Experts in the field forecast that the Earth’s crude oil reserves will last approximately 50 years at the current rate of extraction. The bigger concern, at the moment, is the probable difficulty of obtaining that oil; once all the easily accessible reserves are exhausted, we will be reliant on shale oil or deep-water drilling rigs – which both have the potential to wreak havoc on the planet.
But if North Americans were to limit their oil use, we could conserve the remaining supply for necessities and help to save the environment by reducing harmful emissions as well as leaving oil pockets undisturbed. The question, of course, is whether Americans can give up their creature comforts: quite a few States still rely on oil heating systems in older, less energy-efficient homes; in certain outlying areas, oil is still used to generate electricity; some industries use oil for process heating; though by far the worst perpetrator is the travel industry – and even though a small portion is used up by the freight industry (whether by land, sea, or air), the lion’s share of American oil consumption is employed for personal transportation.
Most households own multiple vehicles – both recreational and traditional. We drive massive gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, own classic cars or muscle cars, ATVs or motorcycles, and rarely carpool or use public transportation if we are of age to drive and can afford a vehicle. To North Americans, vehicles are more than a means of transportation – they are a status symbol, and a reflection of our personalities and success in life which means we want the biggest and the best. Unfortunately, though many luxury auto-makers like Porsche, Audi, Lexus, and Tesla are creating hybrid or electric cars and SUVs, there are no massive fuel-efficient SUVs or pickup trucks.
In order to end our oil addiction, we will have to change our consumer and image-focused mindset, trading in our high-consumption wheels for more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as electric cars, public transportation or even active transportation such as walking or cycling. We can further reduce our oil dependencies by making use of the vast network of railways already spread coast-to-coast for freight shipping and taking 18-wheelers out of circulation, which will have the additional advantage of reducing road damage caused by heavy trucks; and still more, if the railways were electrified, we could entirely eliminate the need for oil.
The possibilities exist and the strategies can be put into place to drastically reduce North American oil consumption and exploitation. The decisions are now in the hands of policymakers and consumers – do we care enough about the future of our planet to change our oil-reliant ways?