I read Mark Morford’s most recent article on the sad state of our cars’ average mpg ratings and I couldn’t agree more. Continuing the high mpg trend that started in the 1970’s would have done a lot to improve where we are right now. If car manufacturers had simply improved the mpg by 1 or 2 each year the cars we’d be driving today would be amazingly efficient. Jimmy Carter is an excellent resource for finding numbers on how just requiring manufacturers to improve their mpg ratings by 5 mpg would extend our oil reserves for years and help to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
The fact that Mr. Morford just bought an import got me thinking though, and I’m not really judging him or his car choice here because I drive a Honda and have no idea where it was actually manufactured. The idea of importing cars in the context of fuel efficiency got me thinking about buying local which of course is a concept usually applied to food supplies. Many people are turning to it because of concern for the environment/conserving energy and because people are starting to see what corporate farming is doing to our food supply. With these ideas in mind I tried finding information on how much energy it actually takes to get a car (any car) to the point of sale and I couldn’t find any statistics but I’m betting that number is substantial and goes up exponentially the farther away you are from the point of manufacture. I did however find information on the amount of energy it takes to actually make a new car.
Did you know that it takes somewhere around 2,340 gallons of gasoline to manufacture a single new car? So say each and every American woke up one day and said to themselves, holy crap, I can’t believe how much gas my new, big, bad ass, fat Hummer guzzles just to drive little Suzie and Bobby to the school each day, I’d better ditch it and get a nifty, new, “green” car. Even if the nifty, new car was getting 100 mpg, what would be the impact of everyone buying a new, more efficient car? What is the real energy impact of importing the efficient cars, that don’t even exist yet, after they’ve each used up the initial 2,340 gallons of gasoline just to make them? What happens to all of the cars that we stop driving, not to mention the 4-5 tires per car that contain 7 gallons of oil each?
Even if we could get the car manufacturers (including American manufacturers) to make a truly efficient car, how long would it be before the impact was felt if we all do the sensible thing and keep our current cars running as well as possible for as long as possible before buying these elusive, new, efficient cars? How much energy will it use to update factories to make these efficient cars? How much fuel would it save if, instead of the dozens of children driven individually to my local school each day (including mine), we ALL actually put little Suzie and Bobby on the buses that run whether my family uses them or not so that fewer vehicles were being run, using less fuel and making for safer roads? What if we stopped making schools bigger and bigger and more centralized so that little Suzie and Bobby might actually (gasp) WALK to school instead of being driven? Would our schools be safer if they were smaller? Would I be less afraid to put my children on the bus if small class size enabled teachers to identify and attend to knife wielding children suffering from mental defect? What if the big box stores had never happened and I actually had a local market that supplied food from local sources that I could actually WALK to instead of driving 25 miles to go grocery shopping at a big, box store or driving all over the countryside to buy local directly or driving 40 miles to shop at the food co-op? What if I didn’t have to drive 50 miles to get to a job worth having? What if we could return to a truly local economy and start a chain reaction that reduced negative environmental impact by 20, 40, 60 percent? What if? What if? What if?
I do not think that our dependency on foreign oil starts or stops with the cars that we choose to drive. That is a small part of the bigger picture of what American culture has become. It’s the daily choices we make to drive 50 miles round trip to shop at a box store that will save us $20 on our grocery bill, to drive 30 miles round trip twice a day to feel that our children are out of harm’s way, to live far away from our jobs so that we can make a decent living and live in a nice neighborhood. In America we are all about bigger, bigger, bigger, centralize, centralize, centralize and no one wants to live next door to the smelly, awful, ugly result of that. THAT is why we are so very dependent on foreign oil.