UCS released a report on January 28 that demonstrates how Washington, Oregon, and California could cut their petroleum use in half by 2030. This comes at a time when scientific consensus and 195 national signatories (including the U.S.) to the December Paris climate agreement point to the urgent need for rapidly accelerated greenhouse gas emissions reductions if we are to have a chance to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The report’s roadmap shows how we might dramatically cut oil use in three currently car-dependent states whose combined GDP is equivalent to the world’s fifth largest economy. This is very welcome news indeed.
Even better news is that the report, Half the Oil: Pathways to Reduce Petroleum Use on the West Coast, shows the main measures to reduce petroleum use are the same ones we have now, but accelerated and intensified. These include better vehicle efficiency, more use of alternative fuels- especially electric vehicles- and better local transportation planning and transit options.
We don’t need a lot of fancy new technologies or breakthrough inventions to dramatically reduce our need for oil, not to mention help decarbonize our transportation sector. California has a head-start on this progress, with policies today that when fully implemented will reduce petroleum use 24%. Existing measures in Washington and Oregon already reduce petroleum use by 8% by 2030, so all three states have a strong start.
Data, not deception
The analysis showing that we can cut petroleum reduction in half in a region of almost 50 million people puts the lie to oil industry claims that it can’t be done.
Last year when California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León introduced legislation (attempting to codify an administrative goal set by Governor Jerry Brown) that would reduce in-state petroleum consumption by half by 2030, the oil industry responded by saying, “A mandate to reduce petroleum consumption by 50 percent is an impossibly unrealistic goal.” (Western States Petroleum Association press release, February 10, 2015)
The oil industry then launched a huge campaign of misdirection, claiming that reducing oil use 50% would have to be accomplished by restricting driving, rationing gasoline, imposing penalties on vans and SUVs—anything they could think of. Given the decades of deception that UCS and others have uncovered on the part of oil companies such as ExxonMobil, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that scare tactics were used to score a win rather than facts and data.
But the data bears us out—half the oil is within our grasp. What we need now is continued strong leadership from the governors in all three states and beyond, who can seize opportunities this year and in coming years to promote, defend, and strengthen policies that help us reduce oil use. We also need not just strong and vocal public support for strong state and federal policies, but demand for very low-carbon transportation products and services- electric vehicles, very low-carbon liquid fuels, improved public transportation, and increased fuel efficiency among other things.
One catastrophe away
At a time when oil prices have collapsed worldwide, some may think it harder than ever to generate support for low-carbon transportation. But if recent history is any guide, the economic circumstances that are driving prices down will be temporary.
And it’s not just the economy that may change things—recent history also shows that we are only a single extreme weather event, geopolitical conflict, refinery explosion, or other catastrophe away from yet another spike in oil prices. And then of course there are the costs of dirty air, polluted waterways, respiratory disease and cancer, and increasingly disruptive extreme weather events spurred by global warming. The oil industry succeeded temporarily last year in pushing back California’s first attempt to codify a goal to halve our oil use. But the case for not only why we should, but how we could, achieve half the oil is getting ever stronger and more self-evident.
We have a roadmap to a better way—we should follow it.