though there isn’t any). It’s that there’s practically nothing you can do outside of your house that doesn’t assume that you will be driving. Every manmade place you encounter assumes that you’re getting there by car.

    This is all going to go away. The true costs of oil are getting harder to avoid, and it’s also getting more expensive and dangerous to get at it in the first place. Oil is going to get more expensive.

    It is that, ultimately, and nothing else, that will make Americans consume less oil.

    I humbly submit that trying to persuade people to drive less is a waste of time. The idea that we’d be free of dependence on foreign oil if we all drove 9% less fails on two fronts. First, you’re not going to get 100% of Americans to voluntarily drive 9% less. You’re not going to get 5% of Americans to do this. If you somehow did, you would have managed to reduce oil consumption by 0.45%. To which I say: whee.

    But second, and more significantly, if the US imported no oil at all the Deepwater Horizon disaster would still have happened. Switching to 100% domestic oil production just means that now all of America’s oil-related disasters will happen in America. It doesn’t fix the problem. In ways it makes the problem worse. (Unless you’re Nigerian.)

    So what should we be doing? The answer to that is very simple: we should be paying the true cost of oil.

    If we paid the true cost of oil, it would not only persuade people to drive less, it would persuade people of the necessity of driving less. It wouldn’t just persuade drivers: it would persuade planners, architects, and capitalists. It would make the reduction of automobile usage a central element of how we organize our environment. It would reward density and punish sprawl.

    It’s extremely important to recognize that this is going to happen anyway. We don’t have the choice of not doing this. The choice we have is over how deliberately and avidly we do it.

    What’s making it impossible for us to do this sooner is politics. Making gasoline more expensive is a career-limiting maneuver for an American politician.

    Which leads me to what you can do about the oil spill: Learn and teach. Persuade people to take the true cost of oil into account in their political decisions. Work on making it acceptable for an American politician to be willing to let gas prices rise. We need to learn that if gasoline is $5 a gallon, it is not a crisis: it is not enough. We need to demand that gasoline taxes be raised to pay for the cleanup of the Gulf. We need expensive gasoline so that we can have a country that can not only survive but flourish in the face of expensive gasoline.

    It’s not at all easy to change the physical character of American political economy. But it starts with changing its intellectual foundation. Saying “Everyone should drive less” is very far from enough. We need to recognize that we have not been paying what things really cost, and that this bill is due and payable.

  53. I enjoyed learning to ride at school. I’d prefer to ride a horse to work than an electric unicycle or whatever, sadly there’s no tax incentives to encourage businesses to provide feed or water outside the office, so it’s not likely to happen. so much for progressive san francisco.

    1. Octopod, don’t you know that horses are fungible?
      Although there are like two hundred million Americans not riding horses to work, that just means there’s a bunch of guys in the Third World with two horses each.

      I mean, it’s not like a huge drop in demand along with a shift to a new technology would cause horse breeders to reduce production, horse prices will just drop until they become competitive with cars.

  54. 22.4 miles per gallon is way to low. My 1981 Datsun 310 got over 40 miles per gallon with the muffler broken and over 30 with the muffler fixed, and that was more than 20 years ago. Growing up during the 70s energy crisis I though by the year 2000 people would be driving cars that got over 50 mpg. How have we managed to go so far backwards? Why are all those pickup trucks that aren’t picking anything up and sport utility vehicles that are neither sporting nor utilitarian still on the road?

    1. “Why are all those pickup trucks that aren’t picking anything up and sport utility vehicles that are neither sporting nor utilitarian still on the road?”

      it’s a flaw in the design of the control circuits of the dominant species on the planet. the parameters of the universe they inhabit are barely inside the envelope that supports sentience. unable to travel, after they’ve exhausted the resources they are capable of figuring out ways to exploit, it’ll get interesting. you might recall it happened before with the large lizards. just get yourself a beer and enjoy the show.

  55. Brilliant article.

    I think that car sharing co-ops are an excellent alternative to owning your vehicle.

    If you can figure out a way to get to work every day without driving and only need a vehicle occasionally for groceries or special trips, then it makes plenty of sense to share a vehicle pool with fellow neighbours and co-op members. Going on a road trip? Book a van. Moving? Book a truck.

    There is no car sharing co-op in my city, but Vancouver (and many other cities) has a great one: http://www.cooperativeauto.net/

    Co-operative Auto Network also had a case study conducted about it:

    Co-ops are a close relative of DIY culture, under the DIO banner: “Do It Ourselves!”


  56. I think that car sharing co-ops are an excellent alternative to owning your vehicle.

    I would love that. I drive less than 1,000 miles a year, but when I need a car, I need a car. So I have all the costs of car ownership for a car that spends about 15 minutes per week on the road.

    1. I would love that. I drive less than 1,000 miles a year, but when I need a car, I need a car.

      Not sure if there’s something similar in the US, but there’s an Australian company called GoGet that does this.

  57. I’m surprised no-one has mentioned biodiesel yet. Biodiesel is one easy way to get free from most petroleum use right now.

    I bought a used 1996 VW Passat TDI wagon about three years ago. I run biodiesel, and most times I fill up I am able to find 100% post-consumer waste biodiesel. It’s hard to get any more green than that. Sometimes I end up with fuel-crop biodiesel, which is somewhat less sustainable but still almost totally petroleum-free. A couple times a year I can’t find biofuel when traveling and I run on dino diesel.

    Most diesel cars and truck will run on biodiesel with no modification. You might need to change your filters more often, and/or replace some real rubber lines and gaskets with synthetic ones.

    Frankly I feel a huge sense of relief that though I might be responsible for other impacts on the planet, at least my driving isn’t contributing to the gulf spill or the gulf war.

    1. Slamorte, I was delighted to find a local biodiesel brewer (check edge-of-town industrial parks), and I run on it pretty exclusively now too.

      It’s amusing to see how angry people are about being told to drive less. That’s the sort of random fury common when someone knows they’re wrong, but won’t admit it.

      Still, “drive less” doesn’t scale. Personal virtue doesn’t scale. Infrastructures and incentives need to be biased to favour not-driving over driving.

  58. Bob Rossney, you nailed it! We’ve been ducking the true costs for decades, with environmental costs being the main ones.

    I’m from an oil-producing state (AK — big oil, and crooked politicians bought by it, and major climate change), and it’s painfully obvious that money drives everything, big time. I’m no tax-and-spend-er, but it’s way past time for a carbon tax; our planet is in peril, and the solution will only be driven by uncomfortably higher costs.

    And, so the less fortunate don’t get priced out of the gasoline market, shake things up like this — every American with a drivers license is allowed xx number of gallons of gas per year at the prevailing pump price (your license would have a magnetic strip too). After you’ve pumped that allocation, you jump to the next higher price (tax) point, and so on. Big consumers will pay more or decide to use less — or pay someone else to use their allocation. Truer costs will start to rear their ugly heads. Yes, rationing, but market-based. People who have surplus allocation can trade it away, for value, to consumers who use theirs up. Energy is so integral to our lives, so everyone should have some basic reasonable allocation.

    But I agree, little will be accomplished by the small percentage of us who voluntarily reduce consumption. Only a pinch in the pocketbook will work.

  59. We can reduce our personal oil consumption all we want but that won’t help as long as people continue to be born, get drivers licenses, and buy cars at an ever increasing rate. The better solution would be to find alternative energy sources.

  60. With a 9% reduction in national daily gasoline consumption, we could eliminate our need for offshore oil.

    But I bet it would still happen unless the government steps in. Reducing fuel consumption is a good thing, but let’s not forget BP’s disaster has as much to do with how things were run as why.

  61. SERIOUSLY, 22 mpg – I just bought a 8 year old mercedes that does 40 MPG, my last car was 45-50 MPG (and french), what are you americans up to, build better engines for goodness sake! – or buy Hondas…..

  62. Neither the US nor UK governments could afford to lose the taxes that the motorist pays. There’s the purchase tax, road tax, insurance tax, registration tax (on new vehicles), fuel tax, the list just goes on.
    Perhaps the way forward is developing more fuel efficent vehicles. Americans are known for there big over-sized cars; why not switch to a smaller one?
    Also as has been pointed out, oil is used for a lot more than just fuel. Until we as a species can develop alternatives our dependancy on the black gold will continue.

  63. average fuel tax in the us seems to be $0.12 per litre. where i live, it’s $0.58, and i am still alive and well.

    now imagine me watching california primary ads that warn of candidates wanting to raise fuel taxes a few cents per gallon. i don’t know if i should laugh or if i should cry.

    anyway, let’s see if it’ll still be gushing around christmas.


  64. Seriously 22.4? I know your gallons are smaller than ours but that’s around 27mpg in uk terms. The 2012 EC regs will mandate around 60mpg (uk) If the US could just hit european standards it could cut its consumption by half. Take a look at these

    The us could do wonders just by mandating better economy standards and implementing more cash for clunkers schemes.

  65. IMHO, Bob Rossney #74 has the right idea but balance #86 adds the wrinkle that keeps any such plan from being just another regressive tax.

    Raise the tax on gasoline, but allow buyers’ co-ops to buy gasoline in bulk, and at a a much lower tax rate.

    You join something like Sam’s club, where you fill out a form where you give details like your car’s mpg, your home address and your work address, how many days you work, whether you just commute or have to travel for work, that sort of thing.

    You get an allotment of so many gallons, plus a margin, at price X. You get another allotment for pleasure driving, at price Y, and everything above that you pay full boat. There will probably be a standard for mpg, so if you drive a gas guzzler, you’ll just have to cut back on your driving. And, like balance #86 said, if you’re still within the low-tax margin at the end of the month, you can sell that margin to someone else or apply it to the following month, when you take that road trip.

    In general, personal virtue is nice, but its value in the grand scheme of things is largely symbolic, and its bigger benefit is that it keeps the real price (and risk) of oil foremost in voters’ minds, who should vote accordingly. And let China worry about China.

    Finally, may the system of carbon tax, carbon credits, etc. die a quick death. All it really does is let polluters buy their way out of their responsibility to waste and pollute less. More fundamentally, it’s an artificial structure that reduces clean air and a stable global climate, both essential to human survival, to the status of real estate, another market that profits some sellers and all brokers. The inevitable bubble will follow, and then the bust, and the brokers, who also played the market (hi Goldman Sachs!) will come looking for a taxpayer bailout. After all, the fate of the planet depends on it!

    1. It’s all very well to ‘let China worry about China’, but it’s all the same planet. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is going to affect us all, just as repeated oil spills in China will.

      None of our problems are ever going to get solved unless we get over this ‘money rules’ point of view. In other words, our species is doomed.

  66. The only thing stopping every major car company from producing their whole line with renewable fuels, electricity, and even water/air engines is their ties with oil giants.

    The problem is still the oil giants; they just control what we can and can’t do.

    Sure the likes of me and you might want to change things for the better, but the sad thing is most people don;t care. Really, most people.

    The only way to get them on board is to not give them a choice. They don’t deserve that choice anyway.


    How about getting a car that does a half-decent mileage? Seriously, anything that does under 50mpg and is a personal vehicle should be illegal.

  67. Just a quick FYI for the non-Americans and particularly the British. Our mpg figures are not the same as Maggie’s.

    A US gallon is about 83% of the real man’s imperial gallon that we got in the UK here before everything went to litres.

    Even so, my 58 UK mpg diesel still gets a respectable 48 US mpg.

    This still means that the average US car gets 29 mpg, which is pretty poor considering that America is less urban and congested than the UK.

    I know we were paying the equivalent of 9$ per (US) gallon before the financial crisis killed the pound. We pay about $6.70/gallon now. I guess that’s why we don’t drive V8 pickups to work.

  68. Instead of driving less, how about America just get serious about consumption and stop needing Suburbans and Hummers as daily drivers? We’re in a country where small efficient cars are “uncool”. Even the dealers don’t want you buying them, as evidenced by them not stocking many and trying to sell you up to the $20k+ models instead of the $13k compacts.

    It may sound crazy but what we really need is high gasoline prices. At $3-4 a gallon, people may whine, but they still drive their SUV everywhere.

  69. I say we leverage our society’s weaknesses to help solve our problems; in this case, our innate racism and xenophobia: put the House of Saud’s family portrait on every gas pump effective immediately, and we’ll have a bicycle shortage by Thanksgiving.

  70. Personally using less fuel helps; but yes, if we want to really cut down on usage, we need to raise taxes on gas and other carbon-based fuel substantially. That’ll help cover the costs of externalities, *and* give both individuals and businesses market incentives to use fossil fuels more efficiently, and to find alternatives to them when viable.

    To deal with concerns that higher fuel prices will raise costs disproportionately for poor people, we can offset the carbon tax increases with decreases in other regressive taxes like FICA for low income levels. (Or just offset with a straight per-capita tax credit.)

    Mind you, we’d have to have enough voters that don’t howl at the thought of *any* tax going up. I hope that’s not too much to ask for.

  71. Short term:

    Raise the required average MPG. This hasn’t really gone up since the Model-T…


    Keep adding bike lanes and HOV lanes – and other stuff like that. Improve public transport. Make life easier for people who want to drive less.

    Fly less – Keep your holiday local every other year. (This is the one I suck at.)

    Medium term:

    High speed rail network – reduce/eliminate short haul flights.

    Long term:

    Cities designed for walking/biking.

    Hyper efficient cars or electric cars powered mainly by renewable energy (wind/solar/smart hydro).

  72. What completely blows my mind is when you look around at all the various tech, and how it has evolved over the past few years, as compared to vehicles.

    I’m 28 now and when I was in high school, very few people had cell phones. Not even 10 years later, just about EVERYONE has a touch screen phone which emails, does GPS, and just about every other possible thing you can imagine.

    The Internal Combustion Engine has remained almost untouched and our “Go to” travel option since the EIGHTEEN HUNDREDS.

    It’s borderline sickening. It just goes to show you that as long as particular groups are making astronomical profits off of a resource, certain technologies will sit stagnant, in a world where everything else is changing and evolving at a mindblowing pace.

  73. Conservation is a good thing (which is easy for me to say because I live in NYC and don’t own a car) but it won’t end offshore drilling or prevent the next oil spill.

    Whether it is the safety of their workers or the safety of the environment, corporations will never willingly make a decision that has a negative impact on profits. Corporations cannot ever be trusted to do the “right” thing. They must be forced to forgo profits in favor safety. While it is true that Americans use way too much oil, that usage is not the cause of this spill. This spill was caused by inadequate regulation of the industry.

    So, why aren’t we properly regulating this industry? The answer is quite simple: campaign contributions. Until we stop the blatant corruption of our government by corporations with untold millions of dollars to openly hand over to politicians running for office, we will never effect any meaningful reforms in our country.

  74. “They picked up a gun, loaded it and shot into the dark. But we’re the ones who told them that the night was full of zombies. Can we really say we’re not responsible when they accidentally kill a healthy toddler?”

    Isn’t there a more reasonable course of action? Couldn’t they instead retreat inside and board up the windows, for example?

    Why do I keep seeing this argument in full or partial defense of the oil industry’s action or the government’s inaction? Yes, we created a demand for oil by our actions. But that doesn’t outright prevent the use of increased safety measures when conducting high risk drilling operations. Shouldn’t we expect and demand the government and oil industry to do better than blindly react to our demands, or at the very least accelerate efforts to reduce our demands?

  75. The charts here (http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/06/oil-consumption-around-the-world/) show exactly how much Oil we here in the US use compared to other economies.

    I noted that “We can be a bit hypocritical in the US of A. We have $50k earners who bought $750k houses, then complained about Goldman Sachs; Walmart shoppers who buy 12 packs of tighty whiteys for $2.99 — then complains about job losses. Or the non voters (the majority of us) who complain about Congress. We energy consumers ought to realize that it is our demand that led to drilling in the GoM.”

    The pushback was quite amazing . . .

  76. This has probably already been said, but: I’m sick of reading these pieces that say ‘*we* wanted this oil’ ‘*WE* demanded it be cheap’. Well maybe you did, maybe they did, I didn’t. I’ve taken steps to drive less and driven an efficient car my entire adult life. I was raised this way, so my parents were driving like that too, when gas was .89 a gallon. And it’s not like I’m some kind of freak, there have been people trying their best to cut down their personal ‘carbon footprint’ since before anybody even used that stupid phrase. Maybe it’s about time that more people started listening to environmentalists instead of dismissing them as unrealistic lunatics that care more about spotted owls than people. Aside from just being incorrect, casting the blame this wide shifts it away from the people really responsible, and I don’t think they need any help from us to get off the hook.

    All that said, this article is right about everything else. And as someone who does plan trips in advance for greater efficiency, I can assure everybody that it’s not hard to do, and in the end you’ll have more time for stuff you want to do instead of spending more time stuck in parking lots behind SUVs trying to wedge into compact car spaces.

  77. This is a strategic problem, the result of a series of strategic mistakes, and it demands strategic solutions. This is why I hate reading all the ‘but I have to drive 30 miles to my job’ posts.

    I wouldn’t tell you to get a new job or a new car or move to a new house, or advocate mixed-use development or mass transit where you live and expect results… this year. But over the next few years? It’s entirely reasonable.

    Open your time horizon, plan ahead, and stop being the victim of the mistakes of others. The mistakes weren’t made overnight, they took a lot of work to make, and you won’t fix your part in them overnight.

  78. Solution: Dimples.

    See the mythbusters where they put dimples on a car and went from 26 mpg to 29 mpg? That’s over 10% more fuel efficiency.

    But also, as someone who works in the oil industry, saving that 9% of gas won’t affect offshore drilling. They’ll still use it…may go to storage or the companies will still use it and we’ll export less or somethingj else will use it. Point is, they won’t stop drilling in the gulf.

    Something else to think of…

    nowhere else in the country can you make as much money on so little education as you can in the oilfield, except perhaps in factories, and with all the shut downs and layoffs, you see how well that’s going. If you shut all that down, that’s essentially like shutting down all the mines in the appalachian area or major factories in the midwest. The oilfied, fishing, and farming are the two main staples of the area.

    I agree we need to work on reducing our dependence on oil with alternative fuels, but we can’t just shut down the offshore oilfield.

    On a sidenote, I really enjoyed your article and the way it was written.

  79. I agree with John Stoner. I live in LA and I don’t own a car, by choice, and take only public transportation. It’s supposedly impossible to achieve this (this ain’t New York with unparalleled metro and bus systems) and everyone in LA I mention this to barely believes me. I didn’t think it would be possible myself until I just shut up and tried it.

    As the article states, no one has to do anything this drastic, but if no car whatsoever is doable in a city as sprawled out as LA, then lessening fuel use by 9% anywhere requires zero backtalk, just quiet contemplation and some trial and error at making it happen.

  80. I don’t own a car, but I can’t get on too much of a high horse about it. It’s cheaper.

    As others have said, the “cheaper” part has to come from infrastructure. I like not owning a car. I’ve chosen to live somewhere where I can get along without one. I share a house rather than renting a private apartment, and it’s cheap enough that it’s unlikely that living somewhere else and having a car could be cheaper. But I also have the opportunity to choose to work somewhere that’s transit accessible, and right now I have a free bus pass from my employer, which saves me $90 a month. If I didn’t have that, since I live in a pretty central location, I could choose somewhere within 5 miles where it would be easy to bike to work.

    The infrastructure of Seattle makes it reasonable for me not to have a car. And by being a transit rider, I vote with my feet for better transit service. We need structural changes, but we also need to push for these changes with our own behavior as much as possible.

  81. Excellent point about the scale of problem and solution. However those other products from the barrel of oil are not just waste. From the quoted EIA site, we can see that other fuels are produced in practically the same quantity (44% of each barrel) as gasoline (47%). So transport generally has to cut back in step with the gas guzzlers to achieve the target saving.

  82. While trying not to be on a high horse, I drove my car 4,000 miles in the last year, because I moved close to work.

    Recognize that YOU having a life-radius greater than a couple miles is what caused this. Take responsibility. Don’t rationalize your dependence anymore, manage it.

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