Americans are obsessed with oil! We drive. We fly. We farm. We heat our homes. The refined petroleum products we need are derived mainly from crude oil; they are also produced by processing natural gas; and though we can substitute or add renewable biofuels such as ethanol, the fact remains that, as per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2017, Americans consumed nearly 20 million barrels of petroleum products per day!
Though the United States has the highest rate of oil consumption worldwide, Canada and Mexico both rank within the top ten as well. We are using more oil now that at any other point in history – even though it is an unrenewable resource and it is contributing to pollution and climate change. The average North American uses their car for everything: commuting to work, grocery shopping, going to the gym, or going out for the evening. Most families own multiple vehicles and choose to drive rather than use any other mode of transportation, even if it is a short distance and far more logical to walk.
We have become a society of lazy, greedy, consumers who – even though they know of perfectly viable alternatives – choose to continue endangering our planet because we’d prefer not to change our habits. In a society increasingly characterized by ill health and obesity, the irony of driving to the gym for a workout, then driving to a fast-food restaurant for oil-drenched French fries, burgers, or fried chicken, before driving to the grocery store to stock up on products delivered by massive, diesel-belching, 18-wheeled trucks, and returning home to crank up our oil furnaces is lost on most. Though renewable energy sources abound, and the U.S. and Canada should be leading the field in alternative energy use, we fall sadly behind and remain increasingly entrenched in our addiction to oil consumption. And the vicious cycle continues as health problems are exacerbated by the poor air quality in most major cities, requiring more people to drive rather than walking as they’re no longer healthy enough to do so.
We must hope that the next generations will break from the current trend, choosing cleaner – and more renewable – energy sources and deciding to walk or use other forms of active transportation; otherwise, even though we project running out of crude oil within the next 50 years, our planet may not be fit for habitation long before we’ve reached the end of the fossil fuel supply.
North Americans have an unhealthy attachment to their personal vehicles. When they commute to work, they use their cars. When they go the gym, they use their cars. When they go down the street to buy toilet paper, they use their cars. For a species that evolved walking to where they needed to be, North Americans are surprisingly incapable of moving about without their cars in modern times. This is detrimental on many levels, none more so than the fossil fuel emissions that are released by burning gasoline due to the oil addiction of an entire culture. In order to help steer people away from continued oil overuse, here is a list of alternative transportation methods that can help North Americans become independent from oil consumption:
Walking is the oldest and healthiest mode of transportation that humans have available to them. There is no more natural way for people to get around than to use the same method our ancestors used. As a bonus, walking is free, it helps a person’s physical health and it creates no pollution or waste of natural resources. Walking is the best alternative for using a car when the commute is short or when time is not an object.
Riding a bike is another excellent alternative to driving a vehicle. Like walking, it gives the individual an excellent workout without the cost of pollutants or gas prices. Riding a bike can also get you further distances in less time than walking.
Public transportation, such as a bus or a subway, is a reliable, fuel efficient option. With a number of people taking advantage of a usual bus route, fuel emissions are reduced drastically. Most cities offer a decent public transportation system to their residents.
Carpooling is joining people you know to commute to places together instead of separate. This cuts the number of vehicles on the road down and helps preserve the air quality.
Global oil consumption is at an all time high, despite warnings of climate change and environmental damage. North America is a huge part of this problem. The United States is the country with the highest rate of oil consumption in the world, with Canada and Mexico both making the top ten list of oil offenders as well. North America, particularly the United States and Canada, are in a position to lead the world out of frivolous oil consumption and set an example of sustainable energy use, but instead, they are the biggest part of the problem. This needs to change.
The use of oil in machinery and for industrial purposes is the cause of air pollution, ozone destruction and global warming. Oil is a fossil fuel that geological processes create over millions of years. It is a natural resource that cannot be replaced once it is depleted. For that reason alone, it is an unsustainable source of energy. But what makes oil even more urgently unsustainable is that using it the way humans use it, at the volume that they use it, is highly toxic to the planet and its atmosphere. Its use has introduced toxins and pollutants into the atmosphere that have drastically upset the earth’s delicate ecological balance, and no one knows for sure what that will do to our future on this planet.
In North America, oil has become an abused privilege. Frivolous, excessive driving expeditions in particular are to blame for the copious amounts of carbon that are disrupting the earth’s ecological balance. The greed and indulgence of the oil industry are even exemplified in oil towns like Fort McMurray, Alberta, where the substance abuse problems are reputed throughout Canada. The oil consumption in North America needs an intervention the way an oil worker in Fort McMurray needs an Edmonton drug detox. The only available remedy to this problem is reducing oil consumption and seeking alternative fuel options. Reducing oil consumption may be in the form of walking or riding a bike instead of using an oil powered vehicle. Seeking alternative fuel options may be in the form of using vegetable oil in place of fossil fuels, or driving an electric vehicle. It is shocking that North American leaders have not enforced more sustainable energy policies on the population and on the oil industry itself than they have, but North America is simply not progressive or unified enough in its approach to reducing oil consumption at this time.
When we break down the average North American’s oil consumption, we find that the results are shocking. People are using oil in greater volumes today than they did any other time in history. Whether it is for a long road trip to another part of the country, or a trip to the store that is several blocks from home, North Americans are tied tightly to their personal vehicles and have not wanted to listen to the opinions of those who recommend reducing their use of them. This is tragic and ironic, considering that the health of the entire planet and every creature living on it is hanging in the balance.
In the United States, Americans consume more than 15 million barrels of oil per day, which comprises more than 20-percent of the entire world’s oil consumption. The oil use per capita in Canada is comparable to that of the United States, but applies to a much smaller population. It would be the socially and environmentally conscious thing for Americans to do to reduce their oil consumption and turn instead to alternative fuel sources. The destruction caused by the overuse of oil has long been known and shared in the media, but collectively, North America has done very little about it.
The fact of the matter is, continuing to use oil at the rate we are using it is completely unsustainable. Oil is a fossil fuel, and therefore nonrenewable. Once it is gone, it is gone forever, and the composition of the earth’s crust will not be the same. As we burn fossil fuels in automobiles and in other machinery, they give off carbon and other greenhouse gases which are steadily increasing the temperature of earth’s atmosphere. As temperature’s rise, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting at alarming rates, ocean currents are changing and, in general, the delicate balance of earth’s ecosystem is compromised. We must change the way we think about oil consumption immediately or face disastrous consequences.
There are a number of nations and regions that are rising rapidly in power, but North America is still the seat of most of the world’s wealth. One expression of North America’s privilege is its oil consumption. Particularly in the United States, more barrels of oil are consumed daily than in most other countries combined. That is partly due to the size of its population, but has more to do with the culture of excess that Americans have come to expect. Americans and Canadians alike do not like to venture out of their comfort zone, and in the current cultural climate, excessive oil use is part of their creature comforts.
North Americans feel entitled to owning one car per person of legal driving age. They use their vehicles for long and short commutes alike, even when it is more logical to walk. A majority of United States residents have been exposed to information about the carbon footprint that their oil consumption leaves behind, but still, they are too immersed in their greed to adjust their thinking. The truth is, if able bodied people cut out their vehicle use for the commutes that are under a mile, a large percentage of carbon emissions would be eradicated. Turning to electrically charged cars such as hybrids helps also, although electricity use creates carbon emissions as well, at a smaller level.
In order to reverse as much planetary damage as is possible at this point, North Americans need to achieve more of a collective consciousness when it comes to oil consumption. Biodiversity and the environment are at stake if North Americans and other countries cannot follow through with a plan to reduce their oil consumption. We need to turn to more sustainable energy sources for our daily needs, such as solar panels, vegetable oil fueled vehicles and other environmentally conscious technologies. If everyone does their part, we can bring the excessive oil consumption epidemic under control.