As I write this, there are thousands of people huddling in blizzard conditions in North Dakota to protect their right to clean, safe drinking water from potential oil spills. The people in Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean drinking water. Nestle continues to buy up water rights in communities across the nation, impacting local water resources as they bottle up profit. Chromium 6 taints the water of 218 million Americans. And there is talk coming out of Washington DC about shrinking the Environmental Protection Agency. I think it’s fair to say that clean water just might be the most important topic of the decade.
Woe is us.
But my son, my wise son, has challenged me to stop lamenting the state of the world these days and find a way to react positively instead. With Standing Rock on my mind, I tried to take a narrow focus to be proactive. While the water protectors at Standing Rock bring to light a number of various issues, the focus is oil. OIL. And no matter where you stand on the Dakota Access Pipeline, I think we can all agree that there’s room to cut back on our oil dependency.
Oil is the lifeblood of American industry and we all count on it daily, like it or not. But do we need so much? Do we need it so desperately that we are willing to risk damage to our water supplies? (Check out this list of oil spills!) To hurt people who are standing up for clean water?
Oftentimes, we see oil prices drop and immediately think, “Hurray! We can afford to use more!” Maybe it’s time to reassess how we think about oil. It’s not just about oil prices. It’s about the cost of oil, environmentally.
I’ve mentioned making an effort to cut back personal consumption numerous times in the past on various platforms. There are always a few people who mock the suggestion, pointing fingers instead at industry, corporations, and even – in the case of environmental impact – cow farts. I’m not suggesting that those things don’t also need to be addressed. But I feel that each of us has a personal responsibility to live in a manner that is respectful of our earth. First, do no harm and all that.
We are a society of car owners. We love the freedom of hopping in our cars and hitting the road. But every time we start up our vehicles, we’re contributing to the coffers of big oil and causing environmentally damaging emissions.
But it’s not just cars that contribute to our oil dependence. Our household habits, grooming products, diet, and shopping routines all play a part in our country’s dependence on oil.
This collection of ideas might help us all to implement strategies to use less fuel. Whether you can take large strides in reducing your consumption, or small steps, together we can all make a difference.
Walk when you can. Living in close proximity to the places you frequent makes it easier to walk, but that’s not the case for many of us. Even if you need to drive a distance to reach your local center of commerce, consider walking once you get there. Park the car once, then handle your various errands on foot before heading back to your car.
Consider public transportation. Whenever I talk to people about using public transportation, the usual lament is that it’s not convenient. Or that the bus schedules don’t align with work schedules. Or there are stinky people on the bus. Suck it up, buttercup. If you’ve got access to good public transportation and you’re opting to drive your own vehicle instead, you are choosing to waste fuel.
Ride share. Not everyone has a great public transportation system to take advantage of. If you’re a daily commuter, seek out fellow commuters with whom to share the drive. If you must deliver kids to and from school, make friends with the neighbors. Sharing this duty will save fuel for both of you. Fewer cars on the road, less fuel usage, more money in your pocketbook.
Bike. If you live just miles from your destination, drag out that old bike and start using it. You might want to equip it with a basket to easily carry items.
Lose weight. If your trunk is filled with unnecessary items, consider giving it a thorough cleaning. Excess weight in a vehicle requires more fuel to operate.
Drive less. Ask yourself if you really need to drive to the post office, the bank, the store. Could you save that trip and do it on the day you have a can’t-miss appointment scheduled?
Give up the truck. If you’re a farmer and truly need to drive a pickup truck, that’s one thing. Driving a big, beefy, gas-guzzling beast just because you look great in it, though? Or because you need a pickup several times a year to haul something? That’s a luxury. I’m certainly not here to tell you that you should dump your truck, but I think it’s important that we acknowledge the difference between needs and wants, and make our choices from a place of knowing.
Buy smart. If you are considering a new car purchase, make fuel efficiency a high priority. Whether it’s an electric, a hybrid, or just a highly efficient gas model, supporting these auto makers will encourage them to continue working toward a more efficient product. (Ever wondered why it’s taken this long to change the auto industry over to more efficient vehicles? Watch Who Killed the Electric Car?)
Change household habits
Stop buying bottled water. For the love of Pete, stop buying bottled water. America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually.
Stock up. If you’ve got a full pantry, you’ll be less inclined to head to the store for one little thing.
Shop at home. Instead of making what sounds good for dinner (how’d we get into that bad habit?) make dinner with the ingredients you have on hand.
Wear a sweater. Instead of turning up the heat in your house, add a layer of clothing.
Break (bad) shopping habits
Use a shopping list. Running back to the store for the one item you forgot uses just as much gas as you’d use for an entire carload of groceries.
Choose organic. This is a common refrain around here, but did you know that many chemical pesticides and fertilizers are petroleum based?
Choose local, buy in season. Fresh grapes are great! But if they’ve been imported from Chile in the off-season, just think for a moment how much fuel that required. Barges, planes, trucks…
Don’t bag it. Plastic shopping bags are a petroleum product. The USA uses 12 million barrels of oil each year to manufacture plastic bags. Twelve million! For a product that is intended to be used once and disposed of. Bring your own shopping bags and make these reusable produce bags. Be sure to watch Bag It! the movie, too. It will inspire you to make an effort, guaranteed.
Skip the plastic containers. So many of the products we buy at the store are packaged in plastic. Instead of buying things like salad dressing, snacks, and mayonnaise in plastic, learn to make them at home.
Refuse Styrofoam. Another insidious petroleum product, some communities have gone so far as to ban Styrofoam. It’s still used frequently for takeout food and hot coffee in places where it’s not banned, though. See this post on eliminating Styrofoam from your daily grind.
Opt for natural clothing. This is probably one of the most difficult things to implement. Synthetic fabrics typically have a petroleum base, but there’s simply not a lot of natural clothing available.
Shop second hand. Used clothing, furniture, and household supplies are a great way to cut costs. But choosing second-hand options also reduces demand for new items, thus reducing oil used for manufacturing and transportation.
Consider packaging. I’m sure you hate those hard plastic clamshell packages as much as I do. Who can open those, anyway? What you might not have considered, though, is that the plastic is yet another unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Support businesses that use minimal packaging.