Save Money, Cut Emissions, and Create Jobs: The Benefits of Half the Oil

June 24, 2013 | 9:50 am
Josh Goldman
Former Contributor

Let’s be real. You probably already know that our oil use causes problems. It’s dirty, hard to clean up, tied to large corporations that wield significant influence over our political system, and is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. We also use a lot of it – almost 2 million barrels (roughly 78 million gallons) every single day. So, it should be no surprise that UCS is working on a realistic plan to cut our projected oil use in half – in only 20 years.

Benefiting from Half the Oil

Our Half the Oil plan is not about where we get our oil from but rather, is about how we can use less. By continuing to invest in the science behind vehicle efficiency and in innovative ways to power our vehicles, like renewable electricity and biofuels made from non-food sources, we can reach a future that looks bright. A Half the Oil future means cutting our country’s annual oil spending by $550 billion, creating more than 1 million jobs, and eliminating some 2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions each year – all by 2035.

Pretty cool right? We thought that the benefits of Half the Oil were so grand that we recently released a report called “Fueling a Better Future” that details the importance of reaching a Half the Oil future and the steps we’re already taking to get there. Head on over to the website to check it out but before clicking through, here are some top line factoids.

Half the Oil and You

Transportation is the second-largest expense (after housing) for most American households, costing more than food, clothing, and health care. Over the last several years the average U.S. household spent around 4 percent of its pretax income on gas. In fact, over the life of a car bought in 2011, an owner will spend more than $22,000 on gasoline. Reducing oil use through improving the fuel efficiency of our passenger vehicles, therefore, is one of the biggest and most immediate ways that we will benefit in a Half the Oil future.


The recently strengthened Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards – for fuel efficiency and global warming emissions of light-duty vehicles – are already beginning to help consumers and will save the average driver of a new vehicle in 2025 around $8,000 over the vehicle’s lifetime compared with an average model year 2011 vehicle. As the science behind increasing efficiency of our vehicles continues to improve, automakers will be able to meet even higher fuel economy targets that will provide consumers even more savings.

Half the Oil and Our Communities

Most people don’t always think about the health impacts associated how goods are transported and stored, but for communities near ports, large markets, and other distribution hubs that create heavy truck traffic, the consequences can be dire. Scientific studies have linked diesel exhaust to increased rates of respiratory illness, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and even premature death. In 2012, the World Health Organization found that there is sufficient evidence that diesel exhaust causes cancer. Moving toward a Half the Oil future means that by reducing oil use, we will also reduce the harmful emissions and adverse health effects from transportation while still being able to get goods where they need to go.

From coast to coast, oil-savings solutions are already cleaning up our communities. For example, in 2010 the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center, in partnership with a major trucking fleet in the region, received a federal grant to install more than 2,000 aerodynamic side-skirts on trailer trucks. In addition to saving 16 million gallons of diesel fuel over its lifetime, this project will also reduce emissions of particulate matter (PM) – a harmful type of pollution that can affect the heart and lungs – by nearly 25 tons. These PM reductions are estimated to provide public health benefits of between $7 million and $30 million in 2030.

Half the Oil and Our Country

Investing in the science and technology needed to reduce oil use will provide our country with a tremendous opportunity to create new jobs, reduce global warming emissions, and secure our wallets from oil price shocks.

Just through investing in efficiency in cars and trucks, for example, we can create as many as 1 million new U.S.-based jobs in the automotive-related industry. Jobs will also be created as consumer spending shifts from oil to other parts of the economy that demonstrate higher potential for job creation compared to the oil and gas industry.


Reaching a Half the Oil future also means significantly reducing emissions from oil and other petroleum products — the largest source of U.S. global warming emissions today. By ramping up production of cellulosic biofuels made from non-food sources, for example, we can cut CO2 emissions by 164 million metric tons in 2035 – or as much as the annual CO2 emissions from the electricity used by more than 24 million of today’s homes. Overall, in a Half the Oil future, we will have cut emissions by more than 2 billion metric tons per year in 2035. That’s as much as the annual greenhouse gas emissions from burning 8.5 million railcars worth of coal.

Lastly, cutting our oil use through using alternative energy sources not associated with the global energy market means that we will have an insurance policy against oil price shocks. While electricity prices vary across the country, they are relatively stable and the average retail price of electricity rose less than three cents per kilowatt-hour from 2001 to 2011 while gas prices dramatically spiked over the same period (see graph below).

Electricity is also much cheaper as a transportation fuel compared to gasoline. The Department of Energy recently released this handy tool that allows you to compare how much it would cost to drive on gas vs. electricity in your area. It turns out that the average price for an “eGallon” is about $1.14 compared to the $3.65 average price of regular gasoline.


Overall, the choice is clear. It’s time to commit to a Half the Oil future. Join the chorus of voices calling for this commitment and stay tuned for updates on how far we have traveled down the road to a Half the Oil future.