How Can the United States Decrease its Use of Oil?
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Amid the avid discussions about why "September 11" or the war in Iraq happened, there seems to be one fact on which almost all groups agree: oil is relevant.  The United States uses about twice as much energy per person as the second most consumptive countries (Germany and Japan).  We import a majority the oil that we use, but if we would cut our consumption to the level of the second most greedy country, we might eliminate (or at least, greatly reduce) our need for foreign oil.

There are other reasons, of course, for decreasing our use of oil.  It pollutes the atmosphere.  Its burning is a major cause of climate change.  (If the oceans should actually rise a foot due to the melting of the ice caps within a century, as predicted, we would lose the Everglades and more of NJ than I want to see disappear.)

My earliest concern about using oil was that it will run out, even within my life expectancy, and long before people I love have any business dying.  By "run out" I don't mean literally have no more, but having sufficiently little that the price skyrockets beyond the point where it can't be used for ordinary transportation.  Some predict this will happen within a few years; some say a few decades, but not many.  Dr. Albert Barlett of the University of Colorado predicted about thirty years ago that the maximum petroleum usage world-wide would be in 2004.  Rising gasoline prices and other indications recently suggest he might have been mighty close.  We have no substitute yet for pretroleum products in producing pharmaceauticals and lubricants, and the price for transportation could quickly rise prohibitively high.  Not a good prospect.

We are now very dependent on countries I think we would be better off not depending on.  We are making them rich, but they too are not happy with the relationship.  In particular, Saudi Arabia resents greatly the 5000 troops we have had stationed there in the past decade, which, of course, U.S. taxpayers are paying for.  We don't know how relevant that is to the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 grew up in Saudi Arabia, but the question tends to lead back to oil.

So what can we do?

1.  One essential step is that Americans become more informed.  An unsettling discovery is that a recent poll indicated that only 12% of our adult citizens could answer 70% of ten basic questions correctly;  (They called it "get a passing score.")   You can see the entire poll and its results at but for your convenience, I'm going to let you take it here.  The answers are at the bottom of this page.

   1.  How is most electricity in the U.S. generated?    (a) burning oil, coal, and wood    (b) nuclear power    (c) solar energy    (d) hydro-electric plants
   2. Which of the following uses the most energy in the average home?
         (a) lighting rooms    (b) heating water     (c) heating and cooling rooms      (d) refrigerating food

   3. Which ofthe following sectors of the U.S. economy consumes the greatest percentage of the nation's petroleum?
         (a) residential           (b) commercial        (c) transportation                          (d) industrial
   4. Which fuel is used to generate the most energy in the U.S. each year?            (a) petroleum       (b) coal           (c) natural gas         (d) nuclear

   5. Though the U.S. has 4.6% of the world population, what percentage of the world's energy does it consume?  (a) 5% (b) 15% (c) 20% (d) 25%
   6.In the last ten years, which of the following industries in the U.S. economy has increased its energy demands the most?
          (a) food                  (b) transportation      (c) computer and technology        (d) health care

    7. In the past ten years, has the average miles per gallon of gasoline used by vehicles in the U.S.
          (a) increased           (b) remained the same          (c) gone down                   (d) not been tracked
    8. Scientists have not determined the best solution for disposing of nuclear waste.  In the U.S. what do we do with it now?
          (a) Use it as nuclear fuel       (b) Sell it to other countries        (c) Dispose of it in landfills            (d) Store and monitor the waste

    9.  What percentage of the oil that the U.S. uses is imported?         (a) 10%             (b) 20%           (c) 35%        (d) 55%
   10. Scientists say the fastest and most cost-effective way to address our energy needs is to:   (a) Develop all possible domestic sources of oil and gas.            (b) Build nuclear power plants.        (c) Develp more hydroelectric power plants.           (d) Promote more energy conservation.

2. California cut its energy 12% in two months  primarily by offering a financial reward to any household that cut it's energy usage 20% or more over its own previous year's usage.  THIRTY percent of CA households collected the reward!  And they didn't have brownouts the following summer.

3. I understand (with less reliable sources) that many countries have a 100% tax on auto gasoline, doubling the price.  Germany reputedly has a hefty excise tax on personal vehicles with a sliding scale.  There are many other ways of discouraging unnecessary use of high-consuming vehicles.  The timing of traffic lights, for example, is crucial in metropolitan areas.

4. Providing more -- and more convenient -- public transportation helps.   FREE bus service is provided within some community-minded communities.

5. Bicycling can be encouraged through biking lanes or simply putting a line down the road to keep moving motor vehicles out of the parking lanes, providing bike racks in busy shopping areas, and having showers in places of employment to encourage commuting by bike.

6. The most painless way to decrease our use of oil is to shift to other sources of energy such as wind and solar panels.  During the past decade, the use of wind power grew by 25% a year and solar cells at 20% a year, according to Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute.
New technologies in both wind and solar are far cheaper and more efficient that only a decade ago.

7. Grow food and buy locally as much as you can.  Transportation is a big and often unnecessary consumer of petroleum.

8. Join a discussion group about your relationship to the Earth.  Great fun and amazingly useful.  Learn more at or if you're near me, let me know you are interested in joining a group about either VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY, CHOICES FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVING, DEEP ECOLOGY, or GLOBALIZATION AND ITS CRITICS.

Feel free to suggest more!

Correct answers to quiz above: 1a, 2c, 3c, 4a, 5d, 6b, 7c, 8d, 9d, 10d