Reduce oil addiction by slowing down

May 18, 2010

Watching the unfathomable ecological and human disaster occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by the tragic loss of the Deepwater Horizon platform and subsequent leaking of massive amounts of crude oil and gas, I can't help but feel somewhat overwhelmed by the cost to the people of the Gulf States and of the planet from our addiction to oil.

Disasters of this sort occur when people try to control complex systems and fail. These grand mistakes are not at all restricted to oil drilling and production but include nuclear energy, chemical plants, aviation and even the human space flight program. There are plenty of examples, including the Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the loss of Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

The unfortunate human characteristic of these accidents is that they occur just infrequently enough in a single industry that the people involved in corporate management, the government regulatory bodies and even the safety personnel become complacent and fail to heed the lessons of past disasters. But what can we do as individuals? In the case of oil we can decide to use less.

There are many examples of how we can use less oil: ridesharing, using public transportation or buying a more fuel efficient car. But there is one simple change we can make immediately — drive the speed limit. On the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, with a posted speed limit of 55 mph, 90 percent-plus of drivers are going about their way at 60-80 mph when traffic permits. The situation is the same in almost every state and on streets at all speed limits. Slowing down to drive the posted speed limit would decrease the amount of fuel we use by more than 10 percent.

It seems like a small amount, but it all adds up. Nationwide the savings would be huge, saving 25 times more oil than is leaking into the gulf, based on a leak rate of 50,000 barrels per day. We would also reduce the number of fatal accidents by thousands, decrease traffic congestion, reduce the cost of gasoline by reducing demand and best of all put a few hundred dollars back into our wallets with the savings in fuel costs.

So what can we do to reduce our dependence on oil right now? One easy answer is to slow down when we drive. As individuals we do have real power to change the world, at least it's a start.

John Grunsfeld, Baltimore

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