Hi. My name's America, and I'm an oiloholic. My addiction to oil has destroyed my relationships, wrecked the environment, ruined my economy, corrupted my government and made a complete mess of the entire world. But I can turn things around if I kick the oil habit and learn how to save energy. Here's my 12-step program for weaning myself off oil -- and if you have any tips on kicking the oil habit, please share them with all of us.
We can do this, one day at a time...
By most estimates, almost 70% of U.S. petroleum consumption goes to transportation, and about 40% is devoted just to passenger vehicles like yours. Clearly, the most important way for you to reduce your dependence on oil is to minimize its use in daily driving. Green your ride by maintaining your car in fuel-efficient shape, quit idling, and slow down. For example, it's estimated that if we all kept our tires inflated, we could save as much as 200,000 barrrels of oil each day.
If you’re a frequent flyer, you might not like learning that over 5 million barrels of jet fuel are used each day. Airplane travel is even more fuel-guzzling than driving an SUV. But if you can’t get out of that business trip to Topeka, you can still make a difference by adopting a few simple green travel tips.
3. Walk On By
In other transportation news, one of the most radical and innovative things you can do is take a walk. (As a former resident of Los Angeles, I know first-hand how walking to the store can be a revolutionary act.) While not everyone has a Prius, most of us still have feet. Put yours to good use, and discover the great physical and mental health benefits of walking outdoors.
Home energy consumes immense anounts of petroleum, even if you use electricity for heat and air-conditioning -- a significant portion of oil is used for electricity generation. So, as oil prices climb, home energy use isn’t just a good environmental idea; it’s also an economic necessity. Minimize your home’s energy consumption by taking steps to conserve energy for heating and cooling, use your thermostat more efficiently and reduce your laundry’s energy load.
Where does your electricity come from? Many people don't realize they depend on fossil fuels -- coal, oil, natural gas -- or nuclear energy to create their electricity. Fortunately, most people have a choice: hundreds of electric utilities around the nation now offer the option of switching to "green pricing" to support alternative energy development, or finding local renewable power sources, or purchasing renewable energy certificates that add clean energy generation to the regional or national grid. There's a good discussion of these options on the Union of Concerned Scientists website.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to design, build or renovate a building, make sustainability and energy conservation an important part of your green building design. While it was once prohibitively expensive to build green, over the years it has become less so, and the payback times on green technology are surprisingly quick. Most experts now believe it’s less expensive to build green, considering short-term as well as long-term energy costs.
8. Dress for the Occasion
Wearing shorts in winter and flannel in summer might feel comfy indoors, but only if you're using lots of energy to heat and cool your house year-round. This season's hottest fashion trend is to dress for the season -- wear a sweater or a warm flannel shirt in winter, and try cooler fabrics in summer's heat, and you can rachet down your energy use. For example, reducing your thermostat setting from 75 down to 65 for 8 hours -- like when you’re tucked into bed -- can lower your heating bill by 10 to 20 percent.
9. In Hot Water: Saving Energy with Your Hot Water Heater
After heating and cooling, your home's biggest use of energy is heating water -- showers, dishwashers and hot-water laundry consume up to 15% of the average American's household energy. Try turning down your water heater's temperature setting just 10 degrees: each 10 degree reduction saves an estimated 600 pounds of CO2 a year for an electric water heater (440 pounds for a gas model). Wash clothes with cold water, and check to see if your dishwasher has a setting for cold water as well. If you're shopping for a new water heater, by all means get an energy saver like the tankless model shown at left.
There's oil in your salad, and I'm not talking about the dressing. Petroleum products have become integral to commercial foods, from petroleum-based pesticides, fertilizers and food shipping to preservatives, packaging and refrigeration. Break the cycle and switch to locally grown, organic foods that use a fraction of the oil and gas to get to your home.
11. Stop the Spread of Oil
Petroleum products have infiltrated our lives in some surprising ways -- everything from prescription medication to cosmetics contain some petroleum (which is a good argument for not wasting oil on transportation and home energy use). Look for new ways to use fewer petroleum products in your life by opting for safer, smarter cleaning supplies, pet care products, pest control measures and other ordinary products.
12. Buy Less Crap: The Story of Stuff
One of my favorite cartoons shows an elderly man on his deathbed; his final words are, "I should have bought more crap." Living in a warped consumer culture like ours, it's easy to get caught up in an oil-based feeding frenzy, but take a moment to think about the difference between what you need and what you want, and then watch the entertaining short film The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. You'll never look at crap the same way again.