We do not have to change our lives very much to do without deep oil

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Living smaller, living closer, and driving less are the keys to sustainability. This, however, appears to be something that just is not being understood by governments, planners and everyone concerned.

All that would be required is for all Americans to drive 5.4 miles less a day to end drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and, if we would be prepared to go a little further still than even other deep water sites.

However, this will take some minor and major adjustments. Are we prepared to make them?

In the USA the consumption of gasoline per person is 428 gallons per year on average, while in Europe it is 59 gallons. That means the average US citizen uses 6.2 times more gasoline per person per year than does the average European resident.

We must, obviously, consider here also the fact that many Americans commute huge distances but then so do many Brits. Far too huge distances, in fact, for such a daily commute to be sustainable in the long run.

The US uses 9.989 million barrels of oil per day to make gasoline (keep in mind that though a barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil, it doesn't all go to gasoline). If we just reduced our gasoline consumption to five times that of Europe we'd knock 1.8 million barrels of oil off our daily habit.

So, now let's look at how much oil comes from all the offshore oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico? Well, it is around 1.75 million barrels.

By reducing gasoline consumption by 20% we need never drill in the Gulf again. That breaks down to reducing your daily driving average by 5.4 miles. But can we not reduce the usage in the United States further still?

Social, pleasure driving has doubled in past 30 years

Carpooling two to three days per week, biking to work, walking, taking public transit, etc. but also presents this really interesting stat to keep in mind:

No matter how you look at it, only 20 to 30 percent of the average American's car miles are devoted to commuting to work. The biggest single chunk of travel - nearly one-third of the total, or about 60 miles per week for the average person - is purely for socializing and entertainment and that does not include trips to school and church, and on family business such as doctors trips, or shopping.

The biggest percentage increase in travel over the past several decades has been the result of shopping trips: Our mileage there has almost doubled, and accounts for nearly 15 percent of travel. Which, once again, is not surprising, however, seeing that the small local shops have, mostly, gone to the wall, same as in the UK, and been replaced by big, out of town hypermarkets and such like.

Some towns do not have any stores to speak of at all and shopping trips means a minimum of 30 miles each way in some places.

While this is not – as yet – that bad in Britain the way some town areas are going it soon is going to be bad enough in the UK too.

More and more centers of towns and such are losing the shops, which are then being replaced by a variety of different eateries and wine bars and such like, meaning that, in order to go shopping, people have to travel several miles at least, often to out of town supermarket.

lucca italy photo

While we may not be able to fully replicate the design patterns of pre-automobile cities, we certainly can take a cue from them as places where business, residential and commercial blend together, and a car simply isn't required on a daily basis.

While this is the case in most towns and cities in Europe in Britain the centers have become deserted of residents and everything seems to have been moved to the fringes. Only business are now found in the centers of most towns and cities in the UK.

We must, and that urgently, preferably yesterday, revitalize our towns and cities, in the UK as much as in the USA, so that everything is, once again, under one roof, including even farms and market gardens, as was the case in Paris, for instance, before WWII.

Using less oil is a design problem and not one with cars themselves

You could see that as an argument in favor of greater online shopping, but I don't think that that really is the answer – even if the likes of Amazon.com and others might like to spin it that way.

What this all really points to is, as I have indicated already, that we need to re-form the way we build our towns so that they are places where we can all live and work and shop without having to drive around in a car every day.

Easier said than done, at least to start, but if there's a central reason Europeans consume so much less gasoline than Americans, it's not because they like driving any less than we do or have a radically greater sense of environmental virtue, it's because they don't have to thanks to the way their communities are structured.

On the other hand, many Europeans also do not have, aside from the Brits maybe, this deep-seated love affair with the motorcar.

In many places on the European mainland people rather cycle, walk or use public transport.

If we would look at say Amsterdam, or Copenhagen, or even some French or German towns, the bicycle is very much in evidence as a means of transportation, from going to school and work to shopping and leisure visiting and -activities. The same can be found in villages and smaller towns in a more rural setting.

Cycle paths cross the entire country in many European states; in the Netherlands definitely as well as in Germany and Denmark, and this, despite the larger distance in the USA, might also be a way of going.

In other words: it all comes down to planning, in the main; whether town and city planning or transportation route planning.

We must begin to factor out the motor vehicles more in favor of human powered and even animal powered transportation modes once again.

© 2010