The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has focused the attention of Americans on the environmental consequences of our national oil addiction. Over the past 20 years, oil companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars convincing our politicians and regulators that drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean is safe, and that new technology had made the risk of a major oil spill remote. Now the country is faced with a toxic sea of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico. Independent experts suggest that this toxic sea could be as much as 130 million gallons, the equivalent of nearly 13 Exxon Valdez oil spills.
It is difficult to fully comprehend the extent of the catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf. It seems clear that the original estimates of 210,000 gallons a day gushing into the sea were off by several orders of magnitude, and that the actual number is probably higher than a million gallons every day, and may be as high as 4 million gallons per day. We have no idea when we will be able to stop the oil. This oil will poison the water and the air around the Gulf. It will devastate the local economy. It will kill a wide variety of wildlife including sea turtles, dolphins, blue fin tuna, pelicans and hundreds of other species. And until it stops, it will spread -- to Florida, and perhaps into the Atlantic Ocean and the shores of other Southeastern states.
As terrible as the BP tragedy is to the people, economy and environment of the Gulf, an equally insidious threat emanating from our addiction to oil is one we can't see as directly: the daily increase in global warming emissions produced by burning oil. Scientists predict that global warming ultimately will wreak havoc on a far greater scale than the disaster in the Gulf, all over the world.
It is time for a national, top-priority initiative to reduce oil consumption. Given the influence of Big Oil over our political leaders, this kind of change will happen only if people of both political parties stand together to demand that every politician, from mayors to U.S. senators to the president, have a plan designed to reduce oil consumption.
The Deepwater Horizon incident has come just before the beginning of summer driving season, a time when we traditionally drive more and pay more for oil. Let's make this summer the season when we begin to make the lifestyle choices that will reduce our oil consumption and help put this country on the path to clean energy.
Some common sense solutions, along with technology and social networking, can save the average driver 275 gallons of oil per year, and reduce the average driver's carbon footprint by over 5 tons. If adopted by the country as a whole, these same steps could save America over 125 million gallons of oil every day and reduce our carbon emissions by over 440 million metric tons -- a savings greater than the total carbon emissions of California.
Keep up on your vehicle maintenance. Keep your car working properly and it will run more efficiently, saving you oil. A regular tune up can improve your fuel efficiency by an average of 4 percent. Replacing a clogged air filter can add as much as 10 percent to your fuel economy. Using the right motor oil can improve your fuel efficiency by an additional 1-2 percent. All told, an efficient engine will cut the average driver's gasoline use by over 46 gallons per year. If all Americans kept their engines tuned, it would save over 10 billion gallons of gasoline a year, netting the economy over $30 billion and reducing our carbon emissions by 102 million tons per year.
Keep your tires inflated, and consider investing in tires with low rolling resistance. Keeping your tires inflated costs almost no money and can make your car 3-4 percent more fuel efficient. If all cars in the country kept their tires properly inflated, we would save almost 11 million gallons of gas every day, along with 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Advanced tires generate less friction with the road while you travel, which means less wasted energy for your engine. Tires with low rolling resistance have been found to reduce gasoline use by an additional 4 percent.
Drive conservatively. Adjusting the way you drive can make a big difference in getting greater fuel efficiency from your vehicle. When possible, try to maintain a constant speed, avoiding rapid starts and stops. While on the highway, avoid excessive speed; according to the EPA, every 5 miles per hour over 60 mph is the equivalent of paying 20 cents extra per gallon of gas. Cruise control can increase highway fuel efficiency by 7 percent. Avoid idling wherever possible; even during short periods of stopping, it's more efficient to turn your engine off and then restart than to leave it running. Roll down your windows to cool off at low speeds, but at high speeds use air conditioning, as open windows create drag that reduces fuel efficiency. Overall, changing the way you drive can reduce fuel use by as much as 15 percent.
Plan your routes ahead of time. Computer and satellite navigation technology allows you to find more direct routes, saving you unnecessary travel. If you're considering buying a GPS system, think about spending a little bit extra for a system that warns you about traffic congestion. There are even systems that give you tools to minimize the environmental impact of your drive.
Consider telecommuting as an alternative to the daily drive to work, and if you're an employer, consider allowing your employees to telecommute where possible. New technologies are making it easier and easier for American workers to do more of their work from home. According to a recent government study, the number of Americans working from home increased from 9.5 million to 11.3 million between 1999 and 2005. Another study indicates that as many as 50 million Americans could work from home either part-time or full time. Working from home saves Americans an average of 46 minutes a day on their commute, which adds up to over 100 hours a year wasted in traffic -- more than many employees' total annual vacation time. Similarly, if we replaced 10 percent of all conferences with teleconferences over the next 10 years, it would save 199.8 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Carpool, and encourage your employer to create carpool incentive programs. Currently only 1 in 10 Americans carpools to work. Social networking websites like eRideShare have made it increasingly easy and convenient to match up with people who have similar commutes. Employees will benefit from reduced stress and expenses, while employers benefit from reduced need for parking, greater morale and cohesion, and greater employee retention.
Try to find ways to use mass transit, walking and biking more. When you can walk, walk. When you have to drive, plan ahead and try to hit multiple stores in one trip. Purchasing locally made goods saves the oil necessary to ship freight around, and shopping online saves the gasoline costs of driving to the store.
Buy the most fuel efficient car that meets your needs. A car that gets 20 miles per gallon emits approximately 50 tons of global-warming-inducing carbon dioxide over its lifetime, while a 40-mpg car emits only 25 tons. At $3 per gallon, the average 40 mpg car will save you $900 annually in gas prices over a 20 mpg car.
If you're choosing a home, find one that's close to your work, and where walking, biking and public transit are convenient alternatives. Communities that are compact, oriented toward mass transit and zoned for both residential and commercial purposes are safer, healthier and cleaner, and they allow people to save gasoline and reduce their environmental impact.
Tell your political leaders that you want real transportation alternatives and a serious campaign to reduce our reliance on oil. According to a recent survey, 73 percent of Americans feel that they have no choice but to drive most places, and 82 percent of Americans want expanded public transportation that makes better use of rail and buses. Public transportation saves Americans 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year, and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 37 million tons. Tell your congressional representatives that you believe in clean energy solutions for the transportation sector. And tell your leaders at the local and state level that public transportation is a priority for our economy and our environment.
Together, these steps represent some of the easiest things we can do to reduce our gasoline consumption and our impact on global warming. Cutting back on these wasteful uses of gasoline can make a big difference to our budgets and to the environment. If every American could make these efficiency changes, the oil and carbon savings would be enormous. In total, these measures would save over 120 million gallons of gasoline per day. That's over 15 times the amount of oil that we hope to get from expanded offshore drilling.
Ken Bradley is program director for Environment Minnesota.