Blind to their (our) addiction

Andrew Sullivan linked to an article by Bradford Plumer on The New Republic, “There’s More to Oil Use than Massive SUVs.” He, in turn, bases part of his essay on research published on Grist in “How we can end our addiction to oil,” by Craig Severance.

Plumer seems to be saying, “sure, we need to cut back on how much oil we use when we drive, but gee, look at all these other non‐essential things we’re using oil for.”

That’s true of course, as far as it goes: We need to be looking at all the ways we have built our lives around the use of petroleum products. But give me a fucking break. 47% of U.S. oil use is for passenger travel. 47%. If everyone in the U.S. drove and flew one‐half as much, starting tomorrow, our dependence on oil would be reduced by a quarter. But no. That, according to Plumer, “is probably the trickiest item to fix and needs to be attacked from a whole bunch of different angles.” (He makes a point of saying that passenger travel “only” accounts for 47% of our oil use.

Plumer: “There’s a lot of other oil use out there that may be easier to tackle in the short run. About eight million buildings, mostly in the Northeast, use oil for heating, and this accounts for 15 percent of the country’s crude consumption. Renovating these buildings so that they can get their heat from natural gas or electricity would be a worthy endeavor.” Oh yeah, that’s lots easier than not driving as much tomorrow.

Both of them say we shouldn’t be using oil to produce electricity. Right on! How much of our oil use goes to making electricity? 1%. Yep, we better get right on that if we want to get off our oil addiction!

Severance’s essay (by far the superior of the two) goes on in some detail about changes in vehicle fuel efficiency and rail transportation, including a brief family reflection on the age of oil.

My grandfather grew up in a world before air travel, and the affordable personal vehicle was unknown. Yet, steel rails connected the country, and the leaders of America’s largest cities already understood that a city needs a subway system to prosper. Almost all long‐distance travel and freight hauling was by rail.

I look at my one year old grandson, and I realize he will see the end of the Age of Oil. He won’t need to ride a horse to get around, as we now have electric cars for local use. Yet, there won’t be any electric airplanes, and we need to save what little oil we will have left to use as feedstock for essential products, construction and farm use, national defense, and intercontinental air travel.