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Offshore drilling will not make us conserve oil

February 17 2010 | Oil Pollution, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I grew up in the early 70s and my dad drove odd cars. If you were around then you’ll remember that “the big three” American car companies ruled. Most people, especially those in the Midwest, drove very large cars in those days. I remember people driving GM Camaros and Suburbans and I remember being taunted because my parents drove SAABs and Volvos.

This is a 1965 Volvo 122S. My dad drove a red one.

Aside from being fun to drive, my dad drove a Volvo because of its fuel economy. But my dad wasn’t a dyed-in-wool tree hugger; my dad worked in the oil industry. He drove small fuel-efficient cars because he knew oil was a valuable, finite natural resource. He knew oil, like all natural resources, should not to be wasted.

Fast forward to today and there is less oil available on the planet, not more. It was clear in the 1970s that we needed to conserve the remaining oil we have and that we needed alternative sources of energy. It’s even more clear today. Tomorrow, it’ll be clearer.

Yet look at the past two decades of fuel economy (more here, PDF). The chart to the right illustrates what we saw on the roads... Hummers instead of hybrids.

The truth is that we don't just consume oil, we waste it. President Bush used the word "addiction" to describe our relationship with oil. Think about food, drink and spending... we know what happens when we become addicted. It's not pretty.

The way to address an addiction is not to seek new ways to fuel it.

The way to address an addiction is to seek alternatives to the addiction.

We need to stop producing large, wasteful vehicles. We must embrace the fact that we are running out of a natural resource and act accordingly. We can not drill our way out of this problem. Offshore drilling wouldn't even allow us to top our cars off, we'd only get 10% from offshore drilling and the trade-off is massive as we would put coastal economies and ecosystems at risk.

We must conserve the oil we have and find new energy sources that have low impacts on our planet.

My dad drove a small Volvo when I was a kid and that has had an impact on me. I grew up understanding why that was a smart (and fun) decision and today I drive a Mini. I love my Mini yet I know that just because it gets 40 mpg on the highway, I'm not "green." The truth is that I drive too much, period. I know that even if I was getting 70 mpg on the highway, carpooling or telecommuting would still be better options. That tension--knowing we haven't arrived and that we'll never arrive--is a good thing. But there is one thing that we SHOULD have an insatiable appetite for... perhaps even an addiction for... and that is finding new ways to use less resources.
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