How Much Driving is Too Much?

How much driving is too much? How many hours, or how far is it safe to drive in one day? Though the true answer is extremely subjective, as some drivers can easily tolerate longer drives, while others are fatigued by the rigours of such trips, it is fair to assume objectively that most people drive too much – especially as they could be travelling in a more active and environmentally-friendly manner.

We are currently (pardon the atrocious pun) a rather driven society; as ever more people move into large cities and join the urban workforce, commute times are stretching due to poor and outdated roadways. Research shows that spending more than 2 hours on the road every day greatly influences to the driver’s health. An Australian study of nearly 40,000 people compared daily schedules and a handful of health factors and determined that, compared to non-drivers, those who spent 2 or more hours driving were nearly twice as likely to sleep poorly and over 75% more likely to be obese; regular drivers were also reported as over 40% more likely to rate their quality of life as poor and a third more likely to feel psychologically distressed; furthermore, they were more likely to smoke and to fall below the recommended level of weekly exercise.

It is clear that sitting continuously for hours at a time is bad for one’s health; additionally, such sedentary behaviour can be harmful to the brain as it can be less active after several hours at the wheel and given that the stress and fatigue can cause cognitive declines over time as we must constantly monitor our own vehicle and surroundings, but also be alert for hazards and obstacles in our path.

In addition to the physical stresses of sitting for long periods of time, and dealing with obstacles and other drivers, in our increasingly over-scheduled and hectic lives, we cannot afford idle time; and commute times are as good as wasted. Unless the driver is, as is far too common, multitasking at the wheel, leading to distracted drivers. Thankfully, many states are drafting laws to prevent distracted driving, such as the requirement for hands-free mobile phone use.

Another danger of excessive driving is from the harmful emissions and greenhouse gasses; while the latter impacts the environment and climate, the former can have a detrimental effect on the driver as well who is breathing in hundreds of gallons of pollution-laden air during their hour-long trips to and from their workplaces.

Alternative Modes of Transportation

In the face of a looming global oil crisis, and given the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the environment, it falls to us to change our ways and develop alternative modes of transportation. We can certainly look toward the future and the latest scientific developments for new transportation methods; however, we can also look to the past – many so-called archaic modes of transportation would be perfectly acceptable in current times.

Of course, the easiest course is to walk whenever possible, or to use any other mode of active transportation: jogging, cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding or even skiing and snowshoeing in more northerly areas. Public transportation is an excellent alternative to driving private vehicles and many cities offer bus, subway, or light-rail in addition to ride-shares and taxis.

As more and more people move into city centres, it behoves us to establish more efficient means of moving people through heavily populated areas while minimizing traffic congestion and environmental impact. While converting to hybrid or electric cars will reduce the negative effects on the planet, a multi-passenger approach would be best to reduce the strain on roadways and shorten commute times for all. In cities originally designed for horse-powered travel, or car travel, development is limited by the city footprint; therefore, the best way to add new commuter systems to an existing infrastructure is to either tunnel below the city – adding subway tunnels or – or, following the lead of many European and Asian countries, expand skyward: monorails can be used for short travel on loops, urban cable systems (aerial cable cars similar to a ski lift) can be installed in business sectors, and personal rapid transit tracks allow small automated vehicles or pods to transport passengers along a guideway. For longer trips, to replace short-hop commuter flights, forward thinkers such as Elon Musk are developed Hyperloop systems where commuters would travel in pods through a network of high-speed tubes for excursions between urban centres.

Additionally, we could revisit rail travel for long-distance travel as electrified railways could be powered solely by clean and renewable energy sources. Freight shipping could also be handled by rail, or by waterways – once again reducing fuel consumption and relying on existing infrastructure and technologies.

Whether we choose to update older technologies for the new millennium, or create entirely new modes of modern transportation, we are limited by little more than our imaginations; at the turn of the previous century, airplane travel was deemed an impossible dream, and now hundreds of passengers can travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours.

Can North America End Its Oil Addiction?

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?

High Demands on Oil in North America

Given the multitude of uses for crude oil worldwide, in the transportation, industrial, commercial and residential sectors, it’s not surprising that we are using more petroleum products than ever before. What is also unsurprising is that the U.S.A tops all other countries – more than doubling second ranked China. In fact, North America’s largest three countries all appear in the worldwide top ten oil consuming nations; though our overall consumption has decreased slightly since it peaked in 2007, the United States, Canada and Mexico still have startlingly high rates of oil use.

Americans consume an average of approximately 20 million barrels of petroleum products daily, which is more than the European Union’s total usage of 15 million barrels per day. And while Canada ranked only 7th in 2018, at just over 2.2 million barrels per day, its per capita usage rate is quite high: in 2018, it was 64.4 barrels daily per 1000 people and ranked slightly ahead of the United States’ 61 barrels. Mexico ranked behind both with 2.075 million barrels per day overall and fell far behind their per capita amount with only 18 daily barrels per 1000 residents.

As per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2017, 14 million barrels – or 71% of Americans’ total petroleum consumption – was used daily for transportation. The industrial sector was responsible for nearly a quarter of the total, with residential use accounting for 3%, the commercial sector for 2% and electrical power generation for just 1% of the overall consumption.

According to the National Energy Board of Canada, the transportation sector accounts for approximately two-thirds of Canada’s oil demands; this can be attributed to the sheer size of the nation, and long distances that people and goods must travel between cities, combined with the high number of vehicles in use. Next, the industrial sector is responsible for nearly 30% of the oil demand – for mining, manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction; the commercial and agricultural industries collectively account for a tenth of the demand, while usage in the residential sector, primarily for heating and electricity, consumes a mere 2% of the overall amount.

It is incumbent upon North Americans to set an example for the rest of the planet by reducing our oil consumption as much as possible, and given all the alternative energy sources under development, there is no time like the present.

Addicted to Oil Consumption

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.

Vehicle Alternatives for North Americans

vehicle alternativeNorth 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.

Overuse of Oil in North America

oil addiction in North AmericaGlobal 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.

Oil Use in North America

North America oil useWhen 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.

Reducing Oil Consumption in North America

oil consumption North AmericaThere 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.