SA Perspectives: Running on Empty; December 2005; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
It was a remarkable turnabout. In September, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pushed gasoline prices to more than $3 a gallon, President George W. Bush spoke out for energy conservation. The president, who had previously insisted that new oil wells and refineries were the solution to the nation's energy woes, called on Americans to save gas by driving less. Listeners with long memories recalled President Jimmy Carter's television appearances during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when he urged Americans to turn down their thermostats. The only thing missing was the cozy cardigan that Carter had worn when he made his plea.
Environmentalists, though, were less than thrilled by the Bush administration's new strategy, which focused on public-service advertisements encouraging conservation. When it comes to transportation, which consumes 70 percent of U.S. oil and generates a third of the nation's carbon emissions, voluntary measures may be ineffective. Decades of suburban sprawl and neglect of public transit have made it harder for Americans to cut back on driving; from 1990 to 2001, the average length of a shopping trip grew from five to seven miles, and the number of shopping trips per household rose from 341 to 496 a year. Driving to schools, churches, doctors and vacation spots also increased significantly.