energy guru Amory Lovins quotes a fascinating fact about America’s love affair with cars: only 1 percent energy contained in each gallon of gasoline is used to move passengers forward. We lose the rest to the inefficiencies and waste involved in propelling 5,000 pounds of rubber and metal.
There are much more energy efficient, if less convenient, ways to get from point A to point B. Much cleaner ways too. For those who don’t live in rural areas or depend on vehicles for their livelihood, there’s carpooling, public transit, bicycles, and increasingly affordable electric and hybrid cars.
Those who won’t leave home without their car are once again facing a roller coaster of supply and demand. Car use is returning to pre-pandemic levels, Hurricane Ida halted oil drilling and refining last fall, overseas production is modest, domestic inventories are low and the market world oil company controls prices – not the president Joe BidenJoe BidenDefense & National Security – Russia’s tenuous grip slips on cash – Biden’s economic endorsement falls deeper Balance/Sustainability – US agency killed 400,000 native animals in 2021 MORE. Gasoline prices are expected to rise further because we have stopped buying oil from Russia.
Biden chose to tackle the supply side by encouraging more oil production. He resisted the Russian oil ban but conceded as he 80 percent of the American people said they wanted it, and members of Congress from both political parties. Voters should remember that as they listen to the gas pump ring this summer.
The other way car owners can cope with high prices is to use less gas. In addition to saving money, there are a host of local and national benefits: cleaner air, less lung disease, greater energy independence, and fewer emissions that cause climate change. Individuals can adopt 10 tips to save fuel promoted by the International Energy Agency (IEA). If everyone used them, tips would replace the oil that would be held up in the markets boycotting Russian oil, according to the IEA.
The Senate should do its part by passing the Build Back Better Bill, which contains a $12,500 tax credit for the purchase of American-made electric vehicles.
As Biden knows, his supply-side solution would be a step back in US plans to fight climate change by switching to carbon-free fuels. But the demand-side alternative also has drawbacks. A pollster has warned Biden could pay a political price for suggesting we all save gas. Why? Because so many Americans don’t want to be inconvenienced. They would view this as another government imposition on their freedom.
Lee Maringoff at the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion advises: “People are increasingly reluctant to the whole notion of masks, so the message of personal sacrifice – having to modify their behavior in some way – comes into a discussion of freedom that the White House does not. I don’t want to generate now.”
Maybe we should have this discussion anyway. Biden has more than enough on his plate, but there is a group of 19 million Americans could remind anti-maskers that true bloody sacrifices over the past 250 years have won and protected their freedom. This is the number of living veterans of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, post-Gulf War, and peacetime military service . They are likely to view mask mandates and gas conservation as fairly easy and easily justified sacrifices.
Moreover, freedom is not absolute. It comes with a social contract defined as an “implicit agreement between members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example, by sacrificing some individual freedom” to protect collective welfare.
We have rightly decided to extend this contract to other freedom-loving countries like those in NATO, and now Ukraine. Anti-maskers are right to guard their freedom jealously, but not selfishly.
So mobilize us to save oil, Mr. President. To hell with the torpedoes. Conserving the gas won’t kill us. Also, taking the bus will give us more time to pray for the Ukrainian people. Many of our compatriots paid for our freedom with their lives. Today, tragically, Ukrainians must sacrifice their lives in the hope that their children and their compatriots will also be free.
William S. Becker is a former Central Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Energy who administered energy efficiency and renewable energy technology programs, and he also served as Special Assistant to the Department’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy renewable. Becker is also executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a nonpartisan initiative founded in 2007 that works with national thought leaders to develop recommendations for the White House as well as House and Senate committees on climate policy and energy. The project is not affiliated with the White House.