Over the past few days I have been talking a lot about the presidential candidates' plans to cut fuel costs. Very clearly, I have supported Obama's "cut consumption" plans over Clinton's and McCain's "increase consumption but lower taxes a couple cents" plans. I felt that some of the research I did for comments deserved a little bit more attention.
As of 2006, Americans were using over 20 million barrels of oil per day. This is three times more than any other country in the world - China, the most populous nation and second biggest oil consumer, uses just over 7 million. Looked at a little differently, the average American uses about 25 barrels of oil per year, the average Chinese person uses about 2; Japan, the next most consuming nation and also a highly developed society, uses about 15 barrels per person.
What does this mean when it comes to oil? It means that America is one of the best countries to focus on conserving oil. If Americans used just 10% less oil a year, that would make an incredible dent in consumption. It wouldn't completely fix the problem, but as a computer programmer, you learn to optimize starting with the largest bottleneck.
What would 2.5 barrels of oil entail? One barrel of oil holds 42 gallons of crude. Out of that, depending on the refining efficiency, about 19 to 20 gallons of gasoline can be made, along with a number of other by-products. For just gas, 2.5 barrels is, on average, a bit more than 1,200 miles of driving in a year. If fuel economy is raised to 35 mpg as called for in the recent bill, that alone would be a fuel savings of about 30% over an average year, about 143 gallons - more than 7 barrels of oil and more than $500 (not including what is saved in lower demand). Even more can be saved by using, when available, public mass transit. Or by purchasing locally grown food (shipping food from China and Central America uses quite a bit of fuel).
Or even just by recycling and buying recycled plastics. New plastic products, worldwide, consume about 1 billion barrels of oil a year (just in the plastics themselves, this doesn't include energy to produce). Recycling could cut this significantly (producers, PLEASE mark your products for this...).