Kicking Oil Addiction

One of the dominant news items is the oil spill, which is beyond its third month. It has challenged scientists, environmentalists, the oil industry and the patience of not only this country but also the world. The extent of its damages cannot yet be measured. Just the other day I read a report that a scheduled bridge project for Minnesota has been delayed because of the oil spill. It’s predicating the need for additional environmental impact studies.

People from Alabama’s Gulf Shores area are complaining because the clean up is restricted to beach surfaces and does not include the oil that gets buried by the tide hammering it into the sand. At this point the beach clean up is cosmetic.

The problems become myriad because cleaning crews cannot work for long periods in the blistering hot sun with temperatures in the 100+ degree range. For every fifteen minutes they work they have to spend fifteen minutes cooling down and recuperating.  By necessity and safety regulations, eight-hour workdays become four hours but the cost doesn’t decrease.

Hurricane Alex adds to the already unmanageable situation erasing the to-date clean up efforts in hours. You have to feel compassion for the people who live in the New Orleans, Mobile, and Gulf Shores area. They were crushed by Katrina and are still trying to recover only to be subjected to this tragedy. Thousands of words have been written about the situation; hours of TV coverage have been aired; reasons for the failure analyzed by experts; solutions offered by virtually everyone and still the situation continues…

Among the verbiage that has been expounded, written and spoken, is the demand that we become oil independent. This isn’t going to happen. Alternate fuel sources, while available simply can’t replace what we already have in place and let’s not forget the emerging countries that are just now becoming oil addicts. Kicking an addiction isn’t easy and can’t be done overnight. It takes time, understanding and support.

Are alternate energy sources available? Certainly. They’re just not practical in today’s economic environment. How would you react if you were told that effective immediately you couldn’t use your car, you air conditioning or your electricity? You’d be paralyzed. As a society we’d no longer be able to function because we have become totally dependant on the things that energy provides.

So, what do we do? We evolve, make the transition, adapt. We learn how to use hydrogen and an energy source; expand our use of solar and wind power; become less extravagant in our consumption of energy.

In the late 70s the country experienced its first fuel shortage. Then we were driving 300, 400, and even 500+ horsepower cars that weighed several tons and drank gallons of gas. We were satisfied with fuel economy in the 10 – 15 mpg range because gas was only 32.9 cents a gallon for regular and 39.9 cents a gallon for premium.  At that time more than 90% of the cars on the road were V-8s with rear-wheel drive. The country freaked out when gas prices shot to 99.9 cents a gallon and the auto industry responded by giving us 4-cylinder front wheel drive vehicles that delivered 25+ miles per gallon. The race was on, not the horsepower race that ran wild in the 60s and 70s but the fuel-efficiency race to deliver vehicles that got more than 30 miles per gallon.

What happened? Vans, then SUVs. Everyone had to have one and the bigger the better so were back to the same level of fuel consumption – almost – as we were 70s. The only difference, we are driving more now then and we’re using more fuel.

The point is that we started on a mission to become oil independent in the late 70s and early 80s and let ourselves get distracted, first by van – remember the van craze? You still see them.  Then we went from vans to SUVs. Right, everyone needs four-wheel drive capabilities and four-wheeled behemoth to go to the grocery store, or church or run errands.  Sure you do.

Not many people are going to run out and trade their SUVs in on SmartCars, but you certainly can start curbing (pun intended) your trips to the store or whatever. Other things you can do is make certain that you follow the recommended maintenance practices outlined in your owners manual. (Yes you did get one with the vehicle when you bought it.) A properly maintained vehicle will dispense lower emissions into the atmosphere; give you better fuel mileage and longer vehicle life. Not only that, it is a positive step towards oil independence.

In your homes, control your air conditioning or heating use as well as the use of electricity. This may seem trivial but if 300,000,000 people do a little, the result will be significant.

If by the time you read this the oil spill has been stopped, that’s great but we should still work, doing our part, to achieve oil independence and kick the oil addiction. Maybe if the people who ever they are/were) from the late 70s had taught us the value of finding ways to cut and eventually eliminate oil consumption we wouldn’t be struggling with this same problem today – high energy consumption on the road, at home and with everything we do.

Greg Sitek

Note: This article will appear as the editorial in the August 2o10 issues of the Associated Construction Publications (ACP)

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